How to refinish a very old dresser rather slowly

Pete has had the same small Ikea dresser since he was born. As he’s grown, so have his clothes, and so he’s been in need of a bigger dresser for some time. Trouble is, there isn’t room in his bedroom — the smallest one in our house — to get a wider dresser, so I’ve been on the hunt for a taller one. For quite a while. They just don’t make a whole lot of 27-inch-wide dressers, apparently, and the ones I did find were either unattractive, too expensive or looked like they were made entirely of particle board.

So I was casually keeping my eye out for a dresser that met all of my stringent criteria — no weird shapes; moderately priced; well-constructed — when I ran into this little dude[ref]Yesterday I said “dude” about something, and Pete told me that was a very strange thing for a mama to say. “Whatever dude,” said I.[/ref] in the basement of a house in our neighborhood:

'50s yard sale dresser

Bobby Shaftoe decalLest you think I’m in the habit of raiding the neighbors’ basements in search of dingy old furniture, they were having an estate sale. The gentleman there wanted $20 for his childhood dresser, complete with Bobby Shaftoe decals. I brought it home for $15. And it sat in the garage for a week or so while I tried to sand the cream-colored paint off of it.

It didn’t take me very long to figure out that it would take the elbow grease of 1,000 Nicholes to successfully sand the paint away, so I searched high and low for another solution. By which I mean, I noticed the bottle of soy-based paint stripping gel a friend had loaned me when I was trying to remove the bathroom wallpaper and decided to give it a try on one little, inconspicuous spot. It worked beautifully, and I was very glad that I forgot to give it back. Since she moved 2,000 miles away this summer without asking me to return it, I figured I could go ahead and use the rest of the bottle.

And so I did.

'50s yard sale dresser refinish project

The soy gel didn’t completely remove the layer of green paint beneath the layer of cream paint, but at least the dresser’s surface was clean. I sanded it all down and put wood putty over the plentiful scratches and dings, and then I headed off to the store for paint. Pete wanted blue, but he didn’t specify what shade of blue he had in mind. I went with a navy blue called Naval, which is probably just a coincidence.

'50s yard sale dresser refinish project

It took me about four days to successfully get three coats of paint on the whole thing, because I was pretty generous with myself about taking breaks for let the paint dry. Only one giant terrifying spider leapt out at me during the painting process, but the biggest miracle of all was that I only had to prise one JJ T. Cat hair out of the paint.

So after about $40 and a bit of effort, I had a just-about-ready dresser. I say “just-about-ready dresser” because one of its drawers needed to be replaced. At some point over the last 60-or-so years, the bottoms of both its sides were splintered to bits and as such it wouldn’t sit correctly in its assigned spot. I found a place online that sells drawer sides, but they charge $11 to ship a $6 product. So I had to try to figure out how to manufacture my own drawer sides. I tried to talk my brother into fixing it for me, but he did not take me up on that.

Would you care to wager a guess as to how long the just-about-ready dresser sat in the garage waiting for me to build a drawer? Here’s a hint: a long time.

I measured and sketched and measured again, and I wrote everything I needed down on a little piece of paper and headed off to Lowe’s. And somewhere between home and Lowe’s I lost my little piece of paper and with it, apparently, my will to DIY. My will to DIY took its sweet time coming back, so the just-about-ready dresser sat in the garage for about a month.

But it did come back eventually, and when it did I measured and sketched and measured again, and I wrote everything I needed down on a little piece of paper and headed off to Lowe’s. And that’s where I learned that the guy in the wood-cutting area can’t cut two pieces off wood the same size. So rather than just buying a piece of wood and taking it home to cut myself, I got irritated and left without buying anything. As one does.

When I got home from the useless trip to Lowe’s, I stalked out to the shed and didn’t find any helpful scraps of wood. So I stalked down to the basement and found one rather helpful scrap of wood that was one of the many, many things left behind by our home’s previous owners. (Thanks, Joe!) The helpful scrap and I went back to the shed and retrieved the circular saw and took it out for its inaugural spin. It was pretty exciting.

Once I had all of the parts cut to size, I dropped them off at my neighbor’s house, because he has a router and I don’t and he’s a nice guy. The next day we got home from running errands and found all the parts on the front porch, ready to assemble. Naturally I waited a few more days to assemble it, because a few more days in a garage after spending 50 years in a basement is nothing at all to a very old, long-neglected dresser. At least it got to spend a bit more quality time with JJ T. Cat.

Finally, I used a little wood glue and a few nails to put the drawer back together again. I only smashed my finger once in the process. After sanding the drawer’s sides down a little, it fit perfectly and was ready to go! Pete and I unloaded the Ikea dresser and cleaned up all of the detritus that he’d been hiding beneath it, and then we put his new Navy blue dresser in its place.

refinished dresser

Pete’s new dresser fits the space beautifully, and it only cost $40, a little frustration and one lightly smashed finger. Now I just have to buy him some new pants to go in the dresser, because he’s outgrown every pair he was wearing this time last year.

In which we search for balance in homeschooling

I have been feeling all sorts of overwhelmed since all of the kids’ activities started a few weeks ago. Poppy’s soccer is more intense this year, and her outsourced classes have included quite a bit more homework than I’d anticipated. I’m struggling to find a good balance and flow for us. I changed our at-home work schedule a little last week to make the workload a little lighter on the days when we have more running around to do. Until I looked back at the kids’ to-do lists, I thought that my efforts had not worked at all. But it turns out that they did accomplish most of the things on their assignment sheets.

I still need to figure out a few things — how and when, for example, to get our history work done — but I’m going to make an effort to take it a little easier on myself next week and trust that our homeschooling effort is not, in fact, frantically treading water.

Here’s what our week looked like:


We listened to our “Story of the World” chapter — on the Civil War — on the way to and from co-op, and in between we spent a bit over three hours at co-op. Multiple families were absent this week, which found me trying to wing my way through teaching a sketch comedy class. Thank heavens for the internet, which provided me with a bevy of improv games to play.

We usually drop Pete off at guitar after co-op, and then Poppy and I work on some of her schoolwork. She had an orthodontist appointment this week, though, so we dropped Pete off and then headed to the orthodontist and then picked Pete up and then went home.

Poppy had less than an hour to get ready for soccer practice at that point, so we decided to do school after practice. And then we discovered that there had been some miscommunication with the carpool vis-à-vis the orthodontist appointment. The carpool was already on the interstate, so we rushed into the car and headed off to practice.

Did we, in fact, get any work done after practice? I honestly don’t remember.


  • Poppy finished her homework for her writing class.
  • Read the penultimate chapter of “The Secret Garden.”

    We got some work done in the morning, and then we headed across town to have a stubborn baby tooth removed from Poppy. She was a little woozy after the extraction, and the dentist recommended that she avoid exertion for the rest of the day. So she took it easy for a few hours, and she didn’t go to any of the three tae kwon do classes that she’s been doing on Tuesdays.


  • Poppy finished her science homework, which included an open-book test.
  • Guitar practice for Pete and piano practice for Poppy.
  • Memorization work.
  • Read the last chapter of “The Secret Garden.”
  • Map Skills.

    Poppy had writing, science and civilization on Wednesday, and while she was there Pete went to chess class and met with his spelling tutor. Then we picked Poppy up and went to the library and to the allergy doctor, and when we finally got home we started our new read-aloud — “Little Women,” which I downloaded as an audiobook and which Poppy apparently loathes — and did a bit of schoolwork, and then it was time to take Poppy to her friend’s house to meet their new kitten and catch the carpool to soccer practice. Pete’s friend came back home with us, and they played video games for awhile until they decided to fly airplanes outside. They switched back to video games after one of them tossed their plane-launching device into the gutter.


  • Nearly everything on their lists! Poppy didn’t do her literature study, because I hadn’t printed it for her and the suddenly the day was over.

    We started the day with another chapter of “Little Women,” which Poppy continues to protest mightily.

    Tuesday’s tooth extraction moved Poppy’s piano lesson to Thursday, and her piano teacher came over at the same time as Pete’s spelling tutor. And that keen scheduling gave me an hour to recap our week for you, dear Butterscotch Sundae reader.


  • Pete did all of his work, and Poppy did everything but vocabulary.

    We had people wandering in and out of the house for a while this morning, and we didn’t get any work done until after things had settled down. I knew that was going to be the case ahead of time, though, so I wasn’t worried about it. Today was Poppy’s first day volunteering at the library, and Pete did most of his work while she was there. She did her schoolwork after her shift at the library. She does still have some homework to do for writing and science, and she is aware that she’s going to need to work on it over the weekend.


  • Everything except a history project, a science project and literature study. We’ll be re-visiting this week’s “Story of the World” chapter next week, and Pete and I agreed that this week’s science project sounded pretty dull.

    How was your week?

    Wanna read more about homeschooling? Check out the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers weekly linky thing!

  • Pete learns to Stonewall, and Poppy dissects a paragraph

    Every semester there’s a week when I say “What have I done? We are so over-scheduled.” Welcome to that week. All but one of our not-at-home homeschooling activities has started, and it’s going to take me a week or two to figure out how to juggle our at-home work with the kids’ outsourced classes, sports and other activities.

    Here’s a bit of what we did get done this week:

    Language Arts

    We’re in the final third of “The Secret Garden,” Poppy is reading “Where the Red Fern Grows” for her literature study and Pete is reading both “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and “The Last Dragon Charmer #2: The Quest Maker.” (Also: I am reading “John Quincy Adams: American Visionary” by Fred Kaplan, and Rockford is reading Stephen King’s “It.”)

    For a kid who’s never really had homework before (or who has only had homework, if you want to look at it that way), Poppy has quite a bit of homework this weekend for her writing class. She’s working on finding the key ideas in a paragraph and then rewriting said paragraph in her own words.

    Pete’s adventures in spelling have been pretty well documented here. He’s working with a spelling tutor this year. They just started, but he’s having fun with it so far. I am ever hopeful that this will be the key for him.


    Poppy is taking a math test this very moment. She’s been drawing angry faces at the end of every long division problem for the past two weeks, if that gives you an indication of how well she and math are getting along.


    "Attention humans: I wish to participate in your science project."
    “Attention humans: I wish to participate in your science project.”
    This week Pete learned about the sun, did some review and wrapped things up with a science test and a project. The test didn’t go so well — there was a lot of vocabulary matching, and the difference between a meteoroid, a meteorite, a comet and an asteroid tripped him up a bit — but the project was interesting. We made a pinhole viewer out of cardboard, tape and aluminum foil, then we used it to calculate the diameter of the sun. We were around 63,000 miles off in our calculations, though. Perhaps our measurements weren’t entirely accurate.

    Poppy’s Earth Science class has been studying minerals for the past couple of weeks. She’s had a little bit of homework every week, and she’s done a good job getting it done without having to rush to do it right before class.


    The kids listened to their “Story of the World” chapter at the beginning of the week, and then we didn’t do history for the rest of the week. We’ll be revisiting this week’s chapter next week.


    Poppy is taking a lot of extra tae kwon do classes in an effort to be able to test for her red-black belt next month. She also has soccer practice three times a week, and she has two games this weekend.

    Pete started a beginner chess class this week, and he loved it. The instructor is a Life Master, and he is very enthusiastic and engaging. Pete has been practicing The Stonewall Attack every day.

    Wanna read more about homeschooling? Check out the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers weekly linky thing!