Over the summer, I became “Professor Dresser” when I talked my husband into pulling over – in broad, screaming daylight – to recover an old dresser that someone had tossed out on the sidewalks of our neighborhood.
“But, someone will see us!” He proclaimed with mild embarrassment I as tore out of the passenger’s side to inspect the dresser.
The sky was overcast and my curiosity evolved into a frenzy as mild rain began accumulating on the exposed wooden surfaces. It would have been an absolute shame to bring this marvelous piece of furniture home, only to find it warped and swollen from exposure to Buffalo’s sporadic summer rainstorms.
“Yes, someone will see us getting this awesome dresser for FREE! ” I exclaimed, frantically removing the drawers and stacking them in the backseat of our aging, rust-ridden Toyota Corolla.
“Just wait until I fix this sucker up. You won’t even recognize it.”
I’m far from a wood expert but, the dresser seemed to be made from a wood that was “soft” and cedar-like. I say “soft” because it responded well to short bursts of sanding but took forever to get a smooth finish once the original stain was removed.
The craftsmanship, detail and dove-tailing in the drawer joints was amazing. I felt giddy to see such a beautiful piece of furniture just waiting to be brought back to life.
I would be lying if I said I had no anxiety about this project as I combed the shelves of Home Depot looking for the right sandpaper grit that wouldn’t scratch this beautiful piece into oblivion. I decided to play it safe and selected a variety of sandpapers with grits ranging from 180, 220, and 320 for the final finishing touches.
I borrowed an electric hand sander from the University at Buffalo’s machine shop and went to work on the flat surface of one of the drawers.
I started with 180 but, quickly moved to 220 since much of the original finish was worn off unevenly in a few places. Everything else was just a matter of elbow-grease and patience.
While I realize that 220 is a fine grit and used only for finishing, I wanted to played it ridiculously safe since the original finish was already worn down and not putting up much of a struggle during sanding. Most importantly, I wanted to preserve the natural grain pattern in the wood. This, consequently, was in response to having to “fire” my husband as my assistant when he used a 120 grit on one of the drawers for too long, thus permanently removing some of the grain characteristics.
I later took pity on him and reassigned him to kitchen duty for the rest of the day.
Luckily it wasn’t too noticeable in the final product.
When the original stain was removed and the bare wood was smoothed to perfection, I pre-treated the wood with Minwax Water-Based Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner that I applied with a lint-free cloth. After about an hour, I applied Minwax Water-Based Stain in Green Tea in two coats, each within 24 hours of each other, and with light sanding between coats to ensure even absorption.
The final coat was a Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish in a clear, semi-gloss. This was applied with a polycrylic brush that ran me about $12 – $15 at Home Depot and, while I initially bristled (get it? Bristle? Brush?!) at the price, it turned out to be well worth it, as glossy stains are very unforgiving to mistakes in application.
The lighter, wood stains were Minwax Wood Finish in Ipswich Pine (221) left over from when we refinished our floors the previous year.
Factoring in my work and study schedule, the entire beautification process took me about two to three weeks but, all in all, the entire process took about 72 (wo)man/labor hours from start to finish.
Hand-sanding the drawers was the worst part since I had to be sure to get every nook and cranny without damaging the integrity of the original craftsmanship but, as you can see from the final results, it was very well worth it.