How to Refurbish an Antique Dresser

How to refurbish an antique dresser.

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When I came across a crusty antique dresser on Facebook Marketplace, I just knew I had to have it.

The picture on the listing looked like a piece of structurally sound furniture, but one that desperately needed new paint and hardware. However, that assessment couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Not only was this dresser full of wood rot and termite damage, but the man selling it dared to tell me that he had already fixed it. It took more time and effort to remove his ‘fixes’ and gobs of unnecessary wood glue than it did to refinish everything that he (thankfully) didn’t touch.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I paid him $40 for it. When instead, I should have taken a good look at it and told him that I changed my mind. But against my better judgment, I brought it home and got to work giving it a makeover.

Here’s how we refurbished this antique dresser and made it the stunning entryway table it is today!

The before picture of the antique dresser that we refurbished.
(The crusty before picture. You really can’t tell how bad of shape it was in.)
We refurbished this antique dresser to use as an entryway table.
(The beautiful after picture!)

The Tools

(It was worth all the time and work that we put into it!)

The Supplies

refurbishing an antique dresser
(It’s one of my favorite pieces of furniture now!)

2 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/22 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/22 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/2RJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs HardwareRJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs HardwareRJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs Hardware

 

Step 1: Remove the Rot

After getting the antique dresser home and seeing what bad shape it was in, we were overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. Everywhere we looked, there was another problem.

First, we took the dresser apart to determine which pieces were rotten and which were okay.

I took out all of the drawers and threw away the rotten backs and bottoms.

Then we removed the top, revealing structural supports that had been replaced by the seller. However, they weren’t even, so the drawers were almost impossible to open and close.

We also had to cut off approximately 2 inches of the back legs due to rot. The side and back panels of the antique dresser were weak, so we removed those as well.

After we chunked everything that wasn’t salvageable, we were left with partially put-together drawers, the basic frame, a warped top, and back legs that were too short.

It was a mess!

Remenna Decorative Bookend Deer Head Antler Book Ends Heavy Duty Cast Iron Vintage Shelf Decor, Antique BrownRemenna Decorative Bookend Deer Head Antler Book Ends Heavy Duty Cast Iron Vintage Shelf Decor, Antique BrownRemenna Decorative Bookend Deer Head Antler Book Ends Heavy Duty Cast Iron Vintage Shelf Decor, Antique BrownCreative Co-Op Decorative Distressed Cast Metal Duck Head Bookends, Black, Set of 2Creative Co-Op Decorative Distressed Cast Metal Duck Head Bookends, Black, Set of 2Creative Co-Op Decorative Distressed Cast Metal Duck Head Bookends, Black, Set of 2

 

Step 2: Rebuild the Frame

After making an even bigger mess out of this dresser, it was time to start rebuilding it.

We first made new support braces for the frame using scrap pieces of 1×4 pine boards. We cut 4 boards to the correct length (the depth of the dresser). Then we made a tongue on each board using our table saw. There are 2 braces on each side of the dresser, one at the top and one at the bottom.

After getting the supports ready, they were placed into the grooves of the front face and the back legs, glued in, and clamped down.

Once the glue dried, this meant that the front of the dresser was once again connected to the back and we had a sturdy frame to work with.

How we replaced the rotten support braces when we refurbished the dresser.
(After the new braces were glued and clamped in.)

DEWALT (DWE7491RS) 10-Inch Table Saw, 32-1/2-Inch Rip Capacity, Yellow/Black/SilverDEWALT (DWE7491RS) 10-Inch Table Saw, 32-1/2-Inch Rip Capacity, Yellow/Black/SilverDEWALT (DWE7491RS) 10-Inch Table Saw, 32-1/2-Inch Rip Capacity, Yellow/Black/SilverWEN 10236F2 Quick-Adjust 36-Inch Steel Bar Clamps with 2.5-Inch Throat and Micro-Adjustment Handle, Two Pack , MulticolorWEN 10236F2 Quick-Adjust 36-Inch Steel Bar Clamps with 2.5-Inch Throat and Micro-Adjustment Handle, Two Pack , MulticolorWEN 10236F2 Quick-Adjust 36-Inch Steel Bar Clamps with 2.5-Inch Throat and Micro-Adjustment Handle, Two Pack , Multicolor

 

Step 3: Fix the Back Legs

While we were waiting for the glue to dry, we worked on fixing the back legs of the dresser.

We had to cut 2 inches off of the bottom of the dresser’s back legs because they were rotten. Now, we had to figure out a way to add that length back.

We stripped down a scrap piece of a 2×10 board to match the size of the back legs. Then cut it into 2-inch blocks to replace what we cut off. We attached the blocks to the legs using a 3.5″ lag screw screwed in from the bottom.

Milwaukee 2732-20 M18 FUEL 7-1/4 in. Circular SawMilwaukee 2732-20 M18 FUEL 7-1/4 in. Circular SawMilwaukee 2732-20 M18 FUEL 7-1/4 in. Circular SawCRAFTSMAN V20 Cordless Drill/Driver Kit, 1/2 inch, Battery and Charger Included (CMCD700C1)CRAFTSMAN V20 Cordless Drill/Driver Kit, 1/2 inch, Battery and Charger Included (CMCD700C1)CRAFTSMAN V20 Cordless Drill/Driver Kit, 1/2 inch, Battery and Charger Included (CMCD700C1)

 

Step 4: Rebuild the Drawers

While we were still waiting for the glue on the frame to dry, so we put the drawers back together.

It’s very common for the back and bottom pieces of drawers to be rotten in antique furniture. We replaced the rotten back and bottom pieces using 1/8″ plywood and brad nails to put them back together.

We had to replace the bottom of this drawer in the antique dresser.
(This drawer just needed the bottom replaced.)
(We replaced the back and bottom on this one.)

CRAFTSMAN V20 Brad Nailer, 18GA, Cordless, Bare Tool Only (CMCN618B)CRAFTSMAN V20 Brad Nailer, 18GA, Cordless, Bare Tool Only (CMCN618B)CRAFTSMAN V20 Brad Nailer, 18GA, Cordless, Bare Tool Only (CMCN618B)Steel Force FMX200 18 Gauge Brads Mixed 5/8Steel Force FMX200 18 Gauge Brads Mixed 5/8Steel Force FMX200 18 Gauge Brads Mixed 5/8

 

Step 5: Replace the Back and Side Panels

The side and back panels of the dresser were pretty rotten. We replaced them using the same 1/8″ birch plywood sheet that we used to replace the drawer bottoms.

After cutting the plywood to the right size, the new sides slid easily into the grooves that were already cut into the frame. Then we secured the new side and back panels with brad nails.

(The antique dresser was finally starting to come together!)

Step 6: Take Top Apart & Put Back Together

Thanks to the seller, the top of this antique dresser was a hot mess.

Originally, it was made of 4 separate boards that were expertly crafted together with tongue and groove joints. Over the years, the boards warped and were no longer flush with each other.

The seller took the boards apart and tried to join them back together with copious amounts of wood glue and screws. We had to take it apart, scrape off as much of the glue as we could, clean out the grooves, and put it back together.

The boards still weren’t perfectly flush. The easiest way to fix this would be to run them through a planer, but we don’t have a planer. So, we had to settle for sanding them down as smoothly as we could.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a world better than where it started.

(The top glued and clamped back together.)
The antique dresser after it had been sanded.
(After sanding the top.)

Step 7: Sand

Now that the antique dresser was finally structurally sound, I could finally start working on the cosmetic stuff.

Using my orbital sander, I sanded the drawer faces and front legs of the antique dresser down to the bare wood. To get in the curves and crevices of the front legs, I folded a sanding pad in half and sanded them by hand. The old black paint was flaky and came off pretty easily.

Then, I gave the rest of the dresser a good scuff sanding.

DEWALT Orbital Sander Kit, 5 inch, 3 amp, Corded, 12,000 OPM (DWE6421K)DEWALT Orbital Sander Kit, 5 inch, 3 amp, Corded, 12,000 OPM (DWE6421K)DEWALT Orbital Sander Kit, 5 inch, 3 amp, Corded, 12,000 OPM (DWE6421K)BAIWEN 20PCS 5 Inch Mesh Hook & Loop Sanding Discs 80 120 180 240 600 Assort Grit Dust Free Abrasive Net Sander Disc Anti-Blocking Long-Lasting Mesh Sanding Pads, Sandpaper for Wood Furniture FloorBAIWEN 20PCS 5 Inch Mesh Hook & Loop Sanding Discs 80 120 180 240 600 Assort Grit Dust Free Abrasive Net Sander Disc Anti-Blocking Long-Lasting Mesh Sanding Pads, Sandpaper for Wood Furniture FloorBAIWEN 20PCS 5 Inch Mesh Hook & Loop Sanding Discs 80 120 180 240 600 Assort Grit Dust Free Abrasive Net Sander Disc Anti-Blocking Long-Lasting Mesh Sanding Pads, Sandpaper for Wood Furniture Floor

 

Step 8: Prime, Paint, and Stain

After sanding, I rolled 2 coats of primer onto the face and sides of the dresser, applying the primer with a paintbrush in the areas the roller couldn’t reach.

I let the primer dry for 2-3 hours before applying the first coat of paint. That coat of paint was allowed to dry overnight before I applied the second coat.

I lightly sanded the dresser between each coat of primer and paint to get a nearly flawless finish.

If you’ve been around the blog or my Instagram long, then you’ll recognize this Dark Sage paint color. I flipped another dresser using this same color and when I was buying the supplies, I accidentally ordered a whole gallon of it. So, I’m trying to use it up before our next PCS, which is rapidly approaching.

Once the last coat of paint dried, I stained the top, drawer faces, and front legs using Behr Rustic Wood Effects Stain (color: Rustic Brown).

After applying primer to the antique dresser.
(After 2 coats of primer.)
After painting the antique dresser.
(After 2 coats of paint.)

Mister Rui Foam Paint Roller, 2 Inch Mini Paint Roller Kit (8 Pack), Small Paint Roller with Tray, Small Paint Rollers 2 Inch, Mini Rollers for Painting Cabinets, Furniture, Stenciling, Art CraftsMister Rui Foam Paint Roller, 2 Inch Mini Paint Roller Kit (8 Pack), Small Paint Roller with Tray, Small Paint Rollers 2 Inch, Mini Rollers for Painting Cabinets, Furniture, Stenciling, Art CraftsMister Rui Foam Paint Roller, 2 Inch Mini Paint Roller Kit (8 Pack), Small Paint Roller with Tray, Small Paint Rollers 2 Inch, Mini Rollers for Painting Cabinets, Furniture, Stenciling, Art CraftsZinsser Rust-OLEUM 249933 1-2-3 Plus, 1 Quarts (Pack of 1), White, 11 Fl OzZinsser Rust-OLEUM 249933 1-2-3 Plus, 1 Quarts (Pack of 1), White, 11 Fl OzZinsser Rust-OLEUM 249933 1-2-3 Plus, 1 Quarts (Pack of 1), White, 11 Fl Oz

 

Step 9: Put Top Back On & Add Hardware

Once everything was dry, we nailed the top of the dresser back on with 1 nail in each corner.

But the finishing touch was the new hardware for the drawers. Heff picked out the lion head drawer pulls and I was hesitant, but they are perfect for this piece!

I think they match great with the simple antique brass knobs that we used on the top drawers.

(Heff chose these lion head drawer pulls.)
The finishing touch of refurbishing this antique dresser was adding the hardware.
(And I found the round knobs to match them.)

2 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/22 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/22 Vintage Antique Lion Head Ring Pulls Handles, Towel Rings or Knockers 1 1/2RJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs HardwareRJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs HardwareRJDJ 6 Pack Kitchen Cabinet Knobs Dresser Knobs Drawer Knobs Handles, Round Drawer Pulls with Screws, Antique Brass, 1.18-inch Diameter Cabinet Door Bathroom knobs Hardware

 

In the end, this antique dresser came together beautifully.

However, as you can see, it was a LOT of work. In the beginning, we worried that we bit off more than we could chew.

I’m not sure that this antique dresser would have been worth the work if we were flipping it to sell, but we plan on keeping it. I want to use it as an entryway table for years to come!

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