This dresser has been an adventure from the start. I originally found it on Facebook Marketplace and loved the clean lines and spartan vibe of the frame. When I started this project, I thought I had a clear plan that would take just a couple days to finish. Well, I was so wrong!! This little dress became my obsession for a full week and I refused to give up. The end result makes me super proud, but when people ask how I did it, there isn’t a clear cut answer!!
The adventure begins
The seller set it out on her porch so I could come by anytime, and John, Emma and I made the 40 minute drive together to where they lived. It was a slightly rural area though and our GPS took us the craziest way – a solid ten miles out and around from where we should have originally turned. The final 1.5 miles of the crazy route was not a road at all, but an unpaved service road – no gravel or anything and pretty grown over. I was ready to turn back when the GPS said to turn, but John wanted to see where it went. So we drove literally through the woods for a little over a mile, wondering if we were going to get stuck in the mud with our front wheel drive SUV. The road spit us out on someone’s farmland with a gate at the end…but the gate was triple padlocked!! I was so worried we were going to have to turn back and drive in reverse all the way through the wood, but we noticed the farm owners were redoing their fence and there were a few openings almost large enough to get a car through, although it would take a bit of momentum to get over the burm it sat on. John wiggled one of the old wood posts out so I had more space and I gassed the car up and back onto the road – almost blowing my tire on a hidden stump. At this point, I was committed and even if the dresser had been horrid I probably would have taken it, and we did.
Before: stain looked more red in person than it does in the photo!
That weekend I sanded the whole thing down to the raw wood. There was still some finish left in the grain, but I was ok with that since I liked how the stain remnants looked on my last wood piece DIY. Well…I quickly realized that this must have been a homemade item – antique yes, but it is made from several different kinds of wood. Based on what little I know, I can tell it has at least 4 kinds of wood, all with different grains and colors. My plan was to bleach it though, so I was hoping it would all just turn a super light raw wood color in the end.
Once I had the original stain off, I could see there were a couple different kinds of wood. I think it may have been built with someone’s scrap wood.
Even after sanding the old finish off, the drawer fronts were pretty dark and the underlying wood had a lot of green in it.
I spent an entire day out in the sun adding bleach to the wood, letting it dry, and adding it again. The sides, which were made of pine, lightened really well, but all the rest just turned dark grey. So, knowing I was going to have to try something else in addition to the bleach, I rinsed and dried the entire piece super well and gave it a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper. When you bleach wood, it raises the fibers of the grain and it needs to be sanded again to smooth it back out.
After a full day in the sun and many many coats of bleach, the sides lightened pretty well, but the front just turned a weird grey.
Drawer front color just turned even more grey! At least the green went away though.
I thought that maybe using a stain would help add color back into the grey areas and then I thought I could just add additional coats to the lighter, pine sections to even it out. Welp, that did not work!! I tried 3 different stains and everything just got darker with some brown undertones and it was worse than when I first started!!!
So what now? Another trip to the hardware store and I found a solid stain by Minwax that I thought would be the ticket. I got their tintable solid stain in pickled oak – it was very close to the color I thought raw would is. After 2 coats, it looked great and I thought I was done!! But then I brought a drawer into the house and set it on the floor. Sadly, the drawer was a lot lighter than all the other wood in my house and very white by comparison. I love white, don’t get me wrong, but if I wanted this to be white, I would have just painted it!! Back to the hardware store, and I returned to give it one last coat of a solid stain in a more orange tone – it was the color Neutral Beige, which was not beige at all when mixed up! I watered this down so it was about half water half stain, then brushed it across the piece and wiped the stain off almost as quickly as I applied it. I worked in sections, making sure not to let the stain stay on too long or it would become too orange.
Left drawer: After one light coat of a light oil based stain
Right drawer: After light coat of Minwax tintable water based stain
After 2 coats of the lighter Minwax stain, which was too white, then one VERY light watered down coat of a more orange solid stain to add color warmth to the finish.
The warm tone that came out was great! A bit grey, a bit yellow, and a bit orange (in other words, it was a light brown, but I am a color fanatic and always looking at undertones). But now that I had added so much solid stain, the grain was a bit lost and there wasn’t much depth to the finish. Another trip to the store and I came home with a clear mixing glaze and some super dark brown paint to tint it with. I applied the tinted glaze over the fully dried stain and rubbed it into the grain, then off the piece super quickly before it had a chance to dry at all. This worked perfectly!! The dark brown worked its way into all the grain lines, as well as the cute rustic lines that were carved into the drawers and frame, bringing all that nice detail back out. Then I sealed the whole thing up with a coat of Minwax Polycrylic for protection and it was done! The poly also had the added bonus of killing the intense smell that the wood had, which I think was incense but John said smelled like pipe tobacco. The knobs were something I picked up at Hobby Lobby when I went on a pumpkin hunt the previous weekend and voila!
TOP: After a very quick application and wipe off of dark brown tinted glaze. You can see how it filled in the grain and darkened the overall color.
BOTTOM: Before adding the tinted glaze.
After a week of trial and error this thing was done. When we first got it home, I thought this would be a quick project but I was SO wrong! I am not sure I ever want to go through that process again, but know that if I do, I now have a much better feel for different stains, glazes, and waxes (I tried out a lime wax too and that was not going to work). We also now own all kinds of different refinishing products, so I guess that means I have to find some new project 🙂