Before and After: This $46 Wood Dresser Transformation Is Absolutely Stunning

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Krissy Gilhooly)

A reader found this old dresser in an alley and knew right away that she’d hit the jackpot. And after hours of scrubbing and sprucing, this dresser is even more beautiful than the day it was built.

Here’s how reader Krissy Gilhooly tells the story of this exciting discovery:

I found this piece abandoned in the alley behind our house. When I first saw it, I was expecting it to be rickety and have sticky drawers, as most furniture is when it’s thrown away. But I was surprised to find it to be very sturdy, with smooth opening drawers that are dovetailed. I also loved that it was on casters!

It had seen some age. The finish on it was very cracked and peeling off. The stain was uneven and not showing off the beautiful lines. I could tell that it was a well-made piece that just needed makeover.

Krissy nailed it. Here’s how it looked mid-project:

(Image credit: Krissy Gilhooly)

I sanded it quite a bit, and the finish came off pretty easily since it was so flakey. In total, I probably spent about three hours sanding it by hand. I was OK with leaving some of the deeply-penetrated areas of stain to add to the patinated look. At least that’s how I justified my laziness with really getting into some of those grooves. After sanding off the previous finish, I had what I believe is white oak. It was definitely lighter than I wanted it to be and considered staining it.

But then I came across paste finishing wax, which I had never used before, so I did a little research and liked the results that I was seeing. I tried a sample of it on the inside of one of the drawers and I loved the way it warmed up the color of the wood and gave it just a little bit of luster. It took about two hours to apply two coats and then hand-buff the wax. It was SO much easier and more forgiving than applying a stain and polyethylene.

The finishing paste that Krissy used is MinWax Furniture Wax from Lowe’s, and the results are beautiful . . .

(Image credit: Krissy Gilhooly)

It glows! It gleams! It glistens! The finish is so lustrous and silky smooth, the line details are highlighted, and the new knobs look like they were made for this dresser. Here’s how Krissy found them:

I liked the uniqueness of the knobs that it came with, but I felt they were too small and the color of them didn’t visually pop off the wood enough. After testing out several different styles, I finally settled on these white knobs with a black line from World Market. I spent about $10 in sandpaper and finishing wax and $36 on the new knobs, so $46 total.

This project cost a ton in terms of labor, but $46 is an incredible price for a piece this beautiful.

(Image credit: Krissy Gilhooly)

Let’s remind ourselves what the dresser looked like before its spa day, and read Krissy’s advice while we take in all the scratches and other surface damage:

Always keep your eyes peeled for furniture being discarded. It may be in really bad shape, but can also be easily brought back to life and used by someone you know. If you see something on the side of the road, it’s worth the U-turn or being late for work. It also feels really good to save something from a landfill.

Also, paste finishing wax is not ideal for every piece. Through my research, I learned that it won’t hold up well to moisture, and will scratch on a heavily-used surface. However, we are using this only for table linens in our dining room, so the ease of applying it was very well worth it.

Make that U-turn! Excellent advice for those willing to do a little extra scrubbing, sanding, and schlepping for the right piece. I’m definitely interested in trying out paste finishing wax, as soon as I have an appropriate project.

(Image credit: Krissy Gilhooly)

And now we can closely admire what an excellent job Krissy did; this finish is perfection, and I’m sure this piece will be around for decades to come. After all that hard work, Krissy is thrilled with the results.

I love everything about this! It’s a smaller dresser and fits very well in our dining room to hold all of our table linens. It has beautiful, unique lines, it’s sturdy, and it has casters! Who doesn’t love furniture on casters?

Thank you, Krissy Gilhooly!