How to Stain a Dresser

Embrace and enhance a dresser's wood grain with a rainbow of stains. This step-by-step project shows you how to stain a dresser and customize a plain piece.

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Inspired by a pricey catalog dresser featuring gorgeous stained-wood drawers in a patchwork of hues, we transferred the look to an unfinished IKEA dresser using paint and stain for a fraction of the cost. Oil-base stains, such as Sherwin-Williams Wood Classics, have a long drying time, so you can stain large pieces without worrying about dried lap marks. We attached a painted board to the top of this dresser for a continuous flat surface.

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What You Need

  • Unfinished wood dresser
  • Screwdriver
  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Paint roller
  • Primer
  • Semigloss paint
  • Painters tape
  • Wiping cloths
  • Wood conditioner
  • Gloves
  • Oil-base stain (We used Sherwin-Williams Wood Classics. See last slide for color key.)
  • Foam brushes
  • Natural-bristle brush
  • Oil-base polyurethane
  • Mineral spirits

Safety Tip: Work in a well-ventilated area, wearing protective gear when necessary, and follow the manufacturer's guidelines for product usage, cleanup, and disposal.

Step 1: Prep Surface

Remove drawers and hardware with a screwdrivier. Be sure to label each piece to make reassembly a breeze. Sand dresser with 180-grit sandpaper, going with the grain of the wood.

Wipe away dust with tack cloth. Prime and paint the frame of the dresser to get our look.

Watch: Furniture Painting Tips

Step 2: Painters Tape

Tape off the sides of the drawers with painters tape. Be sure the paint is completely dry before you do this and press the tape right up to the edge of the drawer front. Repeat with each drawer. 

Step 3: Wood Conditioner

Cover your work area with a drop cloth or a large paper sheet. Rub wood conditioner on the drawer fronts with a wiping cloth. This will prime your wood so the stain sticks to it evenly. Let sit for 10 minutes, then wipe away excess. 

Step 4: Apply Stain

Apply stain with a foam brush, following the direction of the wood grain. Work from top to bottom so you can catch drips.

Allow stain to sit on wood for 10 minutes, then wipe away excess stain with a cloth. Let dry 2 hours. To achieve a darker color, apply a second coat. Repeat for the other drawers using other stain colors. To dispose of foam brushes and cloths, place in a water-filled container and follow local regulations.

Step 5: Finish

Using a natural-bristle brush, apply polyurethane to all drawer fronts. Clean your brush with mineral spirits when done. The polyurethane will protect your dresser and give the surface a clean, shiny look. 

Step 6: Reassemble

After 24 hours of drying time, attach hardware and insert drawers carefully into the dresser.

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