Refinishing a Mid Century Dresser

I am so excited to share this dresser makeover!  I tell you, I think the stars perfectly aligned for me to snatch up this 1960’s Mid Century (solid wood drawers and veneer top and sides) dresser for FREE!!  This thing is in PRISTINE condition, with only two small scratches on top.  I have been on looking for a dress to place in our guest room, but local sale sites want $400-$800 for similar dressers. 

**Make sure to read the entire post to see how things did not go according to plan and what I did to fix it*

Unfortunately the dresser is not the standard Acorn color that most Mid Century pieces are, it’s very orange. Think 90’s oak cabinets.  The nightstands I have for the guest room are similar in color to this Walnut dresser below and that is what I want to achieve.

First order of business was to strip as much of the lacquer and stain off as possible.  It’s fall in the PNW which means it’s raining outside so worked on this inside using a non-toxic stripper.  Below are products I used in order to prep the dresser.  Not pictured 80 grit sand paper.

(read below for a note on the Denatured Alcohol)

Remember when I said this was in pristine condition? Almost 60 years old and hardly a scratch!

Here is a video showing the steps I took. I applied the Citristrip and laid plastic food wrap over it to keep the stripper from drying out. I left on for 4 hours (but you can leave on for up to 24 hours) then scraped it off with a plastic putty knife.  I then used Denatured Alcohol to wipe the dresser clean of remaining residue. It was difficult to get the stripper out of the square grooves in the center drawers, so I brought those to the sink and lightly scrubbed and sprayed it out with water being careful not to saturate it.  The next morning, I noticed how much lighter those drawers were in comparison to the ones that were only wiped down with Denatured Alcohol so I’m thinking the DA was not the way to go. Maybe first wiping them down with water and then Mineral Spirits, but I’m no expert!

You can see the Citristrip took off the majority of the lacquer and stain, but since the sides and top are veneer I needed to do a second round of stripping on those three parts which I left on for 16 hours. There are faster strippers on the market, but since I was doing this inside I needed a product that was safe. Sanding will remove the rest. I first sanded the entire dresser with 80, 120 and then 220.  I used this sander. 

After 1 application of Citristrip that was left on for 4 hours. I did a second application on the top and sides only (not pictured) and left on for 16 hours

When spending endless hours on Pinterest trying to find the right stain to use in order to achieve the color I was going for I came across General Finishes Java Gel Stain. The majority of the pictures looked like a rich walnut color. **I SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN A WALNUT STAIN THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN LIGHTER**

My goal for this piece was to use absolutely ZERO paint. However, if the stain takes differently to the sides and top of the dresser that are veneer compared to the drawers that are solid wood I might be in trouble. In that case I will paint the outer shell either white or black. If you’ve been following me for some time now then you will know I will prefer black hands down, but unfortunately that will not go well with the design I have planned for the room this dresser will reside in.

The dresser are drawers are completely sanded. I sprayed the off with a air hose to remove the sanding dust and then went over it with a tac cloth and applied Minwax Wood Conditioner.

I tested out a few different stains I had on hand along with the GF Java I purchased. The Java is WAY too dark for what I was going for and makes the side veneer look like cheap office furniture. HOWEVER, the application and coverage is AMAZING! I think GF is going to be my go-to stain going forward.

Here are some Minwax samples from stain I already had at home. I am not liking the look of this at all! It reminds me of an 80’s wood secretary desk. Just note that how a stain takes depends on the species of wood. Dark Walnut is one of my favorites on Pine wood, but the dresser is Elm wood which may be similar to oak? Regardless, I’m not loving how the wood grain is looking.

This is Minwax Weather Oak. I think we may have found a winner! It is not at all the color I was wanting to stain, but I think it looks the best for the grain. Plus the dresser was free and in the future can be used in another room or as tv console.

This is after Poly but BEFORE and a light sanding with 220 grit (Poly will darken the stain and give a yellow/orange hue to the wood, but will lighten up after sanding)

I’ll be honest, this is not going as planned and I am feeling completely defeated. I know the dresser was free and it will serve it’s purpose, but still! I went to bed thinking about what I could do to fix it. I wondered if I could put the General Finishes Java stain over the poly that had been lightly sanded? This way it wouldn’t seep into all the wood grain, but maybe just darken it up a bit.

So that’s what I did. I put General Finishes over the Java and painted the frame Sherwin Williams Alabaster to match the walls and then seal with Polyacrylic. NEVER use Polyurathane over white paint. Over time it will turn it yellow.

This dresser did not turn out at all how I had planned. It was a learning process that I will be able to apply to my next furniture refinishing project.

32″ Round Mirror

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