Thursday, July 1, 2010

I stole this dresser.

Sorry it's been so long since my last post. We had a family emergency. My father-in-law had a motorcycle wreck and has been in the hospital with a brain injury for the past 3 weeks. He's doing much better now and is moving to a rehab facility very soon. You can follow his progress here: . Maybe you'll get to see some progress on our house again soon.

So, backing up in time here, do you remember the antique vanity bench? My mom, aunts and I go to the Roxboro, NC flea market every year after Thanksgiving. Well that same day, in that same place, I found a little dresser that had so much potential I couldn't pass it up. It was painted this awful yellow color with primary colored knobs(blue, red, and green).

It actually hurt my eyes.

I'm not kidding.

The silhouette of the piece looked old, so I walked over for closer inspection. Firstly, I saw the price: $25 Yes, sir! Then, I took the drawers out and inspected the wood and the back panel, and the drawer construction. This baby looked really old. I could also tell from a place where the paint was chipped, that this was oak. Oak(especially stained oak) is easy to recognize. Those little vertical marks are called rays. Pine does not have these.

This is oak. Notice the grain pattern with "little marks".

This is pine. We'll call this grain "big swirlies".

I was very excited about my find. An antique oak dresser for $25! Wrap it up!

Wait, not so fast.
We have to haggle.
"Can you do any better on the price since I'm buying two pieces?" (remember the vanity bench)
"I'll have to go ask."

I think the bench was $17, and the dresser was $25, so that's $42 total. The man came back with a slightly lower price. In my head I'm thinking "I'd really like to get them both for $30." It's hard to remember the details since it was last November. Somehow he came back with $12 for the bench and $16 for the dresser.


$16 for the dresser??

I almost feel like I'm stealing it.

Yes, please. This is why I drive an SUV. You just never know what you'll find and where you'll find it.

I had to wait until this summer to work on refinishing it, since paint stripper is an "outside toy". My plan was to strip the paint off, refinish the wood, and add new drawer pulls.

I use Jasco paint stripper and have been pretty happy with it. Just make sure you wear gloves because it will eat your skin if it gets on you. Use a cheap brush that you won't mind throwing away afterward. Don't use those foam spongy brushes. The foam with be eaten by the Jasco. This stuff has to go on really thick to do the job right. Then it sits for 15 min and does whatever it does to the paint to make it bubble up. I lay all my pieces out and do the top surface of each one. By the time I'm done brushing it on the last piece, the first piece is probably ready to be scraped.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to scrape.

A drawer after one round of scraping. Did I mention it takes more than one? Look! There's a sticker of a baby duck! I found six different stickers. This must have been a child's dresser at some point. Jasco takes care of them too.

When the paint and stain started coming off, I noticed that the grain was looking different. On closer inspection I realized that this wood was NOT in fact oak. It is pine! At first I panicked because I thought the drawers might be a different kind of wood than the rest of the dresser and that would NOT work.

It didn't take me long to figure out that the wood grain I had seen in the store was coming OFF with the Jasco. It was a fake oak finish applied on top of pine. What the what! That sounds really cheesy, but I guess oak was too expensive back in the day. But I'm surprised they went to the trouble, or even had the technology, to imitate oak grain.

I was really bummed at first, but after I sanded the drawers I saw how amazing the pine looked with all the old character in the wood.

This is the side of the dresser after one round of jasco and scraping. The second coat is getting to work.

Don't underestimate the amount of work that is involved. The sander will take care of some of this. The goal is not perfection.

Scraping is done. But that was the easy part. Sanding is next. Make sure you have a mouse sander, which has a point on the end perfect for getting in those crevices. I always use the coarsest grit, which is 60 grit, to get off old finish. It has the largest pieces of sand on the paper and will save you time because it takes wood faster with less effort.

The drawers were my friends. They were the easiest to sand and came out beautiful without a lot of elbow grease.

I like to do all the easy to reach, flat areas first. Then go back and focus on the difficult parts.

After getting the paint and old finish off the top, I was able to see a huge mildew stain that went along the front two boards(the left side in this pic). I worked for an hour to sand it off. I don't have a picture of it before. After I did the best I thought I could do, I dampened it with a rag to see what it would look like with an oil finish. The mildew stains popped up all over the place. I still had a lot of work left to do. I just can't leave it like this. At some point, water got trapped under the paint and the wood couldn't dry out, so the whole top had mildew damage. There's nothing else you can do but paint over it, or sand it off. The goal is not perfection.

Now I'm using a razor to removed paint that the sander couldn't reach.

For some reason the sander wasn't doing a good job at removing the old color from the recessed panels. I had to do the old fashion way. It actually worked a lot better.

After sanding the old color off, don't forget to switch to 120 grit sandpaper. This won't take long, but it will make the wood much smoother. Use your power sander.

The wood still won't be completely smooth. You have to step down to finer and finer grit to get the smoothest finish. Since all the old color is gone, this step only takes about 5 min. I used 220 grit but didn't think it was smooth enough, so I did 320 last. You could probably skip the 220 grit paper.

The look I was going for was very natural. I didn't want to stain it dark, but wanted to let the natural color show. So I chose tung oil since I was very happy with how it turned out on my coffee table I refinished years ago. It is like stain in that it gets absorbed into the pores of the wood. But unlike stain, it does not require a polyurethane top coat to protect it. So that saves time, but that's not why I did it. I didn't want a glossy finish, and tung oil has a more rustic finish to it.

This was my test spot.

Tung oil on:

The back panel of the dresser was extremely stubborn. It was also warped, making it impossible to sand. So I figured, why bother, no one will ever see it. And it could be neat to look back on the history of the furniture and see all the colors it used to be. If it bothers me later, I can just paint it off white, like I did the inside of the drawers. Remember, the goal is NOT perfection.

I wasn't sure what kind of finish would look best on the drawer pulls, so I bought 6 different ones at Lowes to take home and try.

Vintage Brass: No

Aged Nickel: No

Oil Rubbed Old World Bronze: Ooo, Ooo, Yes!

Color was not the only consideration when choosing pulls. Shape is equally important. First, I thought I wanted a hanging swan neck pull(aka old fashioned flappy, hangy downy kind) in cast iron or oil rubbed bronze. But the top of this dresser hangs over about 3 or 4 inches, leaving plenty of room for a drawer pull to stick out. The hangy downy kind is typically used on dressers that don't have an over hang because they don't want the pulls to jut out and get in the way.

Also, this dresser has a very boxy look to it, so a curvy feminine drawer pull would just not match the personality of the dresser. The last pull pictured here fit the bill perfectly. It's boxy, rustic, and dark. The only problem....they were $4.50 each. The most expensive one. I searched and search online for a comparable option or a vendor who was selling it cheaper. No luck. These are one of a kind. And Lowes was half the price of the manufacturer's price online! It had to be these. Drawer pulls can really make or break the look of a piece of furniture. They are like accessories to an outfit. They can make it or break it. Girls, you understand.

So yes, I bit the bullet and got them. They look spectacular.

I painted the inside of the drawers Antique White in a semi-gloss finish. It was paint I already owned. You could really paint it any color you want. It would be a neat surprise to open it up and see a pop of color. You can see the original locks on the backside of the drawer front. I love that feature.

Here is the cost break down:

Dresser: $16
Jasco: $10
Tung Oil: $8 (plenty left for another project)
Power sander: already had
Sandpaper for power sander: $5
Finishing sandpaper: already had
Scraper: already had
Razor: already had
Paint: already had
Drawer pulls: $30

Total: $69

Ok, so that's not a total steal by my standards, but it's still pretty cheap considering what you get: solid, antique pine.


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