Before and After: Vintage White Dresser

20th Aug 2021

Before and After: Vintage White Dresser

This was supposed to be an easy project. Scrolling through FB Marketplace in the middle of the night, I rolled across this vintage dresser for a great price. It was banged up, but it was solid wood and looked like it needed a quick sand and paint job. I recognized the seller as one of Jason's former basketball players, so even the sale was going to be easy.

The sale was easy. The restoration - not so much.

Musical Drawers

The drawers were the first problem that needed to be addressed. I'm not sure how the runners got so banged up, but it is a vintage dresser so there is no telling what it has ben through. Several runners were so bent that the drawers would not open or close. Most hammered out easily. Others, not so much.

Sometimes drawers are particular and will only cooperate if they are in a certain slot. So, I played musical drawer boxes until I found the magic combination and then marked each drawer so I wouldn't forget its home.



Strip The Finish And Start From Scratch

I knew I had more problems as soon as I started sanding. The paint came off in gummy strips. It had not been primed before it was painted and it was quickly evident that they had used standard house paint. Not good for furniture.

I bathed the entire piece in CitriStrip and let it sit. The good news was that the paint was so poorly adhered, it only took about 20 minutes for it to scrape right off. The bad news was that the CitriStrip removes ALL the finish, exposing the raw pine underneath. The problem with raw pine is that it bleeds tannins from the knots.

Dark yellow/brown spots will appear days or even weeks after a piece is completely finished and no amount of paint will cover them. I'll come back to that fix in a minute...


Prep For a Smooth Finish

The deep groove running around the top of the dresser had evolved into a dust bin. No amount of scrubbing or vacuuming could clear out the years of debris hiding in there. Clumps of dust were cemented in the groove, making a smooth finish almost impossible to achieve. Rather than fight the losing battle against an endless supply of dust, I opted to fill in the groove with Bondo.

If you have never spent time in Atlanta in July - it is hard to describe the oppressive humidity. With temps in the 90s and 80% humidity, the Bondo took longer than normal to dry. My quick fix turned into 3 days of layer - dry - sand - layer - dry- sand. But, the smooth finish on the top was totally worth it!

Shellac Based Primer Stops The Bleed

Back to those tannins. You have to deal with tannin bleed before it has a chance to cause you problems and the best way to do that is with a shellac based primer. The shellac seals the knots and keeps in all the yucky stuff. Unfortunately, you can't just spot prime the knots. The top coat finish will not be even, particularly when using a light color. So, I primed the entire piece, sanded with 220 grit sandpaper and primed a second time.

Spray A Gorgeous Paint Finish

Once everything was primed, it was finally time to start painting. I opted for Benjamin Moore Advanced paint in White Dove. Advanced is a waterborne Alkyd cabinet paint, which means that it has the finish and durability of an oil based enamel with the easy cleanup of a water based topcoat.

White Dove is the perfect creamy white. Not too warm and not too cool. White is a tough color for painting furniture because there's not a lot of pigment in the paint, so plan on multiple coats. To make the process faster (and create a flawless finish) I used my Earlex Super Finish Max Paint Sprayer from Rockler to spray three coats - waiting 24 hours between each coat. 


This project wasn't the easy fix that I thought it would be, but I have to say that I learned so much in the process. That's what I love about refinishing vintage furniture. Each piece has a history, which means that each piece brings its own unique challenges. Part of the fun is figuring out what the piece needs and how to bring it back to life.

I hope this post inspires you to try your own projects!