How to Refinish a Dresser, part 3: Dress Me Up

You have your dresser. You have your supplies. Now it’s time to actually do this thang.

I often find lists to be far more useful than paragraphs, so let’s just jump straight in to the 1-2-3.

photo 2

1. Disassemble your dresser. Use that phillips screwdriver to remove any old knobs (if they’ve been on for a long time, once you remove the screw you may have to knock it off with a hammer) and take all the drawers out.

2. Fire up the hand sander! If your hand sander is new, you may have to cut and punch air holes into a few sheets of 1/3 sand paper. Save the template and make new sand sheets as necessary. I ended up using about eight sheets total for the entire project.

dresser 1

3. Sand like crazy. If your dresser had varnish on its front (as mine did) you need to get all of that off. Ours also had some stubborn scotch tape (eeew, but, free dresser, so) and a few jagged edges. Sand all that junk off until smooth. It will look patchy, and that’s totally normal.

photo 1

[3a. If your dresser has any noticeable chips or divots taken out, fill them with wood putty and wait until they dry. Sand as normal.]

4. Wipe the whole shebang down with a damp towel. You want: a smooth, clean surface. You do not want: microscopic clumps of sawdust under the paint.

5. Slip a sheet of paper towel under each leg, to catch drips.

photo 3

6. Prime time! For our dresser, I did all the trimming in (front lattice, legs, under the lip of the top, etc) with a brush, and then used the roller on all the flat surfaces.

7. Wait for the primer to dry entirely. I bought quick dry primer that allegedly dried in an hour, but I let it sit overnight. This is the frustrating part, because you could do this in a day if it weren’t for dry time.

8. Repeat step #3 and sand the entire thing down again. What you say? We already did this, you say? Yes, you did. But a quality refinished piece requires a few steps of things that seemingly should be a one and done. Trust.

9. Repeat step #4 and #6. Wipe down, dry, prime, let dry.

10. Finally! Yes, it’s time to paint. It’s likely been a day or so, so just make sure you have all your tools at your disposal; a clean dry paintbrush and roller, and that your paint pan is also dry. Nothing is worse than wettish/watery paint.

11. Because you are painting (vs. priming) it’s best to take your time and go carefully, especially if you’re using a color. Priming can get a bit sloppy and it’s ok, but painting requires a little more patience. Be mindful of drips and the pattern of the brush strokes if you are using a brush only.

12. Let dry. Ideally overnight. I know, so annoying.

13. Paint another coat. If you were slopping on your first coat, really now, it’s time to get serious. Paint with care, young people!

dresser 2

14. Let dry again.

15. While the dresser is still disassembled, rub the entire piece down with steel wool. Weird, right? But the wool fibers eliminate those teeny pin pricks of paint that dry up instead of flat. It also gives your piece a subtle shine and a buttery soft feel. Like. Buttah.

16. Wipe down with a damp towel again, to whisk away any silver curls from the wool.

17. Move the dresser to wherever in your house it’s going to go. We had to haul this bad boy up multiple flights of stairs, so it was easier to do it while it was still in pieces.

18. Re-install knobs or put the new ones on.

19. Fill with your beautiful clothes, you saucy minx you!

dresser 3


20. You’re done! That’s it! Instagram that biz and show it to your friends! You officially did something pretty bad ass. Nice.

How to Refinish a Dresser Parts One and Two, if you need them.

How to Refinish a Dresser, part 2: Prep Rally


So! You found your street dresser (or coffee table or regular table, or cabinet, etc) and now you are going to refinish it! Great. First things first, put it into your garage or covered patio, pour some wine, and consider your options. We found our dresser late at night, so it was too late to do anything, but even if it weren’t, it’s great to just look at the piece for awhile and try to see what you might do. Bust out the Domino book, scour design blogs and Pinterest. Get inspired! Also, talk to your significant other if, perhaps, you get a crazy notion into your noggin like painting the top a strange shade of Grecian blue that you’re just really into that day. Your significant other will likely talk you out of it, and that will be useful for your dresser’s longterm likability as well as your own.

If you are me, you will do this pondering for a day or so, have a fling with Grecian blue, make a dresser inspiration board from beautiful internet dressers (above) and then decide to just paint it white because that is my default and I think most things look better painted white. Or, you might be you, which is awesome, and you might do something like this or this with your dresser, and that would be awesome and ambitious of you. Go you.

Once you have drunk that wine and made that plan, then you can go to the hardware store. At the minimum, you will need the following:

1. A power hand sander. A 1/3 finish sander is great for refurb projects.

2. Primer

3. Roller handles and foam rollers

4. Trays and drop cloths

5. Steel Wool

6. Paper towels

7. A screwdriver, usually phillips head

8. Small hammer

Go to the hardware store, and then come back, and then we’ll do this thang!

Dresser Inspiration via:
Top L-R: Bright & Bold, Michaela Noelle Designs, TenJune 
Bottom L-R: Creative Raisins, CooCoo, Migonis Home  

PS – how to refinish a dresser part one and part three!

How to Refinish a Dresser, part 1: Where’d ya get that dresser?

Baker Beach

Sometimes I think San Francisco is magic. I mean, I know it’s magic – where else in the world do we have the best food, coffee and music AND we always know that the weather’s going to be a  temperate 57 with a mystical fog shawl hovering over us all? It’s like Brigadoon for hippies. Take that, New York.

But San Fran really is magic, because it’s also kind of a mind reader. Case in point: last week. Nathan and I were walking down the stairs, en route to an evening post-dinner walk around the hood, having this conversation:

Him: I really need a dresser, I’m so tired of keeping all my shirts in a box.

Me: Totally understandable, and you are a champ. Let’s just suck it up, go to West Elm, and purchase a $5,000 dresser, even though we don’t want to and none of them are totally quite right. We need to bite the bullet and just do it, to put an end to your hobo existence.

Him: Wouldn’t it be great if we found a vintage dresser that wasn’t $5,000 dollars?

Me: OR! A cheap whatever dresser that had lots of drawers that I could refinish? OR better yet, a free one?

Him: Um, you mean, like… that one?

Young people, you would not believe your eyes. And I almost didn’t either (because I forgot to wear my glasses) but there, in front of our next door neighbor’s house, was a large, eight drawer dresser, in excellent condition, sitting on the curb with a sign marked FREEEEEE.

It might well have read:

To Hilary and Nathan,

Here’s that free dresser you wanted. Got your backs dudes.

Peace and love,

San Francisco

So, we did what all normal people do: inspect for defects, decide that discernible defects can be sanded out, then immediately and covertly move the whole shebang into our garage and high five and chest bump like maniacs. If you’ve ever seen us score primo parking, it’s pretty much the same dance.

What have we learned from all this:

1. The street is not just for car driving and bicycle riding. Sometimes there is awesome stuff to be found out there, and it’s not at all hobo-esque to take advantage of what the street has to offer. I know a few Marina girls who’ve found gems on the curb, and if they can do it, you can.

2. Look before you take the leap. Are the drawer tracks straight? Can the dents be sanded out or will you need to use wood glue to fill? How much sanding will you need to do? If you don’t know all of this yet, you will by the time we’re done. Just know that there’s a difference between a sweet street find and just taking someone else’s disgusting old furniture out of the public eye. And sometimes that line is thin.

3. Know that you will need to outlay some cash. Even free ain’t free folks. If it’s a chair, sometimes the cost of reupholstery can be more than if you’d purchased a new chair. Dressers and tables are easier, but there’s still paint, knobs, extra sand paper and more to purchase. All told, this dresser will probably end up costing us around $110. Way cheaper than anything we’ve found, and it’s been a fun project, but the only way this sucker was going to be 100% free was if we took it straight up to our bedroom as is, and as you can see:

Dresser before

That just wasn’t going to happen.

PS – how to refinish a dresser part two and three when you’re ready!