Dresser Rehab Tutorial

September 29, 2016

This guest blog post was written by Zach Schiller, a third-year interior design student at the Art Institute of Raleigh-Durham and a member of the ASID student chapter. He specializes in custom-made pieces using locally-sourced, sustainable materials (including those found at the ReStore!). He has also done tutorials for a coffee table and a live edge-inspired mirror in partnership with Habitat Wake ReStores. 



If you’re looking to buy a new dresser, you’ll find that it is easy to spend $500 or more. But why spend all of that money on a dresser when you could search for a bargain at Habitat Wake ReStores? Not only will you be able to transform a piece of furniture into exactly what you want, but your purchase will help build homes for families in need.

A client of mine was requesting a “new to her” dresser to match her modern and farmhouse style bedroom furniture, so I went on the hunt. She knew she wanted at least 6 drawers.  I found this diamond in the rough at the ReStore for a great price. It obviously needed some TLC (or a whole lot of TLC). But it was very well-made and featured unique exposed dovetail joinery on the tabletop and straight, modern lines. The drawer design was reminiscent of shutters, which fit perfectly into the farmhouse theme.


 1. Clean the dresser really well. Pull out the drawers and vacuum them out along with the dresser frame.

2. Fill in scratches, dents, and holes with wood filler.



 3. Sand the surface. Let the wood filler dry and then sand the whole surface and drawer fronts to get an even surface.


Rumor has it that you don’t have to prep surfaces before you paint with chalk paint. But I still took precaution and sanded a lot of the previous finish off. I didn’t want to get “bleed-through,” which is when you paint over an already finished surface and stains seep through your fresh paint. No matter how many coats of paint you use it will still seep through. To prevent this from happening you can either: a) strip the whole dresser of its previous paint or stain, which would give you the best results; b) coat the dresser with an all-purpose stain-blocking primer; or c) apply a coat of shellac.


 4. Repair veneer. Time to fix the damaged veneer. Using a sharp razor blade cut off the damaged veneer. Check the rest of the drawer fronts for unstable veneer, then repair.



 This veneer edging works well because it is almost exactly the same size that we need to replace. It’s easy to use and not very expensive.



To make the veneer adhere to the surface, use an iron on high setting and run over the veneer slowly. You will be able to see the glue melt. * Wrap the bottom of the iron in aluminum foil to protect the surface from the melted adhesive.



 Once the veneer has dried you can trim it down to size. I barely had to trim off extra.

 5. Paint. Next it’s time to paint! I found this quart of light grey Valspar chalk paint on clearance at Home Depot. It was a mistint so it was marked down to $16 ($30 for a brand new one).




Chalk paint is so easy to work with.Make sure you have a large good brush. Load your brush with a thick layer of paint, and keep the brush loaded at all times.



After the first coat


As you can see one coat of chalk paint almost completely covered the surface. How great is that? We will have to do a second coat, but we are going to thin the remaining paint by adding 20% water to the can. This will make the second coat go on easier and without any brush marks. Also if you were to put another thick coat of chalk paint, you would have a hard time trying to sand the edges if you plan to distress the dresser (chalk paint is really durable).

6. Add the final coat: After the paint has dried completely you can put on the last coat of protection. There are 2 different methods you can use to protect the paint: polyacrylic or wax.

I chose to use polyacrylic that I got from Habitat Wake ReStores. With polyacrylic you can put on a couple of coats and then there will be no maintenance on down the road. I didn’t want my client to have to worry about that. If you choose to use wax you will have to reapply the wax routinely.  In between coats of polyacrylic you can very lightly sand it with a piece of paper, or a brown paper bag. This works perfectly.

7. Customize the top: to get the farmhouse rustic feel, I opted to just go ahead and add a whole new top. I purchased four pieces of 1’’x6’’x6’ pine from the home improvement store. The best part of DIY is being able to customize a piece of furniture!

Time to put on your safety goggles! Using a jigsaw I cut out a design on the first piece of pine. The middle part of the board overhangs and the sides are now recessed. This just gave it a really neat custom look that complimented the farmhouse aspect.



Next you can add an additional touch by routing the edges with a decorative router bit. I used the Dremel tool to do this.

Dremel bit
Dremel bit

To add a personal touch to this piece I carved my client and her husband’s first initials in the corner of the dresser top.  Dremel tool does carving too!



Position the planks evenly on the dresser top. Secure with wood glue and clamp them down until the glue dries (about 30 minutes)


Follow with a nail gun and 1-1/2’’ nails. (If you don’t have a nail gun you can just drive nails with a hammer.) The nail heads should be slightly exposed and that works perfectly for our design.  Then use 1-1/2’’ wood screws. I used about 6 of these screws on each plank spaced out evenly. *Make sure to countersink the screws so that you can fill the screw holes with woodfiller.

 8. Finish the top: Sand the pine. Since pine is pretty soft you can just sand with 220 grit sandpaper. Wipe off the sawdust with a slightly damp rag or a tack cloth.

Apply a layer of pre-stain, which allows the wood to absorb the stain evenly so you don’t get an uneven blotchy finish.




I used Classic Grey stain I found at Habitat Wake ReStores.  This is the place to get paint and stains: normally a small can of stain costs around $7.  At the Restores you can get it for as little as $1 per can. On my last visit I got several varieties of stain and polyacrylic and didn’t even break $10.




9. Add hardware

This step has the potential to get expensive. This dresser has eight drawers, which equals A LOT of drawer pulls. Installing one large pull on each drawer wasn’t in the budget: large pulls are expensive and would easily set us back $100.

I knew I wanted to incorporate rope or leather into the hardware, so I snagged these drawer pulls (around $2.00/pc) and some twine from Home Depot for $5.00. I wrapped the twine around all 16 pieces of hardware and use a hot glue gun and lots of glue. Time consuming but simple enough.



 That’s a lot of drawer pulls and was a lot of work but worth it. They are perfect.


 10: Distress drawer edges: We forgot to distress the edges before we put the final coats of polyacrylic. Break out your protective eyewear. Using the dremel tool and  the 220 grit sanding bit, lightly sand around the edges to give it a distressed look. Then touch up the edges with polyacrylic.


 11. Add extra trim

Looking around my workshop I found some extra trim and decided to add it to the dresser base. Most of the time I like to paint trim before installing it. Measure and miter cut each piece.  Fasten the trim with wood glue and 1’’ brad nails. I barely had enough paint for the trim, and if you remember the chalk paint was a mis-tint. Which means we couldn’t go to the store and get the exact same color again.  Deep breath.




11. Add feet.

This was also not planned, but sometimes you have to stand back and study the piece your working on. If it's missing something then its time to get back to work. The bottom of the dresser is elevated from the floor. It has a 4’’ toe-kick and it just wasn’t working visually. I cut 4 legs at 4’’ long to add to the bottom base.  Sand and stain each leg.


 Attach each leg with hanger bolts. This added further dimension and really helped to ground the dresser.


To attach the hanger bolts drill a hole in the center of the each leg slightly larger than ¼’’. Mark your drill bit with tape to make sure you don’t drill too deep. Screw the bolt into the leg.

Then attach the threads to the underside of the dresser by pre-drilling the same size holes you used for the legs. Insert the thread using a rubber mallet and then you can screw the leg in.

 12. Stencil. Lastly I did a little stenciling in each drawer to give even more character.


And we are done!