Refinishing furniture has given way to a greater appreciation for natural wood. Perhaps I inherited this appreciation from my grandfather who was a talented carpenter. He made furniture out of his garage workshop and I can still remember the piles of wood shavings and the woodsy smell of the sawdust that covered his workshop floor.
When I first started refinishing furniture, I primarily worked with paint. I now use a mix of paints and stains. While paint and stain provide the ability to closely match a table, dresser, or sideboard to other colors in a room, sometimes natural wood coordinates just as beautifully.
Once this dresser was sanded down, I opted to leave it in its natural state. The light and shadings remaining in the wood were so unique it would be a shame to cover it up. I had done this before with a dresser that was made into a sideboard for my dining room. You can see that here.
Since living with that sideboard for a few months and still loving the natural wood tone, I had been in search of another solid wood dresser that could be refinished in the same way. This would require a solid wood furniture piece with no damage to the wood.
So how do you go about finding that solid wood furniture?
Identifying Solid Wood Furniture
It all starts with choosing the right pieces of furniture, recognizing solid wood over manufactured and veneers, and inspecting the workmanship. I’ve sanded down enough furniture pieces to be able to spot a dresser made of solid wood, but even then some are difficult to detect.
The first thing to do is open the drawers. Drawer boxes rarely have a stain or paint on the inside so it’s farely easy to see the wood grain and determine if the drawer boxes are made of solid wood. If you see dove-tailed drawers, that’s a clear indication that the drawers are solid wood. If you see that the drawer box is stapled to a very heavy drawer front, more than likely it’s a manufactured wood dresser.
Second, look at the the dresser from the back side. If the back cut edge of the wood looks like it has holes, then chances are it’s a manufactured wood and not solid wood. If you see a seam that looks like a thin piece of wood glued to a thicker piece, then this means the dresser has a wood veneer or laminate adhered to its surface.
Veneer is actually a very thin piece of wood and can be very lightly sanded if needed. Heavy sanding will cause scratches to appear even through a stain. Laminate that appears to be wood is not wood at all. It’s just a photograph of wood grain. Basically it’s wood-grain wallpaper, so it cannot be sanded at all.
Finally, try to lift the dresser. In most cases, if you cannot lift one end of the dresser without difficulty, then it’s most likely made of imitation wood. Manufacturered wood is very heavy. With the exception of a few very dense woods, most wood dressers are easy to move around (with the drawers removed).
This particular four-drawer dresser passed every test so I knew it was solid wood. With the exeption of a few scratches and dirt, it was in excellent condition. As a bonus, it even had all of its original hardware.
The dresser was sanded down completely and what was left was a beautiful maple wood (at my best guess). I purposely left a few of the shadings in the wood from the old stain. It adds depth to the natural wood.
The top drawer has this very cool built-in which I imagine is to hold small jewelry.
The four, wide, dove-tailed drawers are very clean and in excellent condition. The hardware is original and unique. Once cleaned up, it now shines. I love how these pulls are installed vertically.
Check out that wood grain and the color variations. I’ve read that Restoration Hardware has a nine-step staining process to achieve a similar look. I even tried to re-create it on a 7-layer stained dresser which you can see here. Sometimes natural is even better.
To maintain the original color, the dresser was clear-coated with General Finished Flat-Out-Flat. This is a water-based acrylic topcoat that won’t yellow the wood like an oil based product or even discolor it like some polycrylics. If you’re looking for a topcoat that will keep the wood as close to its natural state, it’s this Flat-Out-Flat by General Finishes. The result is the natural wood that’s super smooth.
Tip: After you apply the first coat of Flat-Out-Flat, sand the finish with a brown paper bag. It will smooth the surface without removing any of the product.
With the furniture trends moving more toward minimalism and clean lines, now is the time to add a natural wood element to your decor.
This natural maple dresser is now for sale in the Entri Ways’ Shop.
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If you live in the Boston area and have solid wood furniture pieces that need an update, let’s talk about how paint or stain could transform them. See this info on my custom furniture painting & staining services…
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