4.15.2013

Refinishing Old Furniture - Morganton Serpentine Dresser


I restored this 12 drawer, 1940's, Morganton, serpentine-style dresser from forgotten to fantastic... and I'm pretty proud of myself. This vintage dresser (I don't think it quite counts as antique yet) came from Goodwill. Yes, Goodwill. Someone gave it away. Let's take a moment, shall we?
Do you want backstory? Sure you do! It all started one rainy evening on my way from work to daycare to pick up the kids. I was running a few minutes early so I stopped at Goodwill to poke around. As I was checking out (I think I bought the kids some shoes) it was there, in front of the check out. Everything I had been looking for in a real, grown-up dresser. Until this point my clothes were still in the Target dresser I bought for my college apartment. The kind where the bottom falls out of the drawers at least once a week and your undies end up in your t-shirts. It was time to grow up.

I gasped, paid for my shoes, then went over to check it out. It was in rough shape.  Hmmm. I didn't have the right vehicle with me, it would need a lot of work, and that price- $99, while fantastic for a dresser of this quality, was one I should probably run by the hubs... not to mention, it was very large. I left.
After dinner I explained to the hubs about the bestest dresser in the whole world I had just witnessed. Expecting him to go into the default speech about not spending money that we both go into when the other one wants to buy something we don't really need, he said "so get it". That was all I needed.
I grabbed some flip flops, keys to the truck, one kid, and ran out the door. Goodwill closed in 20 minutes. I made it! As my 4 year old and I opened drawers to see that they all functioned, I spotted the sold sign on top. :( Nooooooooo!!!! I asked to make sure it was really sold. It was. We left sad and dejected (and a little embarrassed because I ran in there like a bat out of hell, opened 5 drawers in front of all these people checking out, then just turned and left.... Weirdo).

Days later I went to Goodwill again (because everyone goes to Goodwill multiple times in one week, right?). It was still there with the sold sign on top. I asked again if there was a policy about someone not picking it up in time. They said they really couldn't do anything since that person had already paid. So I decided to stalk it. I stalked it hard. I went to Goodwill everyday that week. I know they thought I was a crazy hoarder person who buys all the Goodwill stuffed animals (I don't, eww), but I didn't care.

On day 5 a miracle occurred... the sign was gone. It was gone! I don't know what happened but that dresser was mine! I paid for the dresser immediately and brought her home to begin days and days and days of sanding. Persistence (and a little crazy) paid off!

Here is day 1 of the sanding. The neighbors have asked me if I refinish furniture for a living. No really, they have.
I still look mildly excited about it (and a little sweaty).
My garage looked like this for weeks. I sanded the top, sides, and flat center drawers with an orbital sander, gradually going from a course grit paper to a fine one. All the rest was done by hand. All 8 drawers and all those tiny crevices. By. Hand. Have I mentioned my arms are looking rather toned lately? I love that each drawer has its own box. I'm sure that's called something in the woodworking world... I just call it quality. :) This sucker is heavy!
I used Minwax Pre-Stain on everything (wood conditioner) then applied one coat of stain with an old cloth diaper after. Pre-Stain makes the stain go on very even. No streaks. I'd highly recommend it... worth the couple bucks. In this picture the top, front dividers, and that one drawer are stained. I had to put it together quickly to see what it was going to look like!
The sanding is the worst part. I did two drawers a night while the kids rode their bikes. The staining goes rather quickly. I chose to apply Minwax 1 Lb Regular Finishing (Google Affiliate Ad) wax to protect it. I think the top has 4 coats, the rest has 1. Also, the original hardware was broken on the center drawers. I came across 4 matching glass knobs at an antique store by my house, so I used those. I think they're a little large for the small drawers but for now they work. I just shined up the larger hardware on the big drawers.
I really love it. My crazy lady from the Goodwill reputation was worth it. My husband claims that his shorts smell like old man when he takes them out. They do, a little... I'm not going to lie, but I don't care. Nothing a little Febreze can't fix. Ha! Let me know if you have a Goodwill find you brought back to life!

And, if you could go here and vote for me at Circle of Moms I'd really appreciate it. Just one click. I'm so close to the top 25! Thanks :)

50 comments :

  1. Beautiful!
    I read somewhere (YHL?) that if you wipe the draws out with vinegar it will gt rid of the old man smell.
    I agree about the glass knobs, a touch too big and not quite right. Ceramic maybe?
    Beautiful and gorgeous outcome!!

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    1. Ah, I will try the vinegar, thanks! Yes, ceramic would look nice. I'll keep my eye out. :) Thanks!

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  2. That is awesome. I did a very similiar piece but it was not in need of as much sanding (thank you Universe). Your arms must look like pythons :) Beautiful job. I had to stalk my dresser too, to those who are patient go the spoils...lol

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    1. Glad I'm not the only dresser stalker! haha And I only did two drawers a night because my arms couldn't take more. :) Thanks!!!!

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  3. It turned out beautiful!! I have been known to be that same crazy lady at the Goodwill/Salvation Army in our area ;)

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    1. You find the best stuff that way! Thank you!!

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  4. What color stain did you use? THis looks amazing!

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    1. Just updated the post and added a pic of the stain and the pre-stain. It was Dark Walnut 2716. I should have had that in there to begin with, duh! Thanks for asking :) Glad you like it.

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  5. Great job again on the dresser! You are way more patient than me!!!

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  6. Oh my god, i totally love that dresser!!!! You made it look good as new. You really did a very great job and i can't wait to refinish my old dresser too. You are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing this. - www.colonialrestorationstudio.com

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  7. I have a similiar dresser that I got from craigslist for $30. It was all sorts of nastyness (cobbwebs, old man smell, stickiness, and plain dirty that I had to washbit several times). Bf looked at me like I was crazy but now it became my fav piece of furniture...I even lined it with gift wrap attached with double sided tape on the inside drawers...glad that you saw the potential..looks absolutely fabulous! It's good to see wood stained instead of just painted. (Im not a wood purist btw)

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    1. Thanks! $30!, that's great! Yep, this one was begging to be refinished... not painted. It's too nice for paint!

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    1. Haha! Well thanks! I need to find something else to refinish to keep in shape I think. :)

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  10. Ok. Weird. I have THE SAME DRESSER that I just bought on Memorial Day from a Craigslist Ad. Ever weirder? I wanted to stain it and I totally stumbled across this tutorial by accident! You are awesome! :)

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    1. Sweet! I googled the heck out of this dresser when I bought it to find any info at all... year it was made, what it was worth, any advice on refinishing it, etc. There wasn't much out there. And, because of that I was very mindful in how I named this post. Trying to think of words someone in my situation would type in to search for. Anyway, even if you found this by accident... I'm excited! It's a pretty dresser. I love it! Thanks!!!

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  11. Ok. Weird. I have THE SAME DRESSER that I just bought on Memorial Day from a Craigslist Ad. Ever weirder? I wanted to stain it and I totally stumbled across this tutorial by accident! You are awesome! :)

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  12. I go by Goodwill so much I'm sure the workers will recognize me on TV when I appear on my own episode of Hoarders. I love the dresser! It's beautiful.

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    1. OMG! hahaha, that is exactly what I think when I'm there! I feel the need to explain to people that don't care about my blog and my obsession with DIY projects. "No really, it's going to look awesome when I'm done..." Thanks!

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  13. What a GREAT piece!! You did a fantastic job on it, congrats on the outcome!

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  14. I have an old dresser that was in my family for about five generations - I'm about to embark on the Great Refinishing Adventure. Found yours while googling around for hints. Your piece is soooo beautiful! :)

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    1. Hi Joy! Thanks! You can do it :) I love having pieces that have been in my family and giving them new life. Let me know how it goes!

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  15. Great job! I'm going to start with this old chest that my hubby wanted to dump!

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  16. I have a dresser and chest of drawers that look very similar-and just bought two nightstands, all from Craig's List...was looking for refinishing ideas and was getting bummed that all were PAINTING such beautiful furniture!!!! So glad to finally see yours and it is beautiful I am doing the same to mine! Thanks for all the info and looking forward to my new arms:)

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    1. Thanks Nancy! Yes, it was just too nice to paint. Even in the shape this dresser was in, I couldn't believe someone gave it away. It's not really hard to refinish stuff, just takes time. :)

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  17. Was this dresser veneered? It looks wonderful.

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    1. Hi Valerie. Yes, the drawers are veneer because on a couple corners I sanded a tiny bit too much and you could see through to the wood underneath. However, the legs seem solid and I sanded the heck out of the top and never made it through the veneer. So maybe just the drawers? Thanks for the compliment! I really love it!

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  18. Your dresser looks beautiful. Is it veneer?

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  19. Similar to one I've inherited. You've done a great job and inspired me!

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    1. Great! I love it. I think old dressers have so much more warmth than new ones... and the imperfections help that. So don't be afraid to mess up. :)

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  20. How did you clean the hardware?

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    1. I just stuck it in the sink and scrubbed with the green scrubby side of my sponge with dish soap :) I tried some metal polish we had but it did nothing (I'm sure it just wasn't the right stuff). Sponge and Dawn did the trick for me.

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  21. Great work! Before you start any repairs or touch-up, wipe on mineral spirits to help you decide what your next steps should be. The mineral spirits temporarily saturates the finish to reveal how the piece of furniture will look with nothing more than a coat of wipe-on clear finish.

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    1. Great tip! And next time I take on a project like this I will absolutely try that. Some wood is just so pretty as is :) Thanks!

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  22. I have the same dresser and the tall one that goes with it. Passed down when my great aunt went into assisted living. My daughter is using them right now but in two years they will be all mine and are begging to be refinished after years of abuse from a teenager who doesn't appreciate what she has. I'm just glad old furniture was built to last. So I'm waiting until she goes to college and reclaiming them :). Where on yours is the "Morgantown" marking. I ran in her room and checked them when I saw this but don't know where to look.

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  23. I inherited the same dresser (I think) and the tall man's chest of drawers from my great aunt. They are being used by my teenager now and in two years will be all mine. She doesn't appreciate what she has but at least old furniture was built to last years and years. Where on yours did you find the "Morgantown" mark?

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    1. Ohhh, the set. I bet they are beautiful. I found the Morganton mark inside the top right drawer on the right side of the drawer. And, that's par for the course with teenagers. :) Thanks for commenting... I love reading them.

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  24. Fascinating information I haven’t been experienced such information in quite a long time.
    best interior designers

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  25. Great job! Unfortunately, I just sanded (no sander, just elbow grease) and stained my own garage sale find and finished it off as advised by my local hardware store with polyurethane. Yuck! It ruined it! The can said matte but it is super shiny and appears to be encased in plastic. So...I am going to remove the poly, but would love to know what you used to finish the piece. Wax? Shellac? Oil? Believe me, I am not asking the guy at the hardware store again!

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    1. Oh man! That stinks but you'll have super tones arms at least, right? :) I sanded, then did a wood conditioner, then stained, then waxed (Minwax Paste Finishing Wax). The wax is sold right by the stain. Honestly I was nervous about just waxing as a protective finish, but over a year later, my dresser still looks fantastic. It's not a super high traffic piece, but really, no issues. I love it. Hope that helps a little!

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  26. Thank you for sharing this information on finishing old furniture. I think it's a great idea and I can't wait to try it on a few old things that I have!

    Wayne Deer |

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  27. I love the glass knobs, more modern and your own flavor, looks really nice! I know now I can do mine myself, thx!

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  28. Love the glass knobs, more modern in a small touch and your own flavor. Great job, now I am ready to do mine,thx :)

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    1. Thanks! Go for it then let me know how it went :)

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  30. Fantastic find! You did a fabulous job. Bet you get a warm feeling of satisfaction every time you look at it. Well Done!

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