I am so excited to show you how updating a dresser can be done in just a few simple steps. If you think your old 80’s furniture is a lost cause, think again!
My brother and sister in law Dan and Nikki are expecting their very first girl next month. I had previously painted an orange set for them when my little nephew was born. They were so sweet to ask me for help in doing the furniture for this nursery as well. After looking for a few weeks we were still having a hard time finding a dresser that fit the look we were wanting. Nikki’s mom was so generous to offer her dresser set up. This was a set that she and her husband bought right after they were married. At first glance it looked a little dated but I was confident we could update the furniture into the perfect showstoppers for baby girl’s new nursery!
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Update a Dresser from the 80’s
- TSP cleaner
- Sandpaper– 120 and 180 grit
- Putty Knife
- Curved Blade– optional but time saver!
- Paint- for this dresser set I used Sherwin Williams Charisma
- New Hardware
- Kreg Jig Cabinet Jig– if drilling new holes for hardware
To begin with make sure you give the furniture a thorough cleaning. I like to use TSP powder mixed with warm water. Go over every surface and inside of all of the drawers. Once dry go over again with a damp cloth to remove any remaining film. After the dresser is clean you can begin sanding. Most people would think you would sand first and then clean. However, if there is any oil or grease you would be sanding that into the wood. This is why it is important to clean first and then sand!
For this particular dresser set I knew we needed to make some changes in order to update the overall look. To make the furniture less 80’s looking I decided to fill in all of the floral engravings as well as the lines framing out the top drawers. We also wanted to change out the hardware and so the original holes needed to be filled. In order to remove engravings of this size I always choose Bondo over the traditional wood filler. Bondo is traditionally used for automobiles but does a wonderful job on furniture as it doesn’t shrink and dries extremely hard. You simply mix up the grey filler with a little of the included red hardener. Mix very well and then apply into the details using your putty knife. You will want to work fairly quick as the bondo will set fairly quickly.
Once the bondo has set for a bit and began to harden use your curved file blade to gently file away the excess filler. This will save you a lot of time and sandpaper (ie money). It’s basically very similar to a cheese grater and easy to use! Be careful that you don’t file all of the way down but take off a good amount. After the bondo is completely dry use your 120 grit sandpaper to sand down the remaining filler. You can see in the 2nd picture above that you will likely need several skim coats to fill the entire engravings. The picture was after 1 layer. Once I think I have the piece filled I will spray with primer to see if you can see any of the engraving left behind. This is a great test before wasting time and paint.
Once you have your pieces filled to your liking and all of the dresser surfaces sanded (use 180 grit followed by 220) use your shop vac to vacuum up all of your dust and debris. You can also go over the pieces with a tack cloth. If your furniture is clean and free of dust you are ready to prime. I like to use Zinsser Oil Based primer in a can. For this particular dresser we were dealing with veneer and shiny surfaces. Using an oil based primer ensures good paint adhesion. This is not a step you will want to skip! Coat all of your surfaces and wait for it to dry.
Once you have primed thoroughly you are ready to paint. For this particular piece I used Sherwin Williams Charisma. I sprayed 2 coats of paint and then once dry I used the fingernail test. This is where you lightly scratch the surface of your piece to make sure the paint has good adhesion. If no paint comes off using this test you are ready to apply your polyurethane.
Once the dresser has several coats of polyurethane for protection you are good to go! For this dresser we also wanted to update the hardware with some new Hepplewhite pulls. Because the new hardware was different measurements than the original we used our Kreg Jig cabinet tool for accurate measuring. I cannot stress to you enough how helpful this tool is if you do any kind of new hardware. It will save you so much time and frustration!
Isn’t this an amazing transformation? Don’t discount the power a little filler, paint and new hardware can make on a piece of furniture!
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