Revamp Old Dresser With Road Signs




About: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is Sam and I'm a community manager here at Instructables.

A friend of mine gave me a beat up old dresser that was in need of some serious love. 

The finish was chipped and gouged all over and there were various parts that were either loose, broken, or missing. But the dresser case was well-built, as were the nice dovetailed drawer boxes, so I thought it was a great candidate for a makeover. 

My goals with this dresser were to: 1) restore it to its original functionality, and 2) make it unique and much more awesome.

I'm happy with how it turned out. Thanks for taking a look.

Step 1: Drawer Fronts With Character

The external wood portions of the dresser were finished with stain and polyurethane, and the drawer fronts were covered with pieces of old road signs. I like the way the finished wood surfaces contrast with the ratty sections of old signage. Each scrape, crack, and mar on the signs add a bit of character. 

The flat black handles were chosen because they were simple and inconspicuous, and they allowed the colorful drawer fronts get all the attention. I think they fit the piece perfectly.

Step 2: Acquire Some Signs

If you would like to refinish a dresser in this same manner, you will need to acquire some road signs.

Don't go out and steal road signs. That's just idiotic, and there are legal ways to get old road signs. Ask your city or county road department if they have any old signs you can have. Signs get replaced regularly for many reasons, and while some cities and towns are good about recycling, others just throw the signs in a pile and let them sit for years. Just ask around, and be polite.

Step 3: Acquire Old Dresser

I didn't take any photos of the dresser before I stripped all the old finish off. I wish I had, to prove how not-in-a-good-way funky it was. 

This is what it looked like after lots of sanding, filling up all the cracks and holes with wood filler, and fixing a handful of issues. Many parts of the dresser just had to be re-glued and clamped in order to bring it back to its original, solid condition.

Step 4: Stain Dresser

The dresser case and drawer fronts were stained with an oil-based stain color called "Jacobean." I'm not sure on the pronunciation, but I'm pretty sure it's not "Jacob-Bean."

I stained the entire drawer fronts even though I knew they would mostly be covered up by pieces of road signs. This worked out well because certain pieces of sign had holes in them or rounded corners, and the wood left showing through was already stained.

Step 5: Cut and Arrange Sign Pieces

This part was the most fun, and the most challenging.

I wanted to make the collage of colors appear balanced and interesting to the eye, so I spent quite a while deciding what pieces to use and where to put them before I made any cuts.

When I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted, I used my circular saw and a straight edge to cut out all the pieces and trim them carefully to fit on their respective drawer fronts.

Aluminum cuts easily enough, but cutting it produces little aluminum flakes that get everywhere. Be sure to use safety goggles if you try this. 

Most of the scrap pieces of aluminum were kept to use for other projects later on.

Step 6: Attach Signs to Drawer Fronts

The sign pieces were attached to the drawer fronts with screws.

A file was used to take off the sharp edges and to file down the sign pieces to precisely match the exact size of the drawer fronts.

Step 7: Polyurethane Finish

I wanted the dresser to be as durable as possible, so I finished it with three coats of clear satin polyurethane.

To get a super-smooth finish, I sanded between each coat with 220 grit sandpaper, followed by a buff with super fine #0000 steel wool. After the final coat of poly, I buffed the finish with the steel wool again, and polished the entire thing with regular household furniture polish. Make sure each coat is fully cured before sanding or you'll end up with gummed up sandpaper and awful marks in the finish.

This same finish was applied to the sides of the drawers, and to the road sign faces. I did this thinking it would seal them up nicely and prevent further chipping and cracking. If nothing else, it brought out the colors and made them a bit more vivid.

Step 8: Add Hardware

The handles were added after carefully measuring and drilling the holes for the screws. 

Step 9: Fine Tune the Drawers

Not all of the drawers fit as nicely as they may have originally, perhaps due to the wood expanding or contracting over the years with the changes in the weather, or being moved around from different climates. 

A little bit of sanding here and there, and a couple of slight adjustments to the center guide rails in the drawer openings fixed these issues. I used a chunk of paraffin to wax all the parts of the drawers and drawer openings that come in contact with each other so the drawers would slide in and out more easily.

Step 10: Thanks for Looking!

That's it.

Any thoughts, let me know. I always appreciate a little feedback.

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    32 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Jacobean is pronounced "JACK uh BEE un" with the strongest accent on the "BEE." See

    Click on the little speaker icon to the right of the word itself, to hear it pronounced.

    Cutting aluminum definitely requires goggles. It's a relatively soft metal, but a sharp shard of it won't feel soft if it gets in your eye.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    No, you'll definitely need a saw. If you don't have one, maybe you know someone you can borrow from?


    5 years ago

    I like it my self!!!!Add license plate on there.I think it would look cute!!!!!!

    This is very off topic, but where did you get that fantastic Darth Vader? I have a nephew who would adore it!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome! Now I just need to get some signs...


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I Love this!!! And i love the donut thing! Great idea when you work at a donut shop like mee haha :] Is there anyway to seal the signs? Dont they chip sometimes?

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Good question. I sealed the sign pieces with polyurethane just like the wood (I actually addressed this in step 7).

    Glad you liked it. Thanks for the comment!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Oh awkward haha, serves me right, should have read further


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I really like this 'ible and hope i could get around to doing something like it at some point, my only question would be; where did you get the signs from?


    6 years ago on Step 10

    That came out really nice. I also like the drawer configuration, never seen a dresser quite like that with the "mini" drawers, but they would sure come in handy for things like socks etc.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! Yep, I'd never seen one like it either. I've got two of my boys sharing it, and they kind of fought over who got the odd extra drawer for a while!