Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dresser Restoration: Part 1

So the other week I was driving down my back alley on our way to go shopping when an old beat up dresser in my neighbour's driveway caught my eye. Or maybe it was the huge "FREE" sign on top of it that got my attention... either way, you know I stopped. I looked it over quickly - everything was there and none of the wood was split, but it was pretty beat up. So I took the few things off the top (and some old clothes in one of the drawers) and put it in a neat pile on the ground next to it, took the drawers out and lifted it into the back of my truck (did I mention how much I LOVE the convenience of driving a truck?!) and backed up to take it home (only 2 houses down). After dropping it off in my garage, I left them a little note thanking them for the "diamond in the rough" and my name and address (because for some reason neighbours don't really talk to each other in this tiny town).
Later, I called my mom to brag about my first garbage picking SCORE! (Mostly because I always rag on her about doing this.)

Well, you can tell where this is going by the title of this post, so here she is:
Now the age of this piece is REALLY questionable. It looks like most of it is solid wood, and by the amount of dings and scratches I'd tag it to have been through a lot of people... But there's this weird veneer in two areas and I didn't think was common until about the 70's or 80's. It's actually EXTREMELY similar to the dresser we already have in our master bedroom (that Lorne bought for a case of beer before we met and I did a terrible rookie sand & stain job on) except it's slightly taller and our drawers are all the same depth. But the measurements, rolled top edge, V-shaped inlay on the front, and the detailed edge on each side is the same.

I've been itching to start this project because it kind of has a domino effect in the house. I'm going to paint this up for Ella to replace the very basic Ikea Trofast shelf/bucket system she currently has for her clothes (and some toys). She's getting to the age where she wants to decide what she wears and can put most items on by herself... but she can't reach a lot of her clothes with the set up she has now. Also, once we move the dresser in, her shelving unit will go into Logan's room along with some toys that Ella has grown out of. Every body wins!

So I started by taking the knobs/handles off:
Yes, the top looked this bad BEFORE any sanding.
Here you can see the beautiful inlay work, it's almost a shame to paint over it.
They're a combination of brass and melamine I think?  It's a weird plasticy pink/orange/yellow/cream marble looking type thing... Which kind of points to the 50's, and so does the art-deco styling of the inlay. One thing's for sure, those knobs were ugly.

The next step was doing some repairs. I totally wanted to attack this thing with a paint brush, but I kept telling myself that I wanted to do this right, so it would be awesome for Ella for a long time. Most of the drawers were in really good shape, in fact they slid better then our other dresser.
Some of the drawers "sagged". Which wasn't a big deal at all, but again keeping with the thought of doing this right for Ella, I used my air nail gun to tack it back together. Before putting the nails in, make sure the boards are all where they're supposed to be, most drawer sides have grooves that this bottom piece is supposed to slide into.
This drawer is upside-down.
Also, make sure you hold your nail gun straight up and down, and that you aim into the deep wides of the wood... aha...
If this happens it's easy to just pull the brad nail right though with a pair of pliers but it's going to suck if you went through the nice side of the wood, not the inside of the drawer like I did here.

Another one of the drawers was missing it's center rail. This part slides back and forth in a channel in the frame to make sure your drawer moves straight in and out.
Oh hello, gorgeous retro gas stove buried in my garage. Don't worry, you'll be loved again some day.
I simply found a peice of trim we had in the garage from a previous (door frame) project, cut it to length, and glued it in place. I used some tape to hold it still while the wood glue dried, and actually a temporary brad nail since my trim happened to be a bit curved.
Note to self: remove brad nail sticking up through drawer.
The top drawer was the absolute worst. It may have even deterred another passerby... but not me and my trusty wood glue!
Here you can see how they tried to fix a sagging drawer bottom... If they only knew.

NOT through the beautiful wood front! You idiots!
Also, look at the comparison to the drawer front (top redish) and the dresser's top (bottom grey).

After removing at least 14 nails and gently hammering off the front of the drawer, I liberally applied some good ol' wood glue and slid everything back together. These old dovetails weren't easy, but if you put it back together in the right order it's not too bad. Insert the drawer bottom into the groove in the front of the drawer first, with the sides opened out past their 90 degree angle. Then squeeze the two drawer sides together, lining up the dovetails - they're angled a certain way.

I secured everything with more precisely placed brad nails, being careful not to shoot through the drawer front (my brad nail holes are a flat rectangular shape like a flat-head screwdriver).

Next I removed some old casters. I think the idea was original to the piece, but once I got them all out it was obvious that they were all different castors, probably replaced over time.
I think this is probably an original, just going by the curve of it:

I decided not to bother fixing this bottom drawer channel. Half of it was still there and the drawer still slid in & out easily and straight. However I might still use the brad nailer to make sure it doesn't shift from side to side.
Compare it to the one above.
Then I sanded with 220 grit sandpaper (because honestly that's all we have) by hand. I know some of you are wondering why I didn't use my new Dremel, but I was just afraid of the damage it's aggressiveness might do to the tiny detailing and round edges. Although it probably would have done a better job at getting into the corners. I made sure to get those weird veneer pieces really well, in case they are some sort of plastic sheet - I want the paint to stick. Here's a look at another piece...

And lastly (for tonight anyway), I blew it off using my trusty air nozzle from my body shop days (and no not the lotion & soap store). It's great for getting the sanding dust and cobwebs out of all the cracks and corners. Do the insde of the frame as well, it's really dusty in there!
When your project is nice and clean, it's easy to see any deep scratches, dents or pits in the smooth & newly sanded surfaces that you might want to fill. I haven't decided if I'm going for a distressed look or not yet, so I decided to patch up the ones on the top of the dresser, and will do the fronts of the drawers once I sand those. I'm not even going to attmep the detailed edge on the sides, because it's SO banged up it could never be smooth again. Most of it evened out while sanding anyways. When you're looking for pits and scratches to fill, walk around the object, with the surface at eye level. there's a certain angle where the light hits the smooth surface properly and spots that you'll want to fill will be easier to see. I marked the holes with a bit of tape as I found them, so I could keep looking once I found "that angle".

So the next time I work on it I'll sand down the wood filler patches, and work on the drawer fronts! Once it's all sanded and blown off again, I can mask off the inside and spray primer! EXCITING!
For my inspiration and ideas, you can view my Pinterest board here: Ella's Dresser.
For GREAT tips and answers on painting furniture, you should check out Centsational Girl's post here: How To Paint Furniture.
Also, Flea Market Trixie does a really beautiful distressed and textured dresser here (using USED COFFEE GROUNDS!): Aged Textured Dresser.


  1. What a gorgeous piece. I really love the photos too! Can't wait to see the finished product!

  2. Totally love it! Please keep going on with your cute blogg!!!