How to Refinish a Dresser to Make Old Furniture Shine Again

Paint is great, but it might not be the right finish for every furniture piece. Give your old wood furniture an updated look with our step-by-step guide to refinishing a dresser.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 4 hours
  • Total Time: 3 days
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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 that with a new coat of wood stain. Refinishing wood furniture, like this beautiful oak dresser, isn't as difficult as you think. With the right tools and a little elbow grease, you can give your old furniture a fresh look in just a few hours of working time.

For this project, we stripped a wood dresser of a dull coat of paint so its lustrous graining and elegant lines could shine. Then, we added painted hardware to lend a contemporary twist to the decades-old heirloom. A coat of polyurethane helps ensure the newly refinished dresser will look gorgeous for years to come. Follow our instructions below to learn how to refinish a dresser.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Drop cloth
  • 1 2- and 4-inch foam brushes
  • 1 2- and 3-inch putty knives
  • 1 Scrap bucket
  • 1 Small wire-bristle brushes
  • 1 Steel wool
  • 1 Tack cloth
  • 1 Staining pads
  • 1 Paintbrushes
  • 1 Cheesecloth

Materials

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

Instructions

  1. Apply Wood Stripper

    apply wood stripper
    Jay Wilde

    Remove hardware from the dresser and place in a safe spot. Remove drawers. Place 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

    scrape off paint
    Jay Wilde

    Once the entire surface has bubbled, use a plastic putty knife to scrape off the paint. Discard paint remnants in a scrap bucket. If additional 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

    remove residue on dresser
    Jay Wilde

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

  4. Sand Dresser

    sand dresser
    Jay Wilde

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

  5. Stain Dresser

    stain dresser
    Jay Wilde

    Thoroughly stir stain and, using a paintbrush or staining pad, apply the wood stain, working in the direction of the grain and completing small areas at a time. After applying stain in one section, wait about 5 minutes and then wipe the section with a cheesecloth to remove excess or until you achieve the desired color. Continue applying stain over the rest of the dresser. Repeat staining steps if a darker color is desired. Let dry according to the manufacturer's directions, from 8 to 24 hours.

  6. Apply Polyurethane to Refinished Dresser

    apply polyurethane to wood
    Jay Wilde

    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. Spread in the direction of the grain using a bristle brush, working quickly and brushing over the same area only as much as needed to avoid bubbles, streaks, or imperfections. Cover the entire dresser. Let 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; wipe with a tack or cheesecloth. Repeat the polyurethane process. While the polyurethane dries, spray-paint the hardware. Allow to dry completely, then reinstall.

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