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Mid Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished

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My attempt at stripping and refinishing this mid century modern dresser should have been called:

“The Mid Century Modern Mishap”

It’s my biggest fear whenever I start a project: that I’ll mess it up somehow.

(Yes, we bloggers have those fears, too. You’re not alone).

Especially for me when it comes to stripping and refinishing.

Stripping furniture and refinishing is an art, and you really have to know what you’re doing to get quality, professional results. The more I learn about wood, the more I’m adoring wood tones. I really want to master this thing called “wood refinishing.”

Mid Century Modern Dresser Makeover

 

Call this dresser my latest DIY experiment in refinishing.

Or rather, instead of an “experiment,” let’s call it a “gentle DIY fail.” HA!

This mid century modern dresser had been sitting in my garage for awhile, but prior to that, I had used it for my basement office makeover to hold my television.

BEFORE

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - This is the BEFORE, from the thrift store. - Thrift Diving

 

AFTER

The bright side of this mid century modern dresser makeover is that you can finally see the gorgeous veneer grain!

What you don’t see in this picture is the spottiness, along with the unevenness of how to tung oil soaked into the wood.

Keep reading.

I’ll tell you everything that happened. LOL

Or better yet, watch the 13-minute explanation in my YouTube video.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - This is the AFTER. - Thrift Diving

 

The Amazing Discovery

I first found this dresser for a “whopping” $24.99 at my favorite thrift store.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Finding dressers at the thrift store. - Thrift Diving

 

It had sat in my garage for years, waiting for a makeover.

The taller of the two dressers got a gorgeous makeover with tung oil and white paint, but I really wanted to practice my stripping and refinishing skills on this longer one.

No paint was gonna touch this beauty.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - The dresser was in good condition but needed refinished. - Thrift Diving

 

The top was pretty marred, so stripping and sanding seemed to be the best option.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - The dresser was in good condition but needed refinished, especially on the top. - Thrift Diving

 

Materials Used

(I participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites).

I’ve stripped furniture before on smaller scales, so I knew what materials to pull together:

 

STEP 1: Removed All of the Drawers

The easiest way for me to strip this dresser is to remove all 9 drawers and set them out on a tarp.

Stripping is a suuuuuper messy job!

Trust me–I’ve learned my lesson. Put down a tarp (as a reader suggested) to protect your floors or ground. LOL

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - The drawers have to be removed before refinishing. - Thrift Diving

STEP 2: Apply the Furniture Stripper

I’ve been using this soy stripping gel lately and I like it a lot. I used it on the drafting table that I stripped and refinished, and I love how it worked. I notice that it doesn’t have the same strong odor that many other strippers have. I’ve used Citristrip before and that is made to smell citris-y, but even Citristrip, if sniffed for too long, starts to make me feel a bit sick to my stomach.  The Blue Bear Paint & Urethane Stripper never makes me feel ill and isn’t strong-smelling.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Blue Bear furniture stripper is safe and doesn't smell bad. - Thrift Diving

 

I slathered on a coat, let it do its job, and–BOOM!–removed it with the dulled-down putty knife (so it doesn’t gouge the wood) after about 15 minutes.

Be sure to work in sections because you don’t want it drying on your wood!

You will likely have to do two applications and removals of this stuff, FYI!

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Apply the furniture stripper to the surface. - Thrift Diving

 

After the first pass-through with the putty knife, you can see there was a lot of gunk still left.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Strip off the chemical stripper- Thrift Diving

 

Once the second coat is applied and scraped off, use After Wash to clean off the residue from the stripper.

 

STEP 3: Sand, Baby, Sand!

Oooh, and I tried to be soooo careful this time.

In the past, I’ve been known to move my orbital sander of a piece of wood at lightning speed.

But all that does is leave lots of swirly “pigtails” in your wood: round, annoying, circular scratches that look horrible once you apply any type of stain or finish!

So for this project, I had slowed it down to about 1 inch per second, letting the sander do its job and not forcing it.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Use an orbit sander for furniture stripping. - Thrift Diving

 

The top looked pretty good, but I’ll be honest–I was a little worried about the quality of the sanding I had done.

Did I miss any spots…?

Was it evenly sanded?

How would it look once I put tung oil on it??

The First Problem

The first problem I encountered was after sanding the body was realizing that the front edges of the dresser had no veneer.

Which means, tung oil applied there wouldn’t have the same result as it would when rubbed on the veneer.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - What to do when you don't have wood veneer on your furniture. - Thrift Diving

 

Once the rounded drawer pull areas were sanded, I found they were also going to be mismatched from the rest of the dresser, too.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Sand the crevices. - Thrift Diving

 

To fix the problem of mismatched wood, I used Mahogany Gel Stain on the edges and on the curved pulls, which worked beautifully!

The reddish tones were a perfect match to the color of the veneer once the veneer had tung oil applied!

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Apply gel stain to dresser. - Thrift Diving

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Stripped dresser. - Thrift Diving

 

I also applied the gel stain to the sanded drawer edges where there was no veneer.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Add gel stain to the drawer fronts. - Thrift Diving

 

In the meantime….ugh….9 drawers…..

That doesn’t just sound like a lot; it is a lot! LOL

I made sure that I wore hearing protection because having the sander run that long started to grate on my nerves!

Of course, don’t forget to protect your lungs. Even the smallest of particles stay floating around after sanding!

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Sanding the drawer front. - Thrift Diving

I love sanding inside of drawers and on the sides, too, when they’re a bit messy or yellowed!

Here, you can see that old stain from the previous finishing was cleanly removed with my sander.

These drawers were awesome because the sides were made of oak! That’s great quality right there!

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Sand the sides of the drawers to refresh the wood. - Thrift Diving

 

On the inside fronts, I quickly sanded those, too, to make the insides clean.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Sand the sides of the drawers to refresh the wood. - Thrift Diving

 

The effort was worth it because the beautiful veneer shined through!

I couldn’t wait to get tung oil on these drawers!

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Sand the fronts of the drawer after stripping. - Thrift Diving

 

STEP 4: I Applied the First Coat of Tung Oil

This is where I think things started going wrong.

First of all, I have used tung oil before and have had great results. But it’s been a while. I love the way it naturally deepens the color of the wood without obscuring the grain.

I followed the instructions: mix 50% tung oil with 50% mineral spirits for your first coat, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, then wipe off, the bottle said.

 

But here was the first problem: this brand of “green” mineral spirits is milky! 

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Don't use the "green" version of mineral spirits when mixing it with tung oil. - Thrift Diving

 

I didn’t pay this any mind at first…

(Keep reading to see why this may have mattered…)

The “wet wood” look was emerging and I was ready to wave my “Bad Mamma Jamma” flag for refinishing such an awesome piece….

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Applying tung oil mixture. - Thrift Diving

 

…that is, until it started to dry, and I realized that the top didn’t look quite so lustrous.

It looked a bit dull, actually.

What happened to that rich-looking wood????

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Stripped dresser top. - Thrift Diving

 

The next day, I also noticed spots that I would have bet money on that I had sanded away, but somehow, they’d mysteriously reappeared after 24 hours.

At this point, my “Bad Mamma Jamma” flag was starting to waver.

How was I going to fix that??

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Stripped dresser top with a scratch. - Thrift Diving

 

STEP 5: I Got the “Brilliant” Idea to Add a Top Coat

This is where things really started to go wrong.

Typically with tung oil, it’s a light finish that can take many coats. I’m talking maybe 7 coats (spaced our day 24 hours) so that you get maximum shine, which is what I wanted.  And pure tung oil can take up to a full week to fully dry! GASP.

But the thought of spending up to 7 days of pulling this bulky piece of furniture out of my garage to apply coat after coat–um, yeah, no thanks. I’d like to keep it movin’.

So I got the “brilliant” idea to add coats of General Finishes ARM-R-SEAL Oil & Urethane over top the tung oil.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - General Finished Arm-R-Seal - Thrift Diving

 

While I researched that that can be done, it shouldn’t have been done until well after the tung oil dried, which could have been weeks!

I naively proceeded.

At first, I thought it was going to turn out well.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Wet wood look with topcoat. - Thrift Diving

 

But once it dried, the following day it was clear that something has gone awry.

The drawers look dried out, with “wet” looking glossier edges.

The result left me disappointed and scratching my head on what to do next.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Drawer edges turned out spotty. - Thrift Diving

 

I tried using some 0000 very fine steel wool to even it out.

SIGH…… lol.

Don’t you hate these kinds of projects where things just go wrong??

 

STEP 6: I Tried Adding Another Coat of Oil & Urethane

I thought that maybe my application method is what contributed to the spottiness of the finish.

So I got the second brilliant idea to add a second coat the following day, using a foam brush, using the brush to wipe away some of the excess finish.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Adding coats of topcoat. - Thrift Diving

 

And instead of waiting to see what result I would have on the drawers, I went ahead and added the urethane to the dresser body.

The gel stain looked amazing, and the oil-based urethane went over it very well.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Adding coats of topcoat to the front of the dresser. - Thrift Diving

 

While it was wet, it looked great!

I just didn’t realize that it would look crappy once it dries! LOL

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Top coat dries over the surface. - Thrift Diving

 

Stripping and Finishing the Mid Century Modern Dresser Legs

I always dread stripping and finishing round objects.

But these legs were easy enough!

I made a little jig out of scrap wood that allowed the legs to stand up while getting stripped and refinished!

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - How to strip furniture legs easily standing up. Drill holes in scrap wood and insert legs. - Thrift Diving

 

It’s much easier when legs can’t fall over and don’t need to be held!

This is a good tip for when you’re spray painting, too. 🙂

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - How to strip furniture legs easily standing up. Drill holes in scrap wood and insert legs. Works well with furniture stripping or spray painting. - Thrift Diving

 

The Stuff You Didn’t See…

Becuase this post is already long enough, I’ll spare you any more pictures of the process I went through trying to rectify the wrongs of this projects.

But it goes a little something like this:

Serena realizes the oil-based urethane was a mistake.

Serena has to re-sand the whole dresser and 9 drawers.

Serena applies 2 more coats of tung oil to try to fix her mistake.

Serena is disappointed that it still doesn’t look perfect, but is glad it’s better. 

Serena is done. Done!

Serena doesn’t want to look at another piece of wood furniture for quite some time. HA!

 

The Grain is Pretty, But……

As much as my brain goes GAGA over the amazing grain of this mid century modern dresser, my brain can’t also accept that the finish isn’t perfect.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Before and after. - Thrift Diving

 

The top is very spotty.

At this point, I don’t know what’s worse: the scratched “BEFORE” shot or the spotty “AFTER” shot. LOL

BEFORE

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - BEFORE PICTURE. - Thrift Diving

 

AFTER

Let’s look at the bright side: the side veneer is rather striking, isn’t it??

After removing the old finish, now you can actually see the awesome pattern of the veneer.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - AFTER PICTURE. - Thrift Diving

 

I’ve considered just painting the body white to cover up the mishap.

But I feel like that would be a cop-out.

Nope. I must live with this and figure out why it happened so it never happens again.

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - AFTER Picture of the dresser. - Thrift Diving

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Gorgeous walnut wood dresser. - Thrift Diving

 

I couldn’t figure out why the drawers looked so ashy. I did a

I’m guessing it was the bad mix of tung oil and urethane.

I can’t be certain.

But you can see the oily spots.  How disappointing!

 

BEFORE

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - The dresser was in good condition but needed refinished. - Thrift Diving

 

AFTER

I’m thinking that once the oil has fully tried, I’ll go back with a wax or maybe another topcoat to see if I can add a wet-looking shine that will make it less noticeable.

At this point, I think I may have to take a trip to the woodworking store and get some suggestions on how to fix this.

It’s bothering me. LOL

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Pretty wood grain in dresser makeover. - Thrift Diving

 

What Went Wrong

It very well could be that all mineral spirits aren’t equal.

The “green” mineral spirits I used may have contributed to the ashy, cloudy appearance of the wood.

Mixing my tung oil with that brand of “green” mineral spirits could have contributed to part of the problem.

 

Possible Fixes

The question is, will I attempt to fix this, or will I keep it movin’?

I could:

  • Paint the body white. I could just cop-out and paint the outside body white, leaving the drawers wooden. But part of me feels like I need to figure this out before taking the cop-out. Isn’t that what learning is about?? 🙂
  • Add another top coat after the tung oil dries. Once fully dried, I might be able to add a wet-looking top coat to give it some shine.
  • Keep adding more coats of tung oil. I did some research and it appears that it is ashy because the wood is soaking up the oil. More coats of tung oil may even it out as the tung oil soaks in. Do I have the patience for this, though? What if it doesn’t work?

I’ll figure it out…

In the meantime, I’ve enjoyed the process, even if it made me want to rip out my hair. 🙂

And you have to admit…..ashy or not, that’s some pretty doggone grain!

Wouldn’t you agree??

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Pretty wood grain in dresser makeover using tung oil. - Thrift Diving

 

Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover Stripped and Refinished - Pretty wood grain in dresser makeover using tung oil. The grain is gorgeous! - Thrift Diving

 

So there you have it, folks: although my mid century modern dresser makeover didn’t go exactly as planned, it still turned out pretty nice. That grain is absolutely to die for!

The mid century modern dresser makeover is going back down to my pretty basement office. 🙂 I store crafting supplies in it!

So…..have you ever done a mid century modern dresser makeover?  And do you prefer furniture stripping or painting furniture? 

 

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62 Comments

  1. It looks beautiful to me, but I know what you mean about it not turning out exactly the way you wanted it. I would NEVER paint that. You cannot add tung oil once you have put poly on it as the poly is like a plastic finish and the oil won’t be able to penetrate. Would it be worth it to sand just the top and do that over? wood conditioner/stain/tung oil/ urethane? I really like Danish oil. You can put tons of coats on and leave it, or once it’s dry you can seal it. You don’t have to though.

  2. Karen Wrolson says:

    I love that piece! The wood grain is beautiful. I hope you can figure out the top. Thank you for sharing your mistakes as well as your successes.

  3. I believe the problem to be the mineral spirits. I’ve used that exact brand and it left my project with a ashy color as well. Also I don’t believe using urethane over the tung oil is a good mix. I’ve refinished a lot of wood and I simply sand the Piece and didn’t deem it necessary to use the stripper as well. I honestly would paint the top white. It would make it pop as it just kind of looks dull and uneven (at least in the pics) currently.

  4. I have used an oil that Minwax used to make. Don’t know if they still do. Also have used teak oil on teak furniture. I don’t think that a polyurethane should follow the use of an oil; I think they might be incompatible. I think it’s great that there are now paints and stains that can be used on finished and unfinished furniture; there wasn’t much choice in the 1970’s when I refinished all the woodwork in my house in Montreal.

  5. brian nowak-thompson says:

    I suspect that using the 100% tung oil was the problem. It takes weeks to dry and you might not have gotten even penetration. A product like boiled linseed oil has driers added to it so it dries in a couple of days and is a better undercoat to use. If you really want tung oil, Waterlox is a tung oil based product that works really well as a filler that you can then topcoat with a varnish or polyurethane.

  6. Julie Osburn says:

    That wood is to die for!
    I just sanded and stained an mcm sewing table and chair. 7 coats of boiled linseed oil after 3 coats of stain with 24 hours dry time between each gave it a lucious matte finish.
    I believe you can put linseed over tung oil. But please research that

  7. Jezreel Gill says:

    I also have an almost identical piece I inherited from my grandmother. My father and I simply sanded it down with 60 coarse grit and once I saw how DELICIOUS the grain and natural color was, all I did was use a Pecan colored stain from min wax. After I render my beeswax, I will be using a beeswax and coconut oil wood finish on it to keep the natural color with no gloss. I wish I could attach photos!

    We used a regular 1/4 square sander, perhaps the orbital sander had something to so with some of the issues?

    I have just started my wood working journey so I have no idea but while not ideal you could sand it again and try aomething else?? I think the trip to the wood working store to ask questions could save you a big headache! It does look fabulous though!

  8. I’m not an expert at all on woodworking but I really hope you left it! It DOES look really good. Not perfect, but that’s ok, nothing is perfect.

  9. Did you use a sealer on top of the tung oil after you applied your last two coats? I am refinishing an old 1960’s turntable/record console and am considering using tung oil because this dresser you have is so incredibly beautiful and it has some beautiful wood grain as well.

  10. I have the same exact dresser from my husband’s grandma! Now I can’t wait to finish it! I have a possible solution to the blotchy top- a problem I had in the past on old wood furniture. I also had to RE SAND the whole project! The product is Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. I used it and the table then took the stain beautifully! You apply it to the bare sanded wood, then stain within a few hours or I would think you could tung oil it. I just used it today on the top of an old maple side table that I sanded down to bare wood. It still had some marks, a small burn etc from life. I put a couple coats of stain on it and it is beautiful, no blotchy spots or uneven taking of the stain! I will now poly it with a few coats.

    1. Hey there, Cheryl! Great idea on the pre-conditioner! I do use that stuff, but traditionally only use it on pine. Looks like this could have been a good time to use it, as well. I’ll keep that in mind on the next project! Can’t hurt, right?? 🙂 Thanks for the tip!!!

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