Furniture today is just not the same as it once was. Today, most dressers are made of compressed wood, and are flimsy and less beautiful than those we see in an antique store. Buying and restoring old, solid wood furniture can be a great, relatively low cost alternative to buying lesser made modern products. Restoring family heirloom furniture is a similarly rewarding project. Whatever the case, restoring wooden dressers to their former glory is a project which relatively anyone can accomplish with a little patience and preparation. Before beginning to refinish the dresser, you must establish whether the dresser drawers and top are a thick natural wood, or covered with veneer.
Getting Started: Veneer Dresser
You must first remove any damaged veneer from the dresser. The way this is accomplished depends on the type of glue used. If the dresser was manufactured prior to the 1960s, it is probably a soft glue, and using a steam iron will allow easy removal. Use a hot iron, filled with water and set to steam, over the veneer surface. This should moisten and break down the glue. The veneer can then be peeled away. If it is a more modern dresser, try working a wedge or screwdriver under the corner and prying the wood back in pieces.
Replace this veneer with a new sheet veneer, which can be purchased from hardware stores, or restoration websites. These are often self adhesive, or peel and stick.
If there is veneer which is lose but undamaged, use a wood glue bottle with a long snout to put glue under the unattached area, then set something heavy on top of the glued area until it dries.
Use a stripping agent and steel wool to remove the stain from any original sections of veneer left intact, and/or from the solid sides of the dresser. Follow the specific instructions on the stripping agent for best results.
Getting started: Solid Wooden Dressers
You must first remove the layers of stain and paint placed on the item by previous owners. The best and safest method for doing this is to buy an appropriate chemical stripper and steel wool and follow the instructions on the packaging. Many people sand off the unwanted layers, but this can both damage the surface of the wood and release potentially dangerous toxins into the air.
Use a sander to smooth damaged sections of the wood. This might include places where the wood was carved in, or scarred accidentally.
Use wood putty and a putty knife to fill in any extra deep scars in the wood. This should be allowed to dry completely before sanding over the puttied area to make it smooth.
Basic Refinishing: For Either Dresser Type
Use finishing nails to repair anything on the dresser that is loose. This might include: trim, drawers which have become unstable, a loose back board, etc.
Use a wood or glass cleaner and dust remover to wipe down the wood. This will keep the finish from being damaged by remaining debris.
Apply the stain or paint you have selected using long even strokes. It is important, especially if staining, to make sure that the amount you apply is even, so that you get an even finish. If you are using a stain, have the experts at the local hardware store help you select a product that is appropriate to the wood type/grain you are refinishing. If you are using paint, a basic latex based paint in the color you have selected will work nicely.
After the paint or stain has dried, apply a polyurethane clear coat to protect the finish. This will be available in both spray-on and brush-on types; follow the directions on the packaging for best results.