We’ve all seen those dressers – tired, old, outdated. They do the job but they don’t exactly add style to your space. New dressers often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and it can be challenging to find one you love. Learning how to refinish an old dresser is actually a lot easier than it sounds and it can completely change the look of your space.
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Prior to starting this project, I spent HOURS scouring the internet for every tip, trick, and instruction I could find for how to properly complete this project. This tutorial combines everything I learned, all served up in one place.
Are you ready to give your room a refresh with this dresser makeover? Let’s go!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Eye protection – Get fancy with these:
- 1 Drop cloth or a couple trash bags
- 3 small towels
- Coarse Sandpaper
- Small Sander (recommended but you could also do it by hand) This is the one we have:
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Sheet Sander. It’s so convenient because it’s battery operated and can use the same battery packs as the matching Black+Decker drill.
- Fine grit sandpaper
- Painter’s tape
- Paint brush
- Paint roller
- Durhams Hard Water Putty for any repairs – Amazon has it here:
Rockhard Water Putty
- New drawer knobs or pulls
- Tape measure or ruler if drilling new holes
- Kilz Original Primer
- Drill (If drilling new drawer knob holes)
- 1 gallon of interior Paint in the color of your choosing (I recommend a satin sheen)
Step 1. Move your dresser to your workspace, take out the drawers, and remove the old knobs or pulls using a screwdriver.
Step 2. Sand it. It’s important to sand your dresser before painting to remove any sealant or stain that’s currently there. This way, you’ll have a more porous surface that will allow the proper adhesion of your primer and paint. Sand every inch of the dresser that you plan on painting. If you’re preserving any part of the original piece, you obviously don’t have to sand that part.
When you’re sanding, it’s not 100% necessary to get all the way down to the bare, unfinished wood, but you do want to create a non-glossy surface for your primer to stick to. Some of the more intricate details require sanding by hand but for the larger areas, a few passes with a small sander make it quick and easy. I recommend wearing eye and ear protection for this step. When you’re finished, brush the entire project off with a cloth or hand brush to remove the dust.
Step 3. Make any structural or cosmetic repairs. For this particular project, the new drawer pull screws didn’t match up with the old drawer pull screw holes. So, I used Durhams Hard Water Putty to fill the old holes. It’s literally one of my most favorite products to have around. You can adjust the consistency, it dries hard as a rock, can be drilled through, and it doesn’t shrink. For this project, I simply mixed the powder with a little water, used a toothpick and paintbrush to fill the holes, and waited a few hours for it to harden. Once it was completely dry, I sanded it down flush with the wood and marked where my new screw holes needed to be.
One tip to keep in mind is that these old dressers may not be level in all areas. When measuring and marking where the holes need to be for new hardware, play around with using a ruler or measuring tape to make sure they are equidistant from the top of the drawer. The reason for this is because if a drawer in the dresser is very slightly sloped to one side and you attach a drawer pull that is completely level, it will look crooked. For my project, I made sure that the screw holes were parallel to the top of the drawer so the handles would look level. Play around with which method works best for your piece. When you’re satisfied, go ahead and drill.
P.S. If you’re in the market for a drill, I highly recommend the Black+Decker 20V MAX (pictured below). It’s lightweight, runs on a battery so there’s no cord to worry about, and it’s super easy to use. Amazon has it with all of the accessories here:
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Drill & Drill Bit Set
Step 4. If you’re painting every inch of your project, skip this step. If you’re keeping any part of it original, this is when you’ll tape off and cover the preserved sections. For this dresser, I chose to keep the top original. To make sure I didn’t get any paint on it, I covered it with a trash bag and then taped it down with painter’s tape. The painters tape also helped me create clean lines around the underneath of the top section. Now it’s time to prime!
Step 5. Priming is like exercising, you wish you didn’t have to but it will benefit you in the long run. Priming will help your paint stick to the surface of your piece. It can be tempting to purchase a paint and primer in one (and it’s still a great option even after priming) but for something that will be used heavily like a dresser, it will likely chip and peel over time if you don’t use a separate primer first.
There are many types of primers on the market but I highly suggest one with a stain blocker in it. Old furniture often has stains that you can’t even see. Stains can come from food, cosmetics, cleaning products, art supplies, oils etc. When those stains are painted over with a product that doesn’t have a stain blocker, these stains can seep through the paint and emerge at the surface months later! Crazy right!? So, I used KILZ Original Primer spray and it worked like a charm. If you plan on working outdoors and it’s breezy, definitely opt for the roll/brush-on version. I put two coats of this stuff on my dresser to promote optimal adhesion. The goal is to have a nice even coat over the entire project.
Step 6. Once the primer has had at least a few hours to dry, do a light hand sanding over the entire project. This will remove any primer crumbles and give you a smoother finish when done.
Step 7. Now, it’s time to paint! I’m not going to lie, choosing a paint color is hard. There are a million shades of every color to choose from and they never end up looking like they did on the paint swatch. For this project, I chose Palais White by Behr. It has a LRV of 87 which means it’s a very white, white but it has more depth to it than one with an LRV of 93 or 94. I also chose a Satin sheen for this project to give it some extra durability and scuff resistance without being glossy.
When you’re ready to begin painting your dresser, I recommend starting with a roller to do a large flat area (like the side or top) and then coming in with a brush to paint the detailed areas around it. This way, the paint will still be wet and the edges can blend together so you’ll have a more cohesive look.
Once this coat dries (2-3 hours depending on humidity) give it a light sanding. I KNOW this will feel wrong and counterintuitive but trust me, you’ll have a much smoother outcome! After sanding, wipe the dust off with a dry cloth and get ready for the second coat!
Step 8. The second coat is when brush lines matter so just make sure you’re using light-handed strokes and getting every nook and cranny. Give this coat some extra time to dry and then give it a super light sanding. When it’s all sanded, wipe it again with a dry cloth and remove any painter’s tape or protective plastic.
Step 9. If you want to add a polyurethane topcoat, now is the time. I don’t love it for dressers because they take a LONG time to fully cure (like, weeks) but if this was a piece that didn’t get a ton of use, I would consider it. Another option is to just add a layer of polyurethane to the top of the dresser for added durability and shine.
Step 10. The last (and possibly most satisfying) step in refinishing an old dresser is to add your drawer pulls! This is fun because they give the dresser some personality and pizzaz! There are endless possibilities and a ton of different places (Wayfair.com, Hobby Lobby, Amazon, Home Depot) to get unique drawer pulls and knobs. I ended up going with these handles from Home Depot. They offered some awesome contrast against the white paint and gave me that perfect modern farmhouse vibe.
There you have it!
Now you know how to refinish an old dresser. This is an easy DIY style makeover that is sure to refresh your space. Turn on some tunes, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy the process. Please share/pin this post for others to enjoy!