Well, my Craigslist dresser is finally finished and I’m excited to show you what I managed to accomplish. Despite some very real fears before I started, I managed to refinish my dresser and didn’t have to resort to painting it.
In case you missed my original post waaaayyyy back in October, here is what it looked like when I got it. It had great bones, but the missing veneer and other dings and scratches left the dresser looking very old and tired.
The first thing I did was remove the entire front strip of veneer that was damaged. This was actually quite easy – I simply used a damp cloth to lay over the veneer, and then passed my hot iron over the cloth to moisten the glue. I then used a small putty knife to lift off the veneer. While the veneer did break up during this process I wasn’t concerned about it breaking as I wanted it all removed anyway.
My next step was stripping the old varnish from the dresser. I’d never done anything like this before, and it was an adventure to say the least. First up – this is REALLY smelly, so if you’re going to do anything like this get a respirator. I got mine at Home Depot for about $45, and I’m sure I’ll use it for many projects after this one. The chemical stripper I used is Greensolv from Lee Valley Tools. It’s pretty easy to use – just paint it on, let it work and scrape it off. Through trial and error I discovered that a thicker coat works much better, as if you paint it on too thinly it will dry before it has a chance to work. Some of the areas I had to do a second time. This step took me a while as I did each side, the front, top and drawers on different days, and spaced the days out so my apartment didn’t smell like chemicals permanently. This is when I got my first ever chemical burn – I was wearing gloves as directed, but stupidly wore a short-sleeved t-shirt. As I was scrapping the stripper off the dresser some went flying and landed on my forearm. I wiped it off, but a few seconds later knew that it wasn’t enough, and spent the next 10 minutes running cool tap water over it. Luckily there was no permanent damage, but if I’m ever working with these chemicals again I will remember to wear long sleeves. Chemical burns hurt A LOT, so please if you’re ever using these chemicals learn from my mistake.
Repairing the missing veneer was incredibly simple. I bought a strip of walnut veneer edge banding from Lee Valley tools, cut the length I needed and applied it. The veneer already has glue on it – all you need to do is lay a clean rag over the veneer, and then heat the veneer using your iron (my iron got more use on this dresser refinishing project than it has ever doing what it’s supposed to – ironing clothes). I had to do this step twice as on my first try the veneer shifted while it was ironing it. Luckily the edge banding is sold in 25’ lengths so I had quite a bit to spare. I also got the second burn of the project during this step – luckily this time it was only from the iron. After the veneer was glued on I trimmed the excess using an xacto knife, and then sanded the edges smooth.
Next up was my big adventure with sandpaper. I used fine 220 grit sandpaper over the entire dresser to remove any leftover old varnish, and to smooth any other marks. There were some old long burn marks on the top of the dresser that I believe are from two cigarettes that was left burning. I sanded them as far as I dared, but in the end I was afraid to sand too much in case I went all the way through the veneer. I’ve decided I rather like the marks – it shows that this dresser has a bit of history.
Then came the scary part – adding stain. I spent quite a bit of time in the stain aisle at Home Depot debating which shade I wanted. I didn’t want anything too red, but I also didn’t want anything too dark. Given my inexperience with this type of project in the end I just picked the middle of three shades and hoped for the best.
Before adding the stain I gave the dresser a coat of pre-stain wood conditioner. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I can’t tell you if it made any difference over any other project, but I can say that the stain went on my old dresser quite easily and there was no streaking. You just paint on the pre-stain, let it soak in, and wipe off the excess. The directions say to stain within two hours of using the conditioner, and with lots of trepidation I approached my dresser with a foam brush dipped in the stain, and starting applying it. As with the wood conditioner you paint it on, let it soak in, and then rub off the excess with a clean rag. I liked it after the first coat of stain, but I did a second coat to deepen the colour just a little and I liked it even more.
After the stain was applied it was time for the protective finish. I used clear Polycrylic in a semi-gloss sheen, and if I were doing it again I’d probably go with a satin finish. This step took a little longer than the stain as I did three coats (sanding with a fine-grade sandpaper between). I found it really hard to get the finish to be perfectly smooth. Try as I might I couldn’t get all the brush marks out, but they’re only noticeable from an angle in certain light and I’m more than pleased with the finished product.
Here is the finished product (there are a few pictures – I hope I’m forgiven as I’m rather proud):