Introduction: Topless Dresser With Problem Drawers - the Vanity

I noticed a dresser with a missing top and drawers without bottoms forlonly tossed in a dumpster. It called to me. Something told me to take the dresser. I really tried to walk away and leave it in the dumpster. The dresser was so beat-up, and it’s veneer was peeling or missing, and it was not even solid oak.

My fellow dumpster divers laughed at me. But, it called to me as I tried to turn away. Unfortunately, going against the voice in my head has always led to regret. So, it wouldn’t be the last time I would manhandle a “treasure” too big for me and possibly for the car. Fast forward one hour, and it’s neatly strapped in… poking out the trunk ready for the long haul home.

My precious topless dresser would remain parked in the garage for the next two years and then endured one move. But then, my dumpster dresser was Perfect…well, ready for a trash to treasure make-over…which is where we begin this instructables to make the best fixture in my house.

Step 1: Starting at the Top

Topless Dresser makeover steps…

I wish I had a picture before any work was done, maybe I was too embarrassed.

Find sink, faucets, knobs, laminate, nice pieces of miscellaneous wood, and backsplash tiles at a used building supply store. Salvage what you can, buy as little as possible, buying new stuff uses precious resources. That said, I bought oak veneer, 1/4 inch plywood, along with high density 3/4” particle board, contact cement, and silicone chalk to match sink.

First task was to make a top. Use the nice pieces of wood, about 3” wide by 3/4” thick for the sides and front perimeter. Added high density 3/4” particleboard behind this perimeter, and make them flush with each other. This hides the particleboard side edges behind exposed nice looking wood. Use the same wood as the dresser, if you have it, we didn’t so we used maple, I think, notice the light wood layer in the picture of the guy trying to get the drawer open without a knob.

After it’s nice and flush, measure and cut the sink hole. Flip the sink over, position where you want it, trace around the outside, then decrease the hole size by about 1 inch all the way around so there is wood under the sink lip. Sink lips will vary, so measure the lip first and decrease the hold size accordingly. Drill a pilot hole, and jig saw around to make the hole. Flip the sink over and test the fit. Some guess work is involved on how forward or backward you want your sink.

Next, install the countertop laminate. Plane and sand flush the particle board and nice wood perimeter, use wood filler if needed. It’s really important to have a nice flat surface so the laminate lays flat. Clean, then coat with contact cement. Clean and coat back side of countertop laminate. Let dry to tacky, then flip laminate over onto top of dresser. Press and roll on for really good adhesion. Once dry, drill a pilot hole in laminate in sink hole area, insert flush trimming router bit and router out sink hole. Guiding the flush trimming bit bearing along the wood edge hole you just cut. Now, router outer edge of dresser again with a flush trimming bit, but here we used a bit to shape the wood at the same time for a nice rounded edge to compliment an existing rounded edge of the lower layer.

Step 2: Veneer Illusion

Next, scrape off any peeling veneer, cut replacement pieces and use contact cement on dresser and veneer. The right and left sides of dresser have new veneer. These sides were so bad that we added 1/4 inch plywood over the top of the existing wood, then put veneer over the plywood.

Notice one small patch on a drawer front where only a small piece was missing, just match wood grain as best as possible. It’s okay to be rustic, after all it’s something old seeing new life. If you wanted something new go buy it, but that's not cool. Feel free to ding up the new veneer for character.

Step 3: Repairing My Drawers

Now that my top is on, it’s time to tackle my drawers...

Top Drawers: For the most drawer space and handy little compartments that hold bottles upright, we inserted a drawer until it abutted the sink, then measured how far it stuck out. We used that measurement to make the drawer adjustments. Here, we removed the drawer bottom panel, where one existed, cut the inner back corners out of the top two drawers, flipped them and glued and nailed them back in place. This work great because the nice dove tail corner previously hid in back was now visible Notch a drawer bottom panel to match the new profile and glue and nail in place.

The newly notched drawers will need the center drawer runners moved over to support the majority of the drawer. We added a vertical piece to the side of the drawer runner to keep the drawer sliding straight back and forth. The vertical piece stops short so it does not interfere with the small compartment part of the drawer.

Second Drawer: The middle drawer needed a notch for the sink plumbing. We estimated plumbing space since that would be done later. Remove the drawer bottom panel, cut out drawer back, add two wood pieces and cross piece, then notch the drawer bottom panel to match and reinstall with glue and nails.

Third Drawer: The lower most drawer was left as is because the plumbing was routed backward into the wall and down into the crawlspace.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

For a finish, I used light oak stain, then mahogany stain very lightly and very fast because it is a dark color. Use the mahogany just enough to get color in the grain, wipe the excess off quickly, and go over again with light oak. Some finesse is required to get the new veneer to match the old. I recall adding some cherry stain to the mix to get the maple perimeter wood to somewhat match the oak.

Distress the wood during the staining process if you want a worn look.

Then, coat all the wood with water based polyurethane. Three coats, light sanding in between layers. Oil based polyurethane will yellow over time, particularly in sunlight. If you like that look, use oil base, I don’t so I used water base which is holding up just fine in a bathroom environment.

Add plastic feet to the dresser legs so if the bathroom floor gets wet the water will not soak up into the wooden legs and blacken. I used nail-on plastic floor protectors.

Step 5: Install & Tile

To install the vanity sink, I screwed it firmly to wall studs so it would not move and joggle the plumbing.

After installing the vanity sink, I used three different border tile samples for the backsplash. Painter’s tape and plastic was used to cover the laminate adjacent the tile so the grout would not scratch the laminate. I used silicone chalk around the sink, and at the base of the tiles after grouting.

Ta-da...Trash to Treasure!

Please vote, I am ready to upgrade from a flip-phone.

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