Antique Dresser From Trash to Treasure

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About: I enjoy repurposing and restoring old furniture and making woodwork projects that are not seen every day. I make most of my projects using wood that is either, recycled,reclaimed and love to repurpose and re...

I saw this dresser on my local marketplace for sale, yes you read correctly FOR SALE!! The owner wanted $100, I made an offer of $20 and after a few days, the owner excepted my offer. I thought it would be a good project for me to learn some new skills in trying to restore it back to its former glory. I was told I was mad to try which made me more determined to get it right. I know a lot of people would say this was a waste of time to do, but this is my hobby and the only real expense was my time. I had everything I needed at home already.

Step 1: Fixing the Frame

It is safe to say that not one piece of wood on this dresser was still in one piece or undamaged. I started by removing all the broken and rotten wood from the frame. It is possible that this dresser has gotten wet at some point because all the wood was warped, lifting and covered in water stains.

Step 2: Steaming the Wood

Because all the wood was warped and had lifted away from the frame, I needed to find a way to pull them all back into place. After a bit of research on the internet, all I could find on bending wood was to steam it. Having a handheld steamer at home I thought I would give it ago. The wood was saturated using a wet towel first, then the steamer was used to heat up the wood. Ratchet straps were put around the dresser to hold it into place while the wood was steamed. This process took many days to work, I would repeat the process every few hours, tightening the straps each time until the wood was pulled back into place. A couple of piece of the frame had rotten away, these were replaced by scrap wood. This wood was not visible so it did not matter that it was different wood. If you are going to try this, don't try and pull the wood back together in one go, the wood will crack.

Step 3: Glue Back Together

Once the wood was touching the frame again, all the wood was glued back to the frame. On a few areas, there were still some small gaps these were filled using wood filler.

Step 4: Glue the Tops Back Together

The tops on both sides of the dresser had split in half, I am assuming because they had dried out so much. They were glued back together with wood glue. I used big clamps to hold them together while the glue dried. They did start to bow as the clamps were tightened. To stop the bowing, a flat piece of wood was clamped down the middle to hold them in place. They still had very fine gaps where the seam was slightly splintered. These were filled in with wood filler and then sanded using an orbital sander.

Step 5: Replacing the Legs

Unfortunately, the legs on this dresser were beyond repair. They had rotted away and two were missing completely. Because all my projects are built using recycled materials I keep a box of spare legs from old furniture. I removed what was left of the old legs and added some new ones. There were from another antique dresser so I thought they would match. The legs were sanded down to remove all the old varnish ready for the new stain. A block of wood had to be added to the bottom so the legs were supported. I thought they looked pretty good in the end.

Step 6: Repair the Mirror Frame

The frame was not too bad considering the condition of the rest of the dresser. All the joins needed to be glued back together. Ratchet straps were used to hold them in place while the glue dried. An orbital sander was used to remove a lot of the dirt and water stains.

Step 7: Repairing the Drawers

The front of the drawers was in good condition for the age. The inside was another story, they were all cracked and falling apart. The drawers were glued back together and held in place with ratchet straps while the glue dried. I decided that I liked the cracks inside the drawers, I just added some stain and varnish to hydrate the wood. When the drawers were fitted back into the dresser they were so hard to push in. The drawers had to be wiggled from side to side just to get them in. Annie Sloane furniture wax was added to the sides of the drawers and they then slid in and out smoothly.

Step 8: Added New Shelving

The shelving was also beyond repair with the gap in the cracks being too large to glue back together. Scrap plywood was used to make some new shelves. To hide the fact that it was plywood. Wood veneer tape was ironed onto the front facing side of the shelves. The shelves were sanded and fitted using a nail gun.

Step 9: Repairing the Mirror

The mirror had some damage on two sections where the mirror "paint" was peeling off. I looked into getting a new mirror cut but it would cost way more than I would get when I sell the dresser. The alternative was to repair the damage enough to make the dresser presentable for use. A knife blade was used to remove all the loose mirror "paint". Once it was all cleaned a mirror effect spray paint was used to disguise the damage. When you looked at the mirror head on the repair was not obvious. The only angle where the repair showed up was when the photo was taken from the floor looking up in the sun. So I was pretty happy with that, and buyers of antiques expect some wear and tear. The mirror was fitted back into the frame and the back panel was stapled back into place.

Step 10: Sand and Stain the Dresser

The dresser was sanded using an orbital sander using 100 grit sandpaper and ending on 320 grit. Any small holes were filled in with wood filler before staining. Because the wood on the dresser still showed some water stains even after sanding a dark mahogany stain was used.

Step 11: Varnishing the Dresser

2 coats old based satin varnish was applied to the dresser. The back panel was replaced with new thin MDF which was attached using a nail gun.

Step 12: Cleaning the Hardware

Unfortunately, some of the hardware was missing, but I had some similar that I had stripped off other old furniture. To remove all the rust from the hardware I soaked them in white vinegar for 24 hours and the rust wiped off them. I did not want to paint them, but I did spray them with WD40 which did clean them up great.

Step 13: Replacing the Doors

The doors to the dresser just need to be glued back together. The holes to fit the hinges were too big and the screws would no longer grip. Wooden toothpick with glue was added to the holes so the screws had something to grip too. The hinges were replaced and the door put back on.

Step 14: Materials and Tools Used

Most of the materials used in this project were recycled. I collect all old furniture that other people give away and stip them down for parts and wood for future projects.

Tools and Materials used

  • Orbital sander
  • Nail Gun
  • Screwdrivers and screws
  • clamps
  • ratchet straps
  • hammer
  • wood glue
  • wood filler
  • mirror effect spray paint
  • Dark mahogany wood stain
  • Oil-based satin varnish
  • Vinegar

Step 15: Antique Dresser Completed

This was the final product after a few weeks of perseverance and determination. Many times I was about to give up but felt I had come too far to give up. To see more great from trash to treasure projects check out this antique captains chair I restored and this Leathertop office desk.

Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure

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    5 Discussions

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    AnandM54

    17 days ago

    Wow nice work friend !! Great idea too !!

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    Kink Jarfold

    23 days ago on Step 15

    Any DIYer has to be impressed with your dogged determination to repair this piece of furniture. You did an exemplary job. Kudos! --Kink--

    Well Done.png
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    hiwakoo

    25 days ago

    I did not know mirrows could be "repaired", thank you for sharing the idea. The dresser looks really nice.

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    AnitaH25audreyobscura

    Reply 27 days ago

    Thank you, it was a lot of work that paid off in the end.