Hello my creative friends! With the start of a brand new year in just a couple of days, I thought it was the perfect time to share how to paint a dresser! A dresser is a great place to start if you’ve been wanting to get into the furniture painting game or just want to make a few updates in your own home. This project will show you how to tackle practically any issue you may come across along the way!
Bringing older pieces back to life can be especially intimidating, but just go through the steps one by one, and don’t feel like you have to tackle everything in one day!
If you’re dealing with a newer piece in decent shape, you can skip some of these steps.
Today’s project piece is this gorgeous dresser that I redid in 2020:
I also shared the taller mate to this dresser HERE.
At the time, I asked y’all if you thought I should paint this one to match or give it its own look, and the responses leaned more toward making it match.
Funny thing, because when the lovely lady who blessed me with this set saw the first dresser made over here on the blog, she asked if she could buy them back!
She had held onto them as long as she could in their current state but was in the process of downsizing and just did not have the space to store them any longer. I knew she was heartbroken to have to let them go.
This dresser had belonged to her father and his parents before then.
How to Paint a Dresser from Start to Finish
I’ve included a few affiliate links so you can find the products I love.
The first step step is a proper cleaning!
When I originally redid this dresser, I waited to clean until after I had sanded and filled any holes, but nowadays I prefer to clean first as not to disturb the wood filler. I use White Lightning by Dixie Belle. It is a cleaner AND a deglosser that comes in powder form.
I like to mix a small amount into a small tub for each project, adding one TBSP to a half gallon of warm water:
Be sure to change out your water for clean water and wipe down once more to remove any residue after cleaning. These terry cloth pads are perfect for cleaning…like a washcloth sponge!
Next, fill any gouges, holes, or deep scratches.
For this, I like Dixie Belle’s Mud in brown. You could use any color really if you plan to paint over it, but it comes in brown, white, and black.
Allow plenty of dry time, overnight if possible, to be sure it is completely dry all the way through. Leaving it out in the sun will speed up the process.
Then, sand with 220 grit sandpaper. If I can run my fingers over the area with my eyes closed and still feel what I was trying to fill. I apply another coat and repeat.
Tackle Missing or Damaged Veneer
If you have missing veneer, sometimes it can be filled in as in this instance:
Sand any areas to be stained
Vacuum and clean
Once you’re finished with all the sanding, vacuum using a shop vac and brush attachment. Then, give it another wipe down with a soft, clean cloth.
Get rid of musty odors
If you’re lucky enough to have a fresh, clean dresser to work on, then skip ahead. If not, I’ve got you covered!
The magic sauce for ridding furniture of musty or smoky smells is BOSS by Dixie Belle.
I used the clear formula to completely coat the inside of this dresser. I find it easiest to tackle the inside of dressers while they are lying flat on their backs:
As you can see, I covered every surface inside. Not all dressers have the drawer areas divided like this one, so those should be easier to tackle.
I only used one coat and the musty smell that was quite strong before was eliminated completely.
After cleaning the drawers, I applied Big Mama’s Butta in Orange Grove.
It smells so lovely and hydrates the wood while adding a layer of protection:
Prime for possible bleed-through
Bleed through usually occurs in older cherry and mahogany pieces…sometimes older oak as well. What’s coming through your paint are the tannins in the wood, and that will bleed through every layer no matter the kind of paint you use. It looks like pink or brown splotches.
If you have a newer piece (post 1980’s), you can likely skip this step.
Just about anything considered antique, however, usually gets a coat of BOSS from me if I plan to paint it a lighter color, especially white.
Although newer dressers will likely NOT need BOSS, if you start painting and realize you are getting bleed-though, you can always apply BOSS right over the paint.
I chose the white formula since not only will it seal in any tannins that may possibly bleed-through, it will also save me a coat of paint! (It comes in clear, white, and a gray formula.)
Allow the BOSS plenty of dry time before painting, at least overnight. I rarely need more than one coat when I give it the needed dry time. If you see any stubborn areas that do still bleed through, give it another coat. You should not need more than two coats. If you just see a couple of spots, you can spot prime those with the BOSS. Allow plenty of dry time once again before painting.
Finally, it is time to paint! Chalk paint is super user friendly and you do not need to sand your surfaces before applying unless you have a super glossy finish like lacquer or a non-porous surface like laminate. (See how to tackle those surfaces HERE.)
I applied that, as well as the BOSS, with my favorite Mini Angle Brush.
You can see how I paint a piece of furniture in action in this video if you like:
If you have trouble viewing, find it on YouTube HERE.
Sand to smooth
Chalk paint does have a slight texture to it, but giving it just the lightest sanding with 220 grit sandpaper will make it smooth as butter!
I like to wrap mine around an old foam sanding sponge to make it easier to handle. (I show that at the end of the painting video I included above… and I buy my sandpaper in sheets and cut them into four.)
If you prefer a distressed look, hit the edges a bit harder. If you like a really distressed look, break out the electric sander.
After sanding, clean up all the dust once again using a shop vac, followed by a good wipe down with a clean, soft cloth.
Stain the top
If you plan to stain the top, I like to do that last. I start by conditioning the top with wood conditioner. This allows the wood to absorb the stain more evenly:
I immediately followed up with No Pain Gel Stain in Espresso:
I love the gel stain as it is so easy to work with! The applicator pads are a one-time use if you use them with the oil-based stains, but can be used multiple times when using them with water based stains like the VooDoo gel stains.
I kept wiping with the grain until I had pulled any excess stain from the surface.
I also applied another coat of stain right over the existing stain on the gorgeous detail work at the bottom using a soft cloth:
Seal the surface
Finally, seal and protect your piece! When working with the oil-based No Pain Gel Stain, wait about 72 hours to seal with a water-based stain. It should be good and dry. If you can leave your piece in the sun, it helps speed up the dry time.
Barely cutting the rounded edge off of the sponge makes it easier to get right up against straight edges:
Like I did here on another dresser:
When I sealed the stained top, I used the same thing, but I felt this fancy of a dresser needed a little more sheen on top, so opted for the Gloss sheen instead.
Add the jewelry
Time to add the pulls! I like to think of it as jewelry. Luckily we had four good original pulls that I could use. They got a good cleaning and two coats of Cotton. The other four came from Hobby Lobby.
Having trouble with the drawers sticking?
If you have trouble with the drawers sticking, which is quite common in antique dressers, try rubbing a candle along the bottoms of the drawers on the edges on either side and on the insides of the opening, or anywhere the drawer is sticking or if you have Big Mama’s Butta on hand, it works marvelously to help drawers glide also. Just apply it anywhere you are having sticking issues.
Ready to see the final product??
Leaving those amazing details on the bottom stained really made them stand out:
I think the combination of Espresso and white adds sophistication to these already beautiful lines.
The stained wood on top is so rich in color now…
I used the same combination of pulls from the first dresser I did like this.
The top ones are original and the others are from Hobby Lobby:
And I had enough of this paper left to add some pretty to the insides too:
I cut it using my rotary cutting set and adhered it the bottom with a glue slick.
I loved bringing this gorgeous dresser back to life!
Thanks again to Mary for giving me the opportunity to love on these pieces! It makes my heart so happy to know that she has been reunited with them!
If you missed the dressing table I painted for her:
You can see that HERE!
Here is my Dixie Belle Product Reference Guide that will take the mystery out of all those products:
I’ll be back next week with all your favorites from this year, and then I’ll be back to finishing up my biggest haul ever! I already have a new haul to start on once that’s done!
Update: Visit your favorite furniture makeovers of the past year HERE now!
Happiest of New Years to you all!
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