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How to fix an old dresser

June 8, 2010

This is a dresser I found in the street AFTER I worked on it (boy are the streets of New York City lined with furniture you can turn into great pieces). 

This one was full of junk an old nails and screws. I think someone might have used it for a hardware holder. I stripped it, restained it and lacquered it and then added these knobs I got at Zara Home in Barcelona.
Stripping furniture is fun but can be really tiring. I usually start out with lots of ambition and just want to get it over with at the end.

I would not recommend starting with something this large if you have never done it before. Also watch out for things with too much ornamentation as it gets cumbersome (see below). 

To do this you need:
  • A space out in the open – I often work in my yard and put down newspapers on the ground
  • Stripping liquid – this you can buy at the home depot or any other hardware store.
  • Gloves – dishing gloves will do
  • Clothes you don’t ever expect to wear again
  • Something to protect your eyes – like sunglasses
  • A mask to cover your mouth
  • Paintbrushes – buy extra good qualify. The stripping liquid dissolves the glue that holds the bristles on cheaper brushes and you get bristles all over the place
  • A scraper 
  • Stain – whatever color you like – I often go with dark walnut, which is also the color of the stained dresser above
  • Lacquer – if you want it
  • An old paper box
Be aware that old paint may have led in it, which is very harmful to inhale. Also the chemical you put on the furniture is very strong. Be sure to read the instructions carefully and if you get it on your skin rinse immediately.

Once you got it set up it is very easy. Put down newspaper on the ground and place your piece of furniture on top. “Paint” it with the stripping liquid.

Depending on how old the paint is, or if there is more than one layer, it may take longer time. Let the chemical sit for a while before you start removing it – and until the paint that “bubbles up” with the chemical – with the scraper.

I usually dump it all in an old paper box as I scrape along. Once you got all the paint off rinse the furniture with water and soap and wait until it is completely dry.
You then have to remove whatever paint you could not get with the paint remover by either adding more and doing the process all over again or you can sand it. Here I am sanding the drawers – to a great extent by hand as they have so much ornamentation.
Getting the paint out of the crevices can be a real pain and very time consuming

Once all of the old paint is removed you can stain it, paint it, lacquer it or oil it depending on your desired look. 
The last thing I do is put lacquer on top of whatever treatment I gave the furniture. There is an added benefit to this besides the esthetic one. Stain can take a very long time to dry and by adding the lacquer before the stain is completely dry you speed up the drying process as it seems the lacquer “forces” the stain to dry. 

I am not sure if there is any reason not to do this but it has always worked for me as I usually do not want to wait 7 days for the stain to dry when the lacquer can do it in a few hours.

Depending on what color you intend to stain or paint the piece you can sometimes get away with not stripping down to the last speckle of old varnish/paint. Here I left some of the old as I was painting it dark walnut and knew it would not show.

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