Refinishing an Old Pine Wood Dresser

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Have you ever stumbled upon an old pine wood dresser and seen not just worn-out furniture but a treasure trove of potential? If so, this step-by-step guide is for you. Transforming a tired, old pine dresser into a statement piece—or restoring a pine chest of drawers to its former glory—can seem daunting, but with the right tools and approach, it’s a project that offers rewarding results. Whether you’ve been curious about how to apply polyurethane for a lasting finish or are looking for comprehensive steps to refinishing an old pine or wood dresser, this guide will walk you through the process from start to finish. Unlock the hidden potential of a neglected piece and create something beautiful and functional for your home.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Refinishing Old Wood Dresser I found for free on facebook marketplace and turned it into a great addition to our bedroom for storage! restoring  this pine chest of drawers completed our bedroom
Shop the bedroom: Still life art, art easel, hanging basket, dried flowers, mirror, bed frame, rug, lumbar pillow, pillow, large pillows, lamp, throw blanket, art, marble dish, vase, flowers, pinch pleat curtains, curtain rod, nightstand or similar.

A Serendipitous Find on a Sunday Morning

Imagine a calm Sunday morning at your cozy cottage. The lake is peacefully rippling in the background, and there I am, scrolling through Facebook Marketplace. I had been looking for a unique piece of furniture, specifically a pine wood dresser, for over two years! Then, I found it—free, adorned with wooden knobs, dovetail joints, and even keyholes. We immediately took off to claim our treasure.

Before Refinishing the Old Wood Dresser

A look before restoring pine chest of drawers

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Preparation: Setting the Stage for Refinishing

Step 1: Remove the Hardware

Begin by removing all hardware, including drawer knobs and other metal fixtures. This makes it easier to perform subsequent tasks, such as sanding and staining, which are vital when refinishing old pine and wood dresser pieces.

restoring pine chest of drawers, close up showing the top edge before using a router on the top

Step 2: Sand the Surface

Sanding is more than just a tedious preparatory step; it’s the foundation of your refinishing project. You’ll need a good electric sander for the larger surface areas—an orbital or a palm sander will do the trick. 

Start with a coarse grit, around 60 to 80, to remove the existing finish or paint. This initial coarse sanding prepares the wood for the stain by opening up its pores. Follow this up with a medium grit (approximately 120) to smooth out the surface, and finally, a fine grit, around 180 to 220, for that ultra-smooth finish. 

Always remember to sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid scratches and irregularities.

Aesthetic Additions: Enhancing the Dresser’s Appeal

Optional Step: Routing for Added Detail

Before diving into staining or painting, consider using a router to add a decorative edge or detail to the plain parts of the dresser. This optional step can lend your refinishing project a custom, sophisticated look. I was able to add some detail to the top of this dresser, which previously had a plain top with sharp edges.

Refinishing Old Wood Dresser, how it looked sanded down to old pine

The Refinishing Process

Step 3: Clean the Dresser

Once the dresser is sanded, it’s essential to clean the surface thoroughly. Use a damp cloth to wipe away all dust and debris. A clean surface is necessary for the stain and paint to adhere correctly. I also took this opportunity to clean the inside of the dresser since it may have been outside or in a garage for a while.

Step 4: Staining

Selecting a stain for the old wood is crucial when refinishing a pine dresser. For my project, Minwax Early American was used. Apply the stain using a brush or cloth, following the wood’s grain, and let it set per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

refinishing old pine dresser and then how to apply polyurethane to protect the finish

Step 5: Apply a Whitewash Coat

Apply a whitewash coat for a lighter, more airy aesthetic. I used approximately 4 parts of water and 1 part of White Dove paint in an eggshell sheen. This brightened up the dresser, allowing the stained wood and grain to peek through.

Not sure if this project is for you? Learn more about painting and priming furniture here.

Refinishing Old Wood Dresser after the whitewash coat was applied. then I learned how to apply polyurethane to protect the coating

Sealing and Protecting: How to Apply Polyurethane

Step 6: First Polyurethane Coat

To seal the stain and whitewash, apply a thin coat of satin polyurethane using a high-quality brush or foam brush. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on the side of the can. Let it dry completely, which generally takes several hours.

Step 7: Light Sanding

After the first coat is dry, lightly sand the surface with a fine-grit sandpaper. This will enable the second coat to adhere more effectively.

Step 8: Second Polyurethane Coat

Apply a second thin coat of satin polyurethane, providing an additional layer of protection. Allow this coat to dry thoroughly.

how to apply polyurethane to protect the dresser. the dresser is now styled in my bedroom
Shop the bedroom Bed frame, rug, lumbar pillow, pillow, large pillows, lamp, throw blanket, art, marble dish, vase, flowers, pinch pleat curtains, curtain rod, nightstand or similar.

Want to learn more about styling your bedroom? Learn more here.

Finishing Touches: Completing the Restoration

Step 9: Lining the Drawers

Line the drawers with drawer liner, wallpaper, or fabric for added flair. This can be particularly effective if you use leftovers from a previous project, tying the room’s decor together.

Step 10: Reattach Hardware

Once the final coat of polyurethane is dry and the dresser has aired out, reattach the original hardware or add new knobs that match your restored pine chest of drawers’s new look.

Refinishing Old Wood Dresser close up styled with baskets, dried flowers, and more
Shop the dresser: Still life art, art easel, hanging basket, dried flowers

Final Thoughts on Refinishing Old Wood Dresser Projects

Refinishing an old wood dresser doesn’t just give the piece a new life; it offers a fulfilling project that leaves you with something beautiful and functional. Remember, when you’re lost on how to apply polyurethane or choose a stain, trust your instincts. After all, you’re not just restoring a pine chest of drawers but creating a piece of your home.

before restoring pine chest of drawers and after staining and learning how to apply polyurethane


What is the best finish for old pine furniture?

The best finish often depends on your aesthetic goals. However, applying a satin or semi-gloss polyurethane coat offers durability and a modern look. For a step-by-step guide, see our section on how to apply polyurethane.

Can pine wood be refinished?

Absolutely, pine wood is an excellent candidate for refinishing. Our guide covers all aspects of refinishing old wood dresser pieces, including pine.

Can you sand down pine furniture?

Yes, sanding is an essential step in refinishing pine dresser projects. It prepares the wood for staining and allows for better adhesion of the finish.

What is the difference between pine and antique pine?

Antique pine refers to pine wood furniture that is at least 100 years old and may have a more weathered, rich look. In contrast, modern pine is usually lighter in colour and less aged. Both types can benefit from refinishing and restoring efforts.

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