New Knobs for My Old Dresser!

Three years ago, I bought a big antique dresser that I put in the bedroom. Then I blogged about it. This one:

I love this dresser! It’s probably from the mid-1800s, which is sort of fun because so is my house! I obviously don’t want a time capsule house, but it’s always fun to pepper pieces around that could have been there originally, I think. It’s something I’d like to do more of as I’m able to find and afford this stuff. I think this dresser is actually intended more for linens, so I can see eventually moving it out of the bedroom and putting it somewhere else in the house, too. Ya know. Versatile unique cool piece that I expect to have for a long ass time.

One thing that’s never been quite right about the dresser (and probably the reason I was able to snag it for $300 in the first place) is the knobs. They’re reproductions, definitely not original or at all old. Whoever installed them did a pretty good job matching the stain, but not amazing, so I’ve always planned to do something about it. Then one broke in half in my hand one day, and another one fell off, so I put on a random knob I had laying around “temporarily,” a solution that lasted a mere two years. Every now and then I’d feel a burst of inspiration to try to find a new set of 8 knobs only to give up and forget it. It was a fun thing to get momentarily fixated on every couple of months.

The problem was that I didn’t feel confident that a new set of wood knobs would be any kind of improvement, but the real complicating factor was the size! The replacement wood knobs were the right size at 2″ in diameter, but typical knobs are between maybe 3/4″ and 1.5″ on the large end and that would look too dinky.

See? Major struggle.

Then a few weeks ago, somebody kindly alerted me in the comments to a lot of 8 Sandwich Glass knobs on eBay that would look good on my dresser! So I dashed to eBay! I found nothing!

Like I said, major struggle. But thank you for trying, kind stranger. This is the kind of help and support that I need.

ANYWAY. I don’t know what the original knobs on this dresser were, but it’s possible they were glass. Brief history corner, here we go! The Sandwich Glass Company operated out of Massachusetts from 1826-1888 and notably made pressed glass knobs among other things. So glass knobs became a big thing, and by the middle of the century were pretty ubiquitous. Fun facts.

Now, glass knobs are very beautiful and there are some AMAZING antique ones out there. But finding a set of 8 is tough, and when they do come up, they are not cheap. In addition, you may be aware that I’m renovating a 150 year old house, so my motivation and available funds to address this very small aspect of my life is low. Like lower on the priority list than changing the dead lightbulb on my garage, but easier because I don’t have to go outside. Point is, I wanted to order a nice thing from the Internet, have it delivered to my home, install, admire, and move on with my mess of a life.

Then I found reproduction Sandwich glass knobs at House of Antique Hardware for $8.29 a pop. They come in 6 colors! They’re 1.75″ across instead of 2″, so I made the lazy courageous decision to let it go and just buy them. Enough hassle. End the madness.

House of Antique Hardware is a GREAT resource, by the way. I’ve ordered a number of things from them over the years and the quality has always been excellent, prices are fair, and there’s a big selection of products. I love them.

In anticipation of my new knobs arriving in the mail, I figured it was a good time to give the dresser a little bit of attention. It’s a little beat up generally and the last few years have not been especially kind to any of my possessions.

Little dings and scratches and discoloration, ya know. These things happen. I think those scratches look suspiciously like Mekko nails. Dogs are so great but they also fuck up your stuff.

I love Restor-A-Finish. What’s not to love? It’s so easy and quick and great for blending in small damage (like what’s all over this piece) without losing the existing patina. The last thing I want is for this to look new or newly refinished. I had a couple different cans in the basement that I mixed together and buffed in with part of an old t-shirt. Easy peesy.

Then I put my new knobs on, and done! I think it looks cute. I am satisfied.

By the way, can we also appreciate that the walls are not crumbling plaster and the moldings are freshly painted and it looks like a real room that someone lives in? I love the wall color with the tones of wood in this piece. It’s working for me! I don’t know what to do up top in terms of art and stuff. I think the fact that I secretly had a 47″ TV on top of it before I renovated the bedroom did not prepare me well for imagining this wall ever being pretty. Now that the room is nice I can’t bear to put the TV back, so I have to try to remember how to be stylish?

(You have to be in some strange positions to ever see that little Sonos speaker tucked underneath the dresser when you’re actually in the room, but I know it looks silly in this photo. Forgive me! I do love my Sonos system, though.)

Good job, new knob. You’re cute.

Of COURSE when I was writing this post I found these Paxton Hardware folks that are selling repro Sandwich Glass knobs in a different pattern in the 2″ diameter I was searching for all along. They’re over $20 a piece though, so I’m kind of glad didn’t know about this earlier. I have put all the shits into this that I can muster for now and I am not doing a thing about it.

Knobs. They’re a good thing.


80 Comments

  1. I have a similar dresser, a little younger than yours (I’m guessing 1880-1910), and it has the original knobs…seven of them. I can’t bring myself to replace them with a matching set of new or antique ones, because they’ve been with that piece for so long. Right now my “temporary” solution of a teak knob from the ’70s (1970s, that is) has continued for two years. So I feel all the angst and understand all the lack of fucks apportioned to such a small thing. Dresser has an amazing patina, too, which I remember struck me when you first bought it. Glad it can shine in the finished room.

    • Ugh, 7! I guess I’m kind of lucky that my remaining knobs weren’t original because I’m not actually sure what I would have done! Maybe it’s possible you can find a match on eBay or etsy or something? I know it seems like a long shot, but mass production was underway in that period so you might get lucky depending on what you have to match!

      • Yeah, and of course it’s the knob on the top drawer that’s missing. I bought some unfinished maple knobs for a separate project, and they’re *close* to the right size, but the profile is wrong, a bullnose rather than a nice clear edge. I thought about trying to find a single antique replacement, but trying to match one in terms of finish would drive me insane. Then I considered doing one totally different knob, sort of lean into it, but that didn’t look right either. I may be wrong on the age of the piece too, come to think of it. All the dovetails are handcut, and the legs are just doweled on. The back is nailed, but I haven’t looked closely at the nails to guess a period based on them. It’s these situations that make little projects into giant headaches…if they weren’t original, they’d have all been replaced and I’d happily be done. Oh well.

    • Sterling – I’ve seen dressers where an original knob (or handle) or two was gone, where they just replaced the knob (or handles) on one drawer – often the bottom drawer, sometimes the one drawer that is very different in size than the others (either much larger or much smaller.) Sometimes with something different but similar to the original knobs or handles, sometimes with something very different. That way, you get a new knob, and drawer with two matching knobs, but still get to keep the original knobs on most drawers. Maybe you’d consider that option?

    • Maybe you could just replace all the knobs on the same row with something that works with the other knobs? I think that can look more intentionally and while it would mean replacing one or two original knobs you would stilll keep most of them.

  2. Brilliant! PLUS You just saved me a tremendous amount of time looking for knobs. ;)

  3. Beautiful upgrade of your dresser, and those grey walls are smashing! Can’t wait to see what you decide to put on the wall instead of the tv. And maybe we’ll hear how your viewing habits change as well? So nice to have more frequent posts these days, too, Daniel, though we all understand when it doesn’t happen :)

    • Thank you, Charlotte! I’m trying!! This was supposed to be a super short and easy post and then of course I wrote over a thousand words and it took me three days from taking pictures to hitting publish. This blog is almost 7 years old and I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of it!! But I’ll keep trying. :)

  4. I can relate to knob struggles! Mostly to the giving up and not paying much attention part.
    I bought a butcher block type thing a while back and it just came with generic wooden pulls. I kind of hated them so switched them out for these knobs I found at Flying Tiger, but realized when I got home that they really did have this Mexican ceramic look that is not at all my style and I endeavored to quickly find a replacement. That was two years ago.

    • Haha! Well maybe something like this would work? House of Antique Hardware has some great old-timey options, if you’re into that?

      • Am I ever! I really like some of the cast-iron ones. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Love the way your dresser turned out! And that company has a great selection of knobs at a reasonable price.

  6. Oftentimes fixed and done is better than perfect – and your dresser is now both.

    I’m also a fan of Howard’s Restor-A-Finish – great stuff, even as it kills your brain cells to work with in inside with poor ventilation, as I invariably have done.

    I’m surprised you couldn’t turn up anyone making authentic, good-looking, two-inch reproduction wood knobs. (Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking if I look hard enough on the internet I can find anything – and I can’t – but then a few years later, it can turn up there somewhere.) I know I prefer wood knobs on dressers. Maybe you will come across some one day, and use your lovely glass knobs on something else. Or maybe you’ll buy whatever tool you need and start creating them yourself…

    • Thanks! (I know, it’s surprising I have any brain cells left frankly.)

      I did find some nice wood knobs, pretty much identical to what was on the piece when I bought it, but that didn’t seem like such an improvement! I think I could have done a better job matching the color than the first set of knobs did, but it’d still bother me. Brand new wood is just not going to look quite right no matter what you do, I think. But I like the glass!

  7. When I was growing up with three siblings we had a dresser like that – full of shoes – largest sizes in the top drawer and smallest in the bottom. When one of us grew out of a pair of shoes they were placed in the dresser until the next person grew into them, then they were taken out, given a thorough polishing and re-assigned. Apparently this was normal for scottish families – both my parents were scots. For some reason the dresser was in the dining room.

  8. Okay, I’ve been reading for awhile now and I just want to say you’re adorable. I enjoy your writing immensely and appreciate the time you take to crate such detailed, informative, and entertaining posts. My favorite part is how renovation can take over your life and ruin your mental health but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Any body who is in love with decrepit old houses knows the thrill of a before and after . My Fair Lady, relationships, bad carpet at the doctors office, a poorly designed bus stop, it’s all fair game for the mental makeover. I think we are Before and After soul mates. If we knew each other in real life I’d offer to help and bring wine. ( I cut a mean room but hate to roll paint)
    Thank you for sharing !
    J

  9. I was totally appreciating the walls/trim while pretending to look at your Restore-a-Finish work and thinking “damn that wall looks almost new!” It all looks so lovely. I bet you’re loving that room now. Hopefully it is also giving you that little boost that you need to keep going on the other projects you have going.

    • Thanks Tisha! It has! I’ve been in a pretty good work groove with this house in the past couple of months—I have a lot to share!

  10. I love your furniture restoration, and not painted. It’s wonderful you can still find pieces with integrity. We love the history of the piece.

  11. Sometimes you just need a small victory to feel like you’re making progress. I vote nobody ever, EVER, judges those knobs for being .25″ too small. They look so much better than the wood knobs – and the look fabulous with the wall color. I feel like I live in a hovel when I read your blog. Sigh.

    • Nobody EXCEPT ME EVERY DAMN DAY! Hahaha. I’m (mostly) kidding, I’m (mostly) totally over it. ;)

      Unless you actually live in a hovel, DEAR LORD don’t ever feel that way. Notice how little of the room/house these photos show. There’s a reason for that! :)

  12. I truly adore your personality as you share it with us on this blog. Your talent brought me here, your sass keeps me coming back. Cheers!

  13. Does ‘knob’ have a double meaning in America? Because I am getting a lot of chuckles, especially the commenter who wrote that he can relate to knob struggles.

    (yes, it means penis in the UK.)

    • omg how have I NEVER heard that?? HAHAHA. Really makes all the talk of a 1/4″ difference in size seem a bit…cheeky, I believe is the word you guys use.

      This whole post is actually just about my penis.

    • In the U.K. knob is also used as a verb meaning to have sex – e.g. ‘He/she just needs a good knobbing’ – or ‘fancy a knob?’ – hence the ‘knob game’ where you sing popular songs replacing ‘love’ with ‘knob’ e.g. ‘All you need is knob’ or ‘knob knob me do’.

    • I’ve heard knob used here but only in the phrases polish my knob or slob my knob as a euphemism for oral sex. I think they were more popular in the 80s.

  14. I can barely pay attention to the knobs because WALLS! So damned nice.

  15. 8 is definitively the worst number of vintage hardware to find. I have been looking for 8 bin pulls to replace the 90’s brass on my built ins for basically all of time. I’m glad to see you have broken the cycle and moved past the endless scrolling! Yay progress! (wait, should I be…. learning from this? *currently has 18 ebay tabs open*)

    • This is one of the few instances where I have to say, DON’T DO IT TO YOURSELF! Haha. There are some really nice new production bin pulls out there…just treat yourself and buy some!! But like, I get it. I’m the same.

      (YOU KNOW, I’ve aged shiny 90s brass before in the oven…I think I painted some apple cider vinegar on them and stuck them in the oven on some aluminum foil…I don’t know, maybe 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes? It’s a fun science experiment and looks like real patina!)

    • If you like the shape of the current pulls, House of Antique Hardware actually sells brass ager! It works on un-lacquered brass, so you may need to strip first for it to work. HOAH and Rejuvenation also sell really good dupes – I found a perfect match for the pulls on my circa 1919 built-ins (the stamped brass bin pulls) when I got tired of hunting for six matching pulls for my kitchen.

  16. Dresser has amazing patina. Just used Howard’s Restorafinish on a vintage desk and chair I bought and WOW!! Easy and effective. Also followed up with Howard Feed-a-Finish wax, which is a great product and easy to use as well.

    • Yes, the Feed-N-Wax is great! My go-to furniture polish as well. I trust Howard’s!

      • I like what the Feed-n-Wax does on furniture, but I rarely use it, as it makes my hand go numb and tingle, and feel weird (kinda achy) for weeks. Need to use it with thicker rubber gloves on, I think.

      • Oh dear! Could that be…an allergy? I’ve never had a reaction like that and I usually don’t wear gloves for that. Yikes!

      • Don’t think it’s an allergy, as it isn’t the skin that’s affected. It is more internal, likely the nerves and joints. I believe may be more affected by nerve toxins in general than others (not an allergy, more like the canary in a coal mine – I react at smaller doses). The joints may feel stiff and achy more when older – I’ve got a few decades on you – but nothing has made my hand ache like that stuff. Just a warning to use thick gloves – as it may affect one as one uses it over time while also (unavoidably) getting older. I may switch to something like olive oil if I get in the mood to oil/wax my furniture again.

      • Yikes! Maybe check out Hemp Oil or just plain mineral oil! I think olive oil isn’t recommended for that kind of thing because it goes rancid.

  17. Lovely as the dresser and the wall are, I would say go ahead and put the TV back where it belongs. It will look fine. If not, an old mirror, not too fancy but not clunky either.

  18. The dresser looks great. I am really amazed how well the bed and dresser work together! good sizes, good colors.

  19. 1. Love the knobs. Did you see the thing on Apartment Therapy about fires started by sunshine hitting glass knobs? Keep your dresser out of direct sunshine. But keep those glass knobs!
    2. $300 for a dresser? Are people over there insane? Around here, and I admit there is a surfeit of old stuff in the environs, a dresser from the mid-1800s would run around €50-100. And all hand-carved and fancy. That said, your money is better spent on an old piece made with solid wood and dovetail construction vs. poison-emitting particle board glued-together pieces from one of the new big-box stores.
    3. There are many miracle-promising vials and bidons at the local hardware stores but Restore-a-Finish isn’t among them. I’m so jealous. There’s another blogger who always comes up with amazing products for refinishing old furniture, like “Dust of the Ages” (not making this up) and other ancient-gold-haha-fooled-ya finishes that, at least in the photos, pass for the real deal.
    4. I love that you aren’t trying to match up your mid-1800s dresser with your 1930s bed (which I also love).
    Keep up the good work and show us some kitchen progress soon, please.

    • 1. I’ve never heard that, haha! Oh man. JUST ANOTHER THING TO MAKE ME CRAZY THANKS.
      2. Ha, I think $300 is pretty good! With knobs intact, I’d put it between $600-$800 in this market. I think a big part of it is that your history is a lot longer than ours…mid-1800s is old for us! The country was young! The population was small! But yes, exactly…I try to think of vintage purchases in terms of what I would spend on a new thing and how the quality would compare…for $300, we’re talking some garbage dresser from IKEA, so I’d much rather have this guy. :)
      3. “Dust of the Ages” is also what the neighbors call my house, I think.
      4. Thanks!

    • The cost of old furniture, like most other things large and small, varies quite widely in the U.S. from place to place. Places in or near large cities tend to be far more expensive.

  20. You found the perfect match, and the patina is gorgeous.
    But you shouldn’t have told me about House of Antique Hardware…. I can’t help myself scrolling their site , looking at my furniture with a suspicious eye, and imagining who’s gonna get the big “depression pink” glass knob make over… even more tempting since I know what it means in UK English ;)

  21. Oh boy! you are like the Beyonce of the handimen, DIY masters, decorators, curators,…. and blah blah blah. Dude, in other words you are amazing when it comes to finding stuff and fixing, re doing things! keep doing this small projects as they are enjoyable to see and read.
    This summer when my partner and I remove one side of our house siding I will be reading slowly your posts about fixing your house :)

    • Aw, Lola! The first and only time I have ever been compared to Beyonce! I cherish it! <3 <3

      Good luck with the siding project!! Feel free to reach out here or via email if you need some guidance!

  22. “I have put all the shits into this that I can muster for now and I am not doing a thing about it.”

    This line made me cry. LOL. Best line ever.

    Love the knobs, btw!

  23. sonos. oh man
    no words
    lovelovelove
    especially since plex (where all my music and radio shows and operas live) became available last summer … thats what i was waiting for and now have a .. ahem .. few. but imagine you know the love, too.

    and soon ECHO!!!! and SONOS!!!!
    waiting (not so ) patiently.

    oh and the knobs and the dresser look great …. (but i spied that grill immediately) … mine are out in the open though.. cats and speakers on the floor (not such a good idea).

    • You’re so ahead of me! I’ve never heard of Plex! Is Echo the Amazon thing? What will it do with my speakers? WHAT IS THIS WORLD

      They are great, though! Sonos shot some promo images in my Brooklyn apartment about 4 years ago and they left us two speakers at the end of the shoot! So that’s how it starts…and then of course you need more…so I’ve tried to make it a tradition to treat myself when I finish a room to a new speaker. When you spread the cost out like that, you can fool yourself into thinking they’re worth it!! Ha. I do wish they’d change a few things…I dislike the app and I think it’s ridiculous that the speakers don’t have an auxiliary port in the back, blah blah, but…it’s not like I’m going to stop buying them. :)

  24. Beautifully done. Always a wonderful thing to move something over to the done column.

  25. Thank you! I’ve just ordered some of this product for my victorian (I think) wooden dresser and my baltic pine extension dining table. Been wondering what to do for them for a while now

  26. weeeelllll finally…a blog post all about the size of your penis….
    LOL!
    My first scroll reaction was to check the wall background in the pics…so pretty the fix! Great with the wood.

  27. Oh I do love the combination. Those are really interesting knobs. I’ve obsessed over glass doorknobs since I was little since my great grandmother’s house had them. It would be fun to put something of that style on a dresser.

  28. Love the knobs! Awesome about restore-a-finish…I have plans for at least one wood piece in my collection.

    Thank you Daniel for brightening up my week and giving me hope that I too can achieve house goals. Because man are you setting them! I love the wall color with the white moldings by the way. So fresh and light and invigorating!

  29. Maybe you already knew this about waterfall furniture like your bed, but it was actually the cheap, ubiquitous pressboard shit of its time! It was marketed to newly married couples who couldn’t afford their own home and were still living with their parents—at least you could pick out a suite of modern furniture for your little bedroom…

    • Yes, I know! Although I gotta say…for being what, close to 90 years old?…it’s stood the test of time pretty well! It’s not an especially nice or unique piece of furniture (I see similar ones all the time on the thrifty rounds), but it’s still really solid and in good condition! I don’t know, I’ve always had a weird affection for deco furniture. :)

      • They have held up much better than any of our stuff probably will… it’s my favorite too!

  30. I’m curious about why you think your dresser is meant for linens–I was always told that dressers of that style, with the deeper top drawer, were definitely bedroom furniture. The deep top drawer is for hats!

  31. Have you ever considered hemp oil for your wood furniture? It’s natural so it doesn’t give off those brain cell killing fumes. Miss Mustard Seed swears by it. I tried it on some wooden carvings with great results. I’ve not yet tried it on furniture since I don’t have a piece that needs it Anyhoo, just askin’.

    • I’ve never used hemp oil, I don’t think! I usually just use mineral oil if all I need is an oil, but for this I wanted the (yes I’m sure super toxic!) stain/solvent combo magic of restore-a-finish to even out some of the damage a bit more. Thanks—I’ll look into it!

  32. The window sills next to our front door have many, many Mekko-like scratches that I thought I would have to live with forever. But perhaps some Restor-a-Finish can improve things…

    • Yes, it would probably help a lot! It’s great for that kind of thing. Not perfect like-new results, of course, but for like ZERO work and a few bucks, it’s worth it!

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