About a year ago, I fell in love with this dresser:
This picture was taken in the house of Kristen from Restored Style. And I wanted it. Bad. I researched her technique for achieving the look, and in a nut shell, she took an old dresser, painted it, didn’t love it, stripped and sanded the paint off and got down to the raw wood. And then what happenned was, in her words, “we uncovered some lovely tiger wood”. Check out this post to see some glamour shots of that lovely tiger wood. After I drooled over her good fortune to stumble upon such a unique and awesome raw wood – I decided, with a heart full of delusion, that there must be some tiger wood waiting for me in our house. All I had to do was uncover it. I know. You can probably already guess how this will turn out. But like I said, heart full of delusion. I decided to refinish – or more accurately, unfinish – Jeff’s childhood dresser:
He retrieved this dresser from his parents house and we’ve had it in New Jersey for a couple years. Under my direction, he painted it white. And it looked pretty good. But after surviving a year in a ‘bachelor pad’ and the move into our house, it was looking worse for the wear. The paint especially on the top surface was chipped and had rings from where he had set cold drinks. Plus, we all know there was some bad ass tiger wood under that paint waiting to be released. I just needed to strip the paint.
I started with the drawers, and on day one, I furiously sanded, drunk with excitement to get my first glimpse of the glorious tiger wood.
“What the HELL is this? Pine??” Yeah, I said that out loud. I was disgusted. I was lied to. And screwed out of my tiger wood. (Sidebar: I have no idea if that’s pine. I can’t identify woods. It just sounded good in my fury). Realistically, I don’t really know why I thought my dresser would just magically turn out exactly like hers. I didn’t even do any research to find out what the odds were that my furniture was made of tiger wood. I’m guessing it’s not that likely. But for some reason, I convinced myself it was going to happen. The heart wants what it wants. Sigh. Oh well, at least I came up with a back-up plan. My new inspiration was the Anthropologie Eiko Cabinet:
Now that I had moved past delusional aspirations, I knew that I wasn’t going for something that was a dead ringer of this $1,900 piece. I’m using the words ‘inspired by’ – basically I planned to use a few different colored stains to create a similar, multi-shaded look.
First I had to finish removing all the paint from the dresser. Which took a couple hours. Sike! It took an eternity. Seriously, refinishing a piece of furniture has to be a labor of love or you will never survive it. Especially if you are removing paint, because Spoiler, the paint does not particulary want to be removed. I took my time and did a chunk each day over the course of a few weeks. I could have accomplished it faster, but it’s pretty mind numbing work and I only had so much patience for it. Jeff loved that I took my time doing this. Loved it. He was so happy to wake up every couple days and find a different drawer mysteriously disappeared from his dresser, and all his clothes from that drawer piled on the floor. It was his favorite thing that happened all year. You’re welcome, my love.
For the paint removal and to get down to the raw wood, I used a combination of techniques. I started by using paint stripper and then sanding by hand to remove any leftover paint that didn’t come up with the stripper. But after about the third drawer, I realized it was much more effective to just skip the stripper all together and go at it with our orbital sander using 80 grit pads. It still took a fairly long time, but it was definitely faster. Oh and, here’s a word to the wise on orbital sanders Don’t go for the cheapest one on the block, especially if you’re going to be doing extensive amounts of sanding like this project. I started out using our $25 Black and Decker sander, but about 60% into the project, that little beast went rogue. I don’t even know what happened. All of the sudden it got – oh about 2000 times louder – and the head started spinning at the speed of a stealth jet. Seriously, my hand got too close and it ripped the skin off my knuckles. Needless to say it wasn’t working properly, so we invested in this Porter-Cable sander for about double the price. I definitely think it’s worth the extra money, considering how quickly the cheaper version crapped out.
For some of the corners and crevices that the orbital sander couldn’t reach, I had to bust out a scrapper and the hand sander
The paint in these corners and crevices was the most stubborn to remove and the process almost broke my spirit. But finally, finally, it was time to stain. Now before I explain my next step, I need to insert a big disclaimer. I knew from the get-go that my finished product was meant to look old, unfinished, distressed, aged, etc. Because of this, I did zero research on proper refinishing techniques. I am sure there are certain steps that need to be taken in the sanding/paint removal process if you are hoping to re-stain the wood and end up with an even, new looking finish. So don’t follow my instructions if that’s your end game.
I decided to stain the frame of the dresser all one color – Minwax Special Walnut. And then do the different colored stain look on the drawers only. As I expected, even though I only used one color on the frame, the wood accepted the stain differently, so it naturally began to look distressed with varied shades. I applied the stain in sections, and only let it set for about 30 seconds before wiping it off. I applied a second coat if I wanted it a little darker.
Those blotchy pock marks are an enigma. Those areas for some reason essentially refused to accept the stain at all. But fortunately, they only showed up on one side of the dresser and the top and I learned to live with them.
To stain the drawers, I bought 3 stain colors, but only ended up using 2 (both by Minwax). One was the same color I used on the frame (Special Walnut) and the other was Ebony. To get different shades, I simply left the stain on for different amounts of time. So even though 3 drawers may have been stained with the same color, I could make them all look different. And on one drawer, I even layered one stain on top of the other. Pretty wild, I know. Finished product coming at ya now:
I’m extremely happy with how it turned out. And upgrading the hardware really brought the piece together. I got these at 50% off from Hobby Lobby:
In closing, here’s a close-up of my favorite drawer. Methinks I see an air of tiger wood in the bottom half. Dreams do come true.
Image of Kristen’s dresser from here.