Sanding furniture after removing varnish with chemical stripper.

Furniture Refinishing:

Refinishing An Old Dresser - Part 2
Sanding and Surface Preparation

In This Article:

The dresser and drawer boxes are sanded with a progression of sanding grits from 60 to 150. Some special tools and techniques are used to sand the crevices and details.

Related Articles:

Skill Level: 2-3 (Basic to Intermediate)

Time Taken: About 12 Hours

By , Editor

Continued From Part 1:

In Part 1 we applied chemical stripper to the dresser and drawer boxes, and then power-washed the surfaces to remove the residue.

We let everything dry in the garage overnight, positioning a couple of fans to blow air over all the parts.

After drying, there was some white "sludge" residue on many areas.

Removing finish from old furniture.


Sanding the large surfaces with a random orbital sander.

The next day I started sanding the larger surfaces with a random orbital sander and 60 grit sandpaper. The "sludge" came off really easy.

Sanding the large surfaces of the dresser case (the top and sides) was quick and easy with the random orbital sander. After the initial sanding with 60 grit, I sanded the case again with the random orbital sander and 80 grit sandpaper, making sure that the second sanding removed the scratches made by the 60 grit sanding. These areas took about an hour to sand.

I realized that these little white plastic drawer guides could be removed with a small prybar.

Removing plastic drawer guides.


Sanding The Face Frame:

I tried different sanding methods.

At first I tried using a random orbital sander, but it was too aggressive and caused the narrow boards to become slightly rounded.

Fein Multimaster tool with sanding head.

This is a Fein Multimaster, a fairly expensive tool at $200.

I installed the sanding head and stuck a piece of 80 grit hook-and-loop sandpaper to it.


I also used the Fein Multimaster on the face frame. This worked better than a random orbital sander... it didn't round off the wood.

Note that the head of this tool rotates back-and-forth a very slight amount, so it can leave scratches across the grain, which is undesirable.

Using the Fein Multimaster to sand the face frame on a dresser.


Since I wrote this article, there are several brands of oscillating cutting and sanding tools on the market, such as this one from Bosch. I haven't used it, but I discovered that the Bosch cutting blades will fit my Fein Multimaster.


Hand sanding furniture details.

Hand sanding with a sanding block and 80 grit sandpaper also did a pretty good job, and removed any cross-grain scratches caused by the Multimaster.


The Multimaster worked great for sanding into the corners, but it left some scratches across the woodgrain.

I didn't care about cross-grain scratches on the inside surfaces of the face frame, where they won't be seen. However, on some furniture or cabinets, such areas might be visible, so further sanding would be a good idea.

Detail sanding on face frame of old dresser.


Detail sanding on old dresser.

The Fein Multimaster also worked well for sanding the flat surfaces on the face frame.


To sand the lower sections, I found it easier to work when the dresser was laying on it's back. I just tipped the dresser over and laid it on a pair of folding benches.

Refinishing old furniture, placing dresser on benches.


Fein Multimaster with detail sanding head.

This is the Fein Multimaster with the optional profile sanding head.

There are several different shapes of rubber backing pads that can be used for different contours.


I used the Multimaster to sand the concave parts of the legs.

Sanding contours of wood furniture with Fein Multimaster.


Prying out metal glides from bottom of furniture legs.

At this point I realized that the dresser had metal glides, which can scratch hardwood floors. So I pried off the glides with a tack puller.


These glides are just small steel cups that are hammered into the bottom of the legs. Later I'll replace these with new plastic glides.

Old metal furniture glide.


Wrapping a piece of sandpaper around a putty knife for sanding grooves in wood.

Sanding The Grooves:

I wrapped a piece of sandpaper around the tip of a 6-in-1 painter's tool. A dull putty knife would work just as well.


I pushed the putty knife into the grooves and pulled it along. This worked quite well for sanding deep into the grooves. I used 100 grit sandpaper and it did a good job, but sometimes coarser sandpaper might be needed if the wood is particularly hard or the finish is stubborn to remove.

Sanding old finish from crevice in furniture.


Note On Filling Small Holes and Cracks:

It's common to find small holes and cracks in wood furniture. These holes should be filled with a stainable wood putty, allowed to dry, then sanded.

While sanding this dresser I did notice a couple of small cracks, but I figured that they would get filled in by the urethane. Oops... figured wrong! What was I thinking? Out of practice, I guess.

Some very small cracks may get filled by the urethane, but it's not wise to take chances. When in doubt, apply putty.


Sanding The Dresser Drawers:

This dresser had eleven drawers... 6 narrow drawers and 5 wide ones. To speed up the work, I devised some production techniques to minimize wasted time. The main idea is to keep all the needed tools nearby, organize the "before" and "after" workpieces close to my work table, and keep unnecessary movements to a minimum. These are just basic industrial engineering concepts.

Setting up work table for sanding drawer boxes.

I sanded the drawer boxes in my basement. I used a plastic folding table with a rubber sanding matt to keep the drawers from sliding around.

The tools I used:

  • A random orbital sander with an 80 grit sanding disc,
  • Three sandpaper-holding pads (about $4 at Harbor Freight Tools),
  • A small block of wood to wrap sandpaper around,
  • A medium-fine sanding sponge,
  • A brush.

I placed a fan in the window behind my work area, and I opened a window on the other side of the basement for cross-ventilation.

The first areas I sanded were the back sides of the edges of the drawer faces. I used 100 grit sandpaper wrapped around a block of wood.

Sanding back of the edges of the drawer face.


Sanding back edges of the drawer face.

On the sides it was necessary to sand across the grain. Cross-grain sanding is almost always avoided, but in this case I did it because the scratches won't be seen.

My goal here is to remove any residue from stripping, so the stain penetrates into the wood properly.


Some of the drawers still had some residue from the stripping process...

Residue left over from paint stripper.


Sanding sides of drawers with a random orbital sander.

...which was easily removed by the random orbital sander.


I sanded the other sides of the drawer box and the face with 80 grit sandpaper on the random orbital sander.

Sanding front of dresser drawer with a random orbital sander.


Sanding inside the drawer boxes with a random orbital sander.

Then I sanded the inside surfaces with the random orbital sander. However, this machine cannot reach all the way into the corners.


Close-up shot of the unsanded areas in the corners.

Areas in corners that cannot be reached by orbital sander.


Hand-sanding inside of dresser drawer.

So I used a sanding pad with 100 grit sandpaper to sand into the corners.

Then I repeated the procedure with 120 grit sandpaper wrapped around the block of wood.


Inspecting The Surface:

I used a bright flashlight shining sideways across the wood to examine the scratches.

Shining a light nearly parallel with the surface is a good way to find the blemishes and flaws in the surface.

The worst scratches were in the spot inside the red circle, which can be seen below.

Inspecting the surface of the wood with a bright flashlight.


A closer view:

These were some pretty heavy scratches.

To fix this problem, I repeated the entire sanding procedure: Random orbital with 80 grit, hand-sanding with 100, 120 and 150 grit. I inspected the surface after each step to make sure the biggest scratches were being removed.

Close-up of scratches in wood of drawer front.


Sanding edge detail on drawer fronts.

I sanded the contoured edges of the face with 100 grit sandpaper and a block of wood. I did this mainly to clean up the wood in the sharp inside corner near the edge.


On the sides of drawer face I had to sand across the grain.

After this I sanded the ends parallel to the grain, using short strokes with a "pulling" motion. This removed the cross-grain scratches.

Gross-grain sanding edge detail on drawer fronts.


More detail sanding.

Then I sanded the rounded edges with a sanding pad, which is soft enough to conform slightly to the curved contour.


I also sanded the edges with a fine-grit sanding sponge.

Sanding sponge used on edges of drawers.


Sanding sponge used to smooth rounded surfaces on drawers during refinishing.

Finally, I sanded the rest of the drawer box with the fine-grit sanding sponge.

After sanding each piece, I blew off the sanding dust with compressed air and a whisk broom. I kept a fan in a nearby window to help pull the dust out of the basement. When I apply the stain and urethane I will need a clean dust-free work area.

Continue To Part 3: Applying Stain And Urethane


More Info:

Tools Used:
  • Random Orbital Sander, 5 Inch
  • Fein Multimaster with Detail Sanding Head
  • 1/3 Sheet Sanding Pads
  • Small Block of Wood
  • Sanding Sponges, Medium, Fine and Extra Fine
  • 6-in-1 Painters Tool or Putty Knife
  • Tack Puller
  • Air Compressor and Blow Gun
Materials Used:
  • 5-Inch Sanding Discs: 60 and 80 Grit
  • Sandpaper: 100, 120, 150 Grit
Related Articles:



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Written January 11, 2009