Sometimes, I can’t explain why I do the things I do and why I choose a particular moment to do them in, particularly when drugs or alcohol are not contributing factors. Why did I put in that late-night ASOS order last week? Beats me. Why do I NEED to reorganize my kitchen cabinets at 2 in the morning? Can’t say. Why did I up and decide to restore a whole dresser on a Saturday afternoon while Max’s lovely mother was staying at our apartment? No reason that I can think of.
But I did, and I’m lucky that when Max and his mom got home from an exhausting day of non-stop exciting action to find me covered in grime with dresser drawers strewn about the apartment and the air reeking of furniture wax, they took the whole thing in stride. Those close to me have mostly developed a certain tolerance for this sort of thing by now. “Oh, there he goes again,” they say, rolling their eyes. “I guess we’ll just come back in a few hours when he comes down.”
So Max and I bought this dresser a few months ago, and I’ve just been too busy with school and work and procrastinating to devote any time to fixing it up. I mean, it’s a nice dresser—totally looks pretty nice and there’s nothing functionally wrong with it, so it wasn’t exactly first on my list of priorities. All I really did was wipe out the drawers before we started loading clothes into it, and Max threw a bunch of art books on top before I even had a chance to clean it off.
It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but it had a bunch of little nicks and scratches and bumps and bruises and chipped veneer and little bits of paint and cigarette burns and rings on the top. We did buy it for cheaps from a dead person’s house in Long Island, so.
Also, every time I did wipe it with any cleaning product, the towel would turn a shade of dark brown, which was a bit disconcerting. I love some nice rosewood, for sure, but decades of smoke and tinted furniture polish and wax and crap probably weren’t doing the wood a lot of favors at this point.
Here was the restoration supply kit, which is a little modified from how Morgan originally taught me at The Brick House, but using the same basic principles. Since there wasn’t any existing finish on it like varnish or polyurethane, I didn’t want to touch it with sandpaper, since it’s easy to get carried away and remove more than necessary. Since the drawer-fronts are veneer, that’s definitely something to think about. Instead, I opted for some fine steel wool and soapy water, which did double-duty of scrubbing the shit out of this thing and smoothing out some problem areas where the solid wood had noticeably chipped or scuffed.
That top image is the top of the dresser before, which kind of shows the surface damage and general sadness going on with this dresser. I started by unscrewing all the hardware, which I’ll get to shortly.
Then all I did was fill a bowl with a few tablespoons of Murphy’s Oil Soap and some hot water and went to work with the steel wool. This thing required a LOT of scrubbing to liberate the wood from so many years of general grime and horror, so I just kept dumping out and refilling my bowl so that I wasn’t totally just moving gross water around. It’s important to only scrub the wood WITH the grain (duhz), and I followed up with a few rags after scrubbing so that water wouldn’t sit on the surfaces long enough to penetrate and ruin anything. As all the old crap came off of the wood, it got noticeably lighter and the beautiful grain really started to show through, which was all very exciting. So I just rubbed my wood until it felt nice and soft and it didn’t seem like any more weird stuff was coming out of it. That came out all wrong.
(by the way, I’m basically making this up, but it worked for me so I guess it’s a good method totally worth emulating and basing your furniture restoration and entire life around)
Fast-forward a few hours, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off, a symptom that should persist no more than a few days. If it does, call your doctor.
Before I moved forward with messing around with my wood any more, I wanted to give my hand, wrist, and forearm a break. Damn it!
This is the part where this post might get controversial because I showed no mercy on the old brass hardware. This is a personal decision I made in a fit of “OMG SHINYYY!!!!!” but in retrospect it might have been better to use a less intense product and keep some of the patina on the brass. Brasso probably would have done the trick nicely, but I went all-out and scrubbed these things with Barkeeper’s Friend (also known as EVERYBODY’S GODSEND) and the rough side of a sponge until all the tarnish was gone and the brass glimmered like melted sunshine. I used an old toothbrush on the tricky inside-bits.
Yeah, I like my furniture to look its age and whatever, but brasssssssy. I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t.
Diverting attention away from the wood to the hardware also gave the wood a chance to dry out, which is what you want before applying any type of finishing product. Trapping water in wood is not a good plan FYI.
So I went back to the dresser and the whole thing looked more or less like this. If you’re doing this sort of thing, this is the part where you might be tempted to panic because your wood will be so dry and hazy and sad looking that it seems like nothing will ever save it and you’ve ruined vintage rosewood and you should be put to death immediately. You are a very dramatic person and possibly need medication to get a handle on your feelings.
This is where the Danish Oil comes in. After using Danish oil, Teak oil, Tung oil, and Restore-a-Finish in the past, my favorites are definitely Danish and Teak. Tung tends to darken wood a bit (I think), and I don’t really trust Restore-a-Finish for a project like this because all you really want is the natural color of the wood to come out. There’s a time and a place for Restore-a-Finish, I’m sure, but it’s not when you’re dealing with rosewood or teak because it’s pigmented and that freaks me out.
After the oil (leave on about 15-20 minutes, wipe off excess, repeat if necessary), I finished off the whole thing with Howard’s Feed-N-Wax. This stuff is magic and smells terrific. Then I just screwed the hardware back on and…
What’s your name? Can I get your number?
So I was kind of lukewarm on this dresser before because the drawers are kind of annoyingly shallow and it isn’t the most functional thing on four legs, but now I love it? I can never get rid of it?
A couple people have pointed out that this dresser sits verrrrry close to the old radiator, which is not generally a good idea. However, it’s probably an OK idea if your landlords are cheap and turn the boiler on about twice every winter, and your boyfriend keeps all the radiators turned off (and a window open, and a fan on) year-round anyway. You are also probably cold all the time and worry for the life of your plants.
At the very least, I’d like to paint this radiator white like the other one, but I also have fantasies of just removing the whole thing and capping the pipe. This project sounds difficult and scary and heavy, but it would open up an alternate room layout that I’ll admit to finding very exciting and enticing. I should be restrained is what I’m saying.
I’m out of things to say about this dresser.