How To Refinish A Dresser

I was out bidding a kitchen cabinet refinishing project last week and on my way home from the bid I happened to drive by a garage sale and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a little dresser that intrigued me. I stopped my car and walked back a block to see what it was that I had noticed. It was a small birds eye laminated maple dresser.
As I looked at the dresser I noticed that the drawers and top were built from solid oak, everything was built with dovetail joints and other than some water damage the dresser was in decent enough shape. I couldn’t find any manufacturer markings and nothing about this said that it was anything other than a great looking dresser (nothing antique).I thought this would be a great project to photograph and make a nice video and we could use more storage in our bedroom.

Maplle Dresser BeforeWater Damage on Dresser Top

I ended up paying $60 for the dresser, which felt a touch high but not bad for such a nice piece. I purchased the maple dresser, brought it home and couldn’t wait to get started re-finishing it right away.

Refinishing A Dresser: Preparing The Work Space

Preparing My WorkspaceThe first thing I did was to prepare my work space. For me, this is one of the most important steps to having a successful project (I do the same thing when cooking). I find that if you don’t set things up and make sure you have everything you need, you are more likely to cut corners and allow quality to suffer later on. I must also note that since this was for my own enjoyment and I did not have a lot of money invested, I worked through this relatively quick and was not too worried about little things and didn’t want to invest to much time into a project that was only serving a practical storage purpose for me.

Refinishing A Dresser: Stripping The Finish Off The Dresser

Next I went on to stripping all of the old finish. I used Klean-Strip Premium Stripper from Home Depot for all of the stripping. I applied the stripped with a cheap disposable brush very thick and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Since the dresser is mostly flat, a plastic scraper worked very well for removing the stripper and finish. For the rounded corners and areas that a flat plastic knife would not do well in, I used a green scrubbing pad (I don’t know what the official name of these are, I will look it up now). For little nooks and crannies, I like to use a stiff, plastic bristled brush to get all of the finish and stripper our. Spending some extra time stripping is always time well spent and will save you at least twice the amount of time when sanding, plus it will save the wood from potential damage while sanding.

Stripping Finish off of a Maple Dresser TopStripping A Maple Dresser

Refinishing A Dresser: Washing Off The Stripper

Washing Off StripperAn evil but necessary step when refinishing is washing the piece. You must remove all of the stripper (which typically has waxes in it) and get the piece clean for finishing. I try to do this step as quickly as possible and avoid letting any laminate or joints stay wet for more than a couple minute. Wiping the piece off when done to speed up drying is a good idea as well.

Refinishing A Dresser: Sanding

Dresser After SandingSanding is a step that you may want to avoid depending on the piece you are working on. For my garage sale find, I wanted it to look great and I was not worried that I would damage anything important. This is where I sanded out all of the deep scratches, water stains and any of the old finish that still remained. If you have a thinner laminate you will want to make sure to be very gentle on the sanding, if you are too aggressive you may sand through the laminate.

Refinishing A Dresser: Repairing Any Damage

After I was done with the sanding I did all the required repair work on this birds eye maple dresser. Luckily there was almost not repair work needed on this project. I had one small patch of laminate that needed to be repaired. To repair laminate, you need to cut the area out to give it clean, straight edges. Next glue in a piece of laminate that matches as close as possible. I did not purchase any birds eye laminate and just replaced it with a maple laminate that I stained to match. In all honesty, I should have gotten the birds eye laminate in hind sight.

Refinishing A Dresser: Spraying The First Coat

Before spraying this maple dresser I vacuumed and cleaned prior to spraying. I used Hirshfields One Hour Varnish for my clear coat. If you are in Minnesota, I cannot recommend a clear coat more highly than I recommend Hirshfields One Hour Varnish. It dries quickly, looks beautiful and is very easy to work with. I thinned the varnish out by about 10% with paint thinner and sprayed with a Capspray HVLP cup sprayer. One Hour Varnish also brushes very well if you do not have a sprayer to use.

Refinishing A Dresser: The Final Coat

How To Refinish A Dresser 1After letting the first coat dry, I then sanded the first coat down and looked for any imperfections. I didn’t like the color of my laminate patch so I brushed on some dry stain to darken the patch and get a better blend. Other than that I saw no issues and was ready to proceed to the final coat.

The final coat was sprayed with a bit more care than the first coat as this coat needed to be perfect, lay perfectly flat and have absolutely no foreign particles in it (dust). My final coat turned out awesome, all that was left for this project was to let it dry and fill it up with some clothes.

My total time investment on this project was roughly 4 hours. There was about 30 minutes in the purchase, 1 hour into the stripping, 1 hour into the sanding, 1 hour in the repair and first coat and about 30 minutes into the final coat. My total financial investment was about $70. There was $60 into the dresser, a little bit of stripper and about half a quart of varnish.

If you have any questions about a project that you are working on, please feel free to email me at ryan at and I will do my best to help you.

If you have a refinishing project, including furniture or kitchen cabinets, give me a call at 763-286-1543 for a Free Quote or Contact Me Here.

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