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How to Easily Re-Purpose and Re-Stain an Old Dresser

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Rebecca loves sharing what she knows about alternative medicine, health, frugal living, fun, animals, and how to live a better life!

Our 1902 Solid Maple re-finishing project

This was our first refinishing project.  You can see some of the wear, discoloration, and that handles were missing, it was quite beat up.

This was our first refinishing project. You can see some of the wear, discoloration, and that handles were missing, it was quite beat up.

Our project

My father was born a twin in 1932, in Cleveland Ohio. His family was never well off, but in the midst of his upbringing he managed to earn two degrees (engineering and physics), he was in the military, he flew airplanes, and well...to me, he has always been a source of encouragement, support, love, inspiration, and brilliance. My first hero.

I have a few pieces of furniture in our home now that were once his. The one in this article covers a solid maple dresser from 1902. I believe it belonged to my paternal grandfather first, although I'm not entirely sure since I never knew him when he was living. Yet this dresser became part of our home through my father. It has seen its share of abuse over the years, but I couldn't get myself to part with it. So we decided to try and refinish it. This was the first refinish project we've ever done.

This dresser was pretty beat up. It had seen many years of use, hard times, even water damage from storage, but our hopes are to keep this in the family for another century.

Repair, remove and prep

The first key to refinishing any old piece of anything is prep work. You can't skip out on this step. Remove any old hardware, hinges, knobs, and make repairs if needed. Sometimes you'll need to replace busted parts and fix any previous damage. The item also needs to be stripped of old sealant, resin or polyurethane and sanded. Be patient and do the prep work correctly.

All of this work isn't hard, it's just a bit time-consuming. Prep work is important because it will greatly affect your finished piece. If you won't bother, don't bother.

You will need a furniture stripper, sandpaper of various grits, stain or color, and polyurethane. We always use foam brushed for polyurethane because they are inexpensive and the chemical causes brushes to harden, so you can throw those out when you're finished.

Design and get the right tools

The next part of refinishing a piece of furniture is having the right tools and designing what the final product will look like. After all prep and repair work, this is when it gets to be a bit more fun. This is when you pick out stains or colors, new hardware, and what you'll do with the finished piece. Perhaps you will keep it, perhaps you will sell it, or maybe you'll gift it to someone special. All of these choices will help you determine the final look of your piece.

You can get loads of ideas online and even research the piece in its original condition and bring it back to life. Or give it a completely new look! The choice is yours!

We chose Minwax stain and polyurethane products for this old dresser. We decided to use a darker stain to get rid of the orange color and since we planned to keep the piece we polyurethaned the hell out of it to keep it well sealed.

Our finished dresser

Our lovely restored heirloom piece of furniture

Our lovely restored heirloom piece of furniture

They don't make furniture how they used to!

Furniture now is very prefab with cheap materials and it doesn't hold up for centuries. When you find a good solid piece of furniture restoring it can be worth all the effort.

We are happy with how our first project turned out and can't wait to do more.

How To

© 2021 Rebecca

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