How to Refinish a Dresser to Bring New Life to an Old Piece

Learn how to refinish a dresser—and give your old wood furniture an updated look—using our easy step-by-step guide.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 4 hours
  • Total Time: 3 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $35-$50

Hand-me-down furniture and thrift-store finds provide an economical way to furnish your space. If the bones of a piece are good, but the finish isn't quite right, you can easily fix it with a new coat of stain. Refinishing wood furniture, like this beautiful oak dresser, isn't as difficult as you may think. With the right tools, and a little elbow grease, you can give your old furniture a fresh look with just a few hours of work.

For this project, we stripped a wood dresser of a dull coat of paint, so its lustrous graining and elegant lines could shine. Next, we added painted hardware to lend the heirloom a contemporary twist. A coat of polyurethane will keep the newly refinished dresser looking gorgeous for years to come. Follow our instructions to learn how to work this magic.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drop cloth
  • 2- and 4-inch foam brushes
  • 2- and 3-inch putty knives
  • Scrap bucket
  • Small wire-bristle brushes
  • Steel wool
  • Tack cloth
  • Staining pads
  • Paintbrushes
  • Cheesecloth


  • Nitrile gloves
  • Respirator
  • Wood stripper—we used Citristrip
  • Mineral spirits
  • Medium and fine sandpaper
  • Stirrer
  • Wood stain
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Spray paint


  1. apply wood stripper
    Jay Wilde

    Apply Wood Stripper

    Remove the hardware from the dresser and place it in a safe spot. Remove the drawers. Place the dresser and drawers on a leakproof drop cloth in a ventilated area. Then, wearing gloves and a respirator, use an inexpensive paintbrush to apply a 1/8-inch-thick layer of wood stripper.

  2. scrape off paint
    Jay Wilde

    Scrape Off the Paint

    Once the entire surface has bubbled, use a plastic putty knife to scrape off the paint. Discard the paint remnants in a scrap bucket. If paint remains, if the wood is deeply grained, or if the piece is particularly ornate, you might need to apply a second coat of stripper and repeat the scraping process. Use a small wire-bristle brush to remove any paint from crevices.

  3. remove residue on dresser
    Jay Wilde

    Remove Residue

    Using a piece of steel wool and rubbing along the direction of the grain, wipe the wood down with mineral spirits to remove any stripper and paint residue. You might see bits of paint on still on the surface, but that's OK. Allow the wood surface to dry for about 15 minutes.

  4. sand dresser
    Jay Wilde

    Sand the Dresser

    Sand the dresser using medium-grit sandpaper, moving with even pressure along the direction of the grain. Sand thoroughly, including all the details. Wipe with a tack cloth to remove any dust. Sand again with a finer-grit sandpaper, and wipe again with a clean tack cloth. If you're not satisfied with the wood's appearance, sand again, using the finest-grit paper. Wipe it down again.

  5. stain dresser
    Jay Wilde

    Stain the Dresser

    Thoroughly stir the wood stain and apply it, using a paintbrush or staining pad, working in the direction of the grain and completing small areas at a time. After applying stain in one section, wait about five minutes, then wipe the section with cheesecloth to remove any excess stain, or until you achieve the the shade you want. Continue applying stain over the rest of the dresser. Repeat the steps for a darker shade. Let dry according to the manufacturer's directions, from eight to 24 hours.

  6. apply polyurethane to wood
    Jay Wilde

    Apply Polyurethane to the Refinished Dresser

    Wipe down the dresser with a clean tack cloth or cheesecloth. Working first on the horizontal surface, drizzle a light line of polyurethane onto the dresser. Using a bristle brush, spread it in the direction of the grain , working quickly and brushing over the same area only as much as needed to avoid bubbles, streaks, or imperfections. Cover the entire dresser. Let it dry completely, about 12 to 24 hours.

    If a second coat of polyurethane is desired, or imperfections appear, lightly sand with very fine grit sandpaper, then wipe with a tack or cheesecloth. Repeat the polyurethane process. While the polyurethane dries, spray-paint the hardware. Allow it to dry completely, then reinstall.

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