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Nothing beats an antique dresser. They were built with solid wood and strong joinery. The real, solid wood provides durability and natural beauty when restored or preserved.
Today's furniture is mass produced as cheaply as possible. It often looks great, but it doesn't last.
With a little elbow grease, a vintage dresser can be turned into a really great usable piece of furniture for less than the cost of the cheaply constructed mass produced furniture.
We recently purchased a maple "High boy" style dresser at an auction for $15. It was filled with old rat infested clothing, blankets, and other vintage relics (nothing of value). The green paint was hideous, but underneath was some beautiful birds eye maple wood.
The original plan was to completely strip off the paint and add a clear coat of varnish to enhance the natural beauty of the wood. However, the top had water stains and the veneer was damaged badly. We decided to repaint the dresser and refinish the drawers. Here is how we did it:
First, remove all the hardware and place everything in a cup or a zip-lock bag. Don't skip this step. When I leave them set on the workbench, not bagged up, I always seem to loose a screw or piece.
The easiest way to strip paint from old furniture is to use a heat gun. Strippers are good, but it is a messy and doesn't pull the the paint out of the grain.
To use a heat gun, hold the heat over an area for a few seconds until it bubbles up. Next take a sharp scrapper and remove the bubbled area. Be sure to move quickly with the heat gun, as it can ignite and burn the wood underneath. Also, be sure to wear a mask as the fumes are often nasty.
We only stripped the paint from our drawers, due to the top of the dresser having damage.
Next, to prep the dresser for paint, we sanded all areas with the old paint with 100 grit sandpaper on an orbital sander. This removed any loose paint and prepared the surface for the new paint. (Don't sand the bare wood with 100 grit if the wood is veneer).
At this point, I like to wash the furniture with a mix of warm water, laundry detergent and bleach. I scrub with a brush to really clean in the wood grain on the bare wood. This mixture helps remove the "antique" smell, cleans the grain and bleaches it to a more consistent color. If you use stripper, this step is extremely important, as the bleach neutralizes the stripper, and prevents it from reacting with your new paint or varnish.
After your furniture dries, the wood needs to be lightly hand sanded after. Water lifts wood grain, and to achieve a smooth finish, its best to smooth it out with 150 grit sand paper, lightly hand sanded (Hand sanding also prevents swirls left by orbital sanders).
At this point, the smell left over from the mice was mild, but still present. The best way to get rid of the smell is to set a few cups of vinegar in the drawers and close it all up. The vinegar will pull the smells out, and after about a week, there was no longer a smell.
We used a satin grey for the paint, and satin varnish for the drawers. To save money, we purchased the sample size paint which was the perfect amount for 2 coats of paint. Inside the drawers we used a flat white for aesthetics and to seal off any left behind smells.
3 coats of satin clear varnish were applied to seal off the grain and provide a smooth finish. The first 2 coats were applied back to back, and then we sanded lightly with 220 grit sand paper to remove any runs, and flatten the varnish out. The end result was an even smooth finish.
This project only took about 10 actual hours of work . We had less than $10 in materials in the restoration.
After purchasing the antique dresser for $15 and putting $10 into it, we sold it for $180 on craigslist. not the greatest hourly rate, but the cash flow is fantastic on flipping antique furniture!
On to the next project.