Eye-catching cabinets don’t always have to be made from English oak, kauri or Australian cedar. Sometimes, it’s worth restoring an item made of more modest materials. This family favourite may have been the ugly duckling in a room of restored oak furniture, but after a bit of elbow grease, it looks fantastic.
Around the middle of last century, furniture was often constructed using whatever materials were available. This small dresser, made for a farmer’s grandchildren in rural NSW, was made during tough times, and consists of frames using odd timbers with a cladding of masonite, a hardboard commonly used in the mid-1900s. It is smaller than most dressers, but has a lot of charm, with more sentimental than monetary value. Pieces like this are still worth all the time and effort to clean up, and once refurbished, can stand strong and proud for generations to come.
Gather your supplies
•Aluminium oxide sandpaper (120-180 grit)
• Small pine knobs (5)
• Indoor low-sheen acrylic paint (we used Dulux Wash & Wear Low Sheen in Whisper White)
• ‘0000’ grade steel wool
•Quality non-silicon untinted
You’ll also need
Dust mask; brush; old rags; cordless drill; painting tools
Step 1 Working outside and wearing dust mask, brush out all cobwebs, dirt and dust from inside dresser.
Step 2 Remove drawers for easier access. Do not unscrew steel hinges, as there is a chance old screws may snap – these will be difficult to replace and hinges may be hard to put back in their original positions
Step 3 Wipe down all surfaces with a damp rag. To get in tight corners, such as around glass, wrap rag around a screwdriver or similar implement. Do not use a wet rag, as moisture may lift grain of timber.
Step 4 Hammer in any nails that are sticking out. Leave nail heads showing, but ensure they are flush.
Step 5 When nailing into something that is not solid, such as a swinging door, hold a second hammer behind the point where you are nailing, then tap in nail. The extra hammer will lend mass to the back and stop door bouncing and doing more damage.
Step 6 Remove any handles by unscrewing them or undoing nuts holding them on. If old handles are still in good condition and made of bakelite, one of the original plastics, they can be quite valuable. However, often the bakelite is cracked and deteriorated.
Step 7 Using 120, then 180 grit sandpaper, sand back unit until smooth. Remember that old paint probably contains lead, so mask up and keep working outside. Wipe down dresser with damp rag.
Step 8 Replace old broken handles with small timber ones. They are inexpensive and keep in character with the unit. However, you will need to fill any double holes used for old handles, as modern handles aren’t likely to fit old hole spacings. Let dry and sand smooth. Drill new hole in centre of drawer for new knob. Also drill out other holes if too tight for screws securing new knobs. Fit all new knobs.
Step 9 Paint exterior of dresser with acrylic paint. Use small brushes and only paint parts that were originally painted. Also, don’t paint the interior. Keep doors and hinges attached, despite any difficulty presented when painting – if removed, there is still the risk of old steel screws snapping.
Step 10 Once paint is dry, using steel wool, partly cut through paint to get a worn effect. If you’re not sure where to cut through, think about where an old piece of furniture would wear most from handling, such as edges, knobs, and corners. Take care and don’t overdo it, then apply untinted furniture wax with a clean rag to seal unit and buff for a rich, medium-sheen shine.
Step 11 Using steel wool, apply wax to old hinges to preserve old look and offer some protection against further rust. Buff off any rusty wax around hinges.