Hi guys, today’s makeover is for all you wood lovers out there! I don’t often work on furniture in good enough shape to sand and call it a day, so restyling this solid walnut dresser was a treat. I really like the au natural naked wood look, but I’m not 100% convinced unfinished wood furniture can REALLY be left unprotected. If you’re like me and USE your furniture, you don’t want to worry about spills, stains, dirt or any other mishaps. I’m low maintenance. And admittedly, not the neatest. So the easier and faster it is to wipe something down, the better.
I really hope this article starts a conversation on how to protect raw and unfinished wood furniture because as much as I love this dresser, once I sealed it, it did turn darker than I expected. Maybe some of you have some product suggestions or tips for me, or anyone else reading this. 🙂
Here’s what I started with. This is another great piece I picked up. If you missed last week’s post on my big furniture score and ‘high school reunion’, you can read about it here.
I wish I had taken a pic once it was 100% sanded down, but the only one I have is below – and it’s only partially sanded. Here’s what the dresser looked like after I sanded with 80 grit. It was even lighter after ALL the sanding was finished.
And here’s a close up of the after. This is with three coats of dead flat water based poly. LOVE IT… I really do! But as you can see it’s not as light as it was BEFORE it was top coated. As far as I know, there are no top coat products that don’t deepen or darken the look of raw wood. Whether it’s wax, water based poly, hemp oil, tung oil, or shellac, the wood is ‘enhanced’ with the protection.
THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS TO PRODUCTS USED. YOU CAN SEE MY FULL DISCLOSURE HERE.
- Vintage Stained Dresser – SALVAGED
- TSP for Cleaning
- Orbital Sander
- Sandpaper 80, 120 & 220 grit
- Palm Sander
- General Finishes Java Gel Stain
- Dead Flat/Matte Poly
- Shop Towels and Sponge Brush Applicator
- Hardware Pulls – SALVAGED
RAW WOOD DRESSER MAKEOVER::
- Repaired dresser drawers
- Cleaned inside and out with TSP
- Sanded all the old stain off with orbital sander & 80 grit sandpaper
- Sanded with palm sander 120 & 220 grit
- Stained legs with GF Java Gel Stain
- Sealed with 3 coats of Flat Water Based Poly
- Changed out Hardware
Tips: For a raw or unfinished-wood-furniture-look, a flat or matte finish looks most natural. Also, it’s best to stay away from oil based polyurethanes as they always amber over time.
And on the topic of staging, I have to show you what I found. Take a look at this wood ladder I salvaged while walking Gidgy yesterday! It stands a full seven feet tall and has amazing texture! Gorgeously rustic. I’m guessing it was used as a trellis for wisteria or some sort of climbing plant.
Let me know what you think of this walnut dresser makeover… or if you’re a fan of raw wood furniture. Also, feel free to chime in if you have ANY products or tips to help keep a natural wood finish! I always love hearing from you!
Have yourself a creative and inspiring day my friends!
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Susie | Chelsea Project says
This is another one of my favorite pieces. I have a Drexel buffet that I will use this technique on very soon. Cross your fingers.. XO
You don’t need luck Susie. Your makeovers are gorgeous… I know it’ll look gorgeous! Can’t wait to see. 🙂
I LOVE this! I have my parents’ maple four poster and dressers and will do this technique on them!
Very nice! So glad you did not paint it. I just love the look of wood.
Thanks K! My sister has it under her TV and every time I go over, I’m kinda wishing I didn’t give it away. 😉 😉 😉
Maybe try Renaissance wax polish developed for the British Museum decades ago to protect valuable pieces without damaging them – even can be used on paper.without discolouration.
There is a good technical data sheet on this web site – https://www.thewoodworks.com.au/technical-data-sheets/104-renaissance-wax
Hi Julie, thanks for this!
Jeri Johnson says
I love that piece! We have been making sliding barn wood doors to sell and also had the problem of the finish darkening the wood. We use a matte poly, which changes it the least. I hope that I can find a beautiful wood piece to redo as you have. I know that it would sell in a heartbeat!
Thanks Jeri! As usual, you and Richard are keeping busy and make such a great team! Yeah, I guess the matte/flat poly is the best option but I wish there was a product that keeps all the natural goodness. Your sliding bard doors sound amazing btw. 🙂
Kim O. says
Amazing and gorgeous like alll of your makeovers! Love love the ladder too! My heart skips a beat when I find things like that!
I’m right there with you Kim! I was so happy with my ladder find – it has so much character! And glad you like the makeover. xo
You don’t know me, Denise, and I’ve just recently subscribed to your blog, but/and I feel I must comment on the beauty of this walnut dresser. Shape–color–line–stateliness – its got it all. Walnut! Love that wood. My mother had and my sister now has a walnut dry sink as well as Mom’s lovely walnut dresser. Both pieces have been restored to their natural wood and couldn’t be prettier–or softer to the touch. Understated, spectacular beauty. I, too, like the contrast of the non-sanded detail with the body of your piece. Glad to hear your sister got it! I appreciate the remarks about sanding back orange-y stains to get at the original wood, and will follow, as the mostly observer I am.
Hi Louise, WELCOME! I’m glad you like and appreciate all the natural walnut goodness and your Mom’s dry sink and dresser sound amazing. My sisters birthday is around the corner so when she took a fancy to this piece, I couldn’t say no! Have a beautiful day Louise. x
That dresser is AMAZING!! Wow, I’m drooling (I know, try not to think about it), but seriously the dresser is simply stunning. I’m with you on protecting raw wood. I want something on it to protect it, I use my furniture as well
You really scored with that ladder, nice save!
Hi Sally!!! Thanks so much! My sister has claimed this dresser as hers and she’s like me, the easier it is to maintain the better. We don’t want to bother with coasters for our drinks – and if the wine spills – oh well – lol. 😉
Ginene P Nagel says
Count me in on loving it. The use of stain only became popular when one wood was substituted for another. After all, why stain mahogany with mahogany stain. It is mahogany! I recently sanded a bird’s eye maple dresser to remove the orangey stain. It turned out fabulous and was gone from the shop in a week. Cutting edge, Denise! – Ginene
Thanks Ginene, glad you love it! 🙂 And whoever ended up buying your bird’s eye maple dresser – lucky duck! And chatting about stain, aren’t these vintage solid wood pieces great?! Sand off the orangey stain today, and a few years down the road when the orangey stain is trending again restain it! lol There’s something to be said for quality furniture that out last decor trends. 🙂
Tamara Townsend says
I am a huge fan of raw wood. All of my pieces at home are stripped down to wood and oiled.
This is one of your best projects yet- and the staging looks falltastic!
“Falltastic”… haha…. I took a double take when reading that… love it Tamara! Do your oiled pieces hold up well? And just curious if the oil you use darkens the wood considerably?
LOVE the look of the unstained walnut. I prefer the top coat look to raw wood; that “wet” look enhances the grain so much.
Hi Marcia! It really does enhance the grain for sure! I prefer a flat raw look over a gloss but that’s probably because I like rustic and imperfect. 🙂
It is so beautiful you did a wonderful job. I know all the hard work you put into it.
Thanks so much Jonita! It was a really fun makeover. x
Mary Vitullo says
That’s the million dollar question, Denise. This question was also brought up on a Facebook group page recently. Suggestions were white wax or a light wash, but nothing so far that won’t darken the wood at all. I have found certain clear waxes, mainly the creamier ones that are matte, although will darken at the beginning, they do tend do fade out a little with time. I once asked a salesperson at Restoration Hardware what is recommended to care for their raw wood dining tables and she responded “absolutely nothing”, just let the it be!!
Ya, for a dresser or piece of furniture that’s not high traffic – wax is fine. I was considering using a white wax to lighten it up a bit. But interesting that you bring up Restoration Hardware dining table because after spending that kind of money, many people aren’t comfortable ‘letting it be’. I included a link to Shirley’s previous comment – over 175 comments on how to seal a RH table without changing the look!
Mary Vitullo says
Thanks Denise. Just read all 175 comments!!!!
Where can i find the link to how to seals RH table?
Sarah, that RH link is in my reply to Shirley’s comment. 🙂
Bonnie W Blinson says
Denise, That’s the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I am in love with that finish !!
Aw, thanks Bonnie! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Eliane murar says
Perfect,so stunning!you aremezing
Thanks so much Eliane!
Thank you Susan! x
Hi Denise. I love the way the warm wood glows on this beautiful dresser. My Dad used to finish furniture and rarely used paint. He much preferred the wood to show. I myself love the look of painted AND natural stained furniture.
I think ALL men prefer wood over paint! 😉 Obviously, I spend most of my time giving furniture a second chance by painting. But I had so much fun with this dresser, I hope I find some more pieces I can leave all natural. The wood really does its own thing and has so much character.
It’s gorgeous! Oozes ‘warmth’, makes me want to run my hands over it,if you see what I mean 😀
haha…. I WAS rubbing my hands all over it! 😉 Thanks Debs! 🙂
Wonderful job, and so rich looking. I love painted furniture of course, but this is “made” for leaving natural. Thanks for showing this.
Thanks Julie!!! 🙂 It was a fun change from painting. 🙂
Patty Soriano says
Denise, I love this. Although I am loving some painted furniture I keep seeing, I tend to gravitate toward the unpainted. My parents refinished furniture for many years and dad always cussed the painted wood that people brought to him for stripping. I learned how beautiful raw wood could be and still want the same in my home. This is a lovely piece and you’re lucky to have found it. Also lusting after that little ladder !!
I know why your Dad cussed – stripping paint off furniture is a horrible sucky job. I don’t like doing it either. 🙂 And that ladder find right! It was too long to pick up while I was walking the dog so I was hoping it was still there when I drove back for it. Luckily it was!
Absolutely stunning. Think it may be new trend. Hope so. So tired of painting and distressing white, but that is what sells here in North Louisiana.
Hi Shirley, thank you! With Restoration Hardware’s Raw Wood Table and others manufacturing a raw-wood-look, I think it’s popular for sure. People are stumped how to protect it without losing the look though.
Laura Voorhies says
What a beauty Denise – and the wood grain is gorgeous!! I have an old dry sink that was my Dad’s favorite piece; the finish was ruined when the apt above me sprung a leak, and I’m trying to decide what to do with it – how to show respect to my Dad’s love for it, protect it, and show off the inlaid leaves pattern…how in the world do you sand an inlaid design?? I want to do something besides just paint – been doing that a lot lately – and want to learn a new technique, maybe dry brushing, leaving some of the wood to show through. I’ll try to send a picture through FB later. Thank you!
Hi Laura! Your Dad’s old dry sink sounds amazing. Hopefully, the damage is om just the finish and you can make it beautiful again. 🙂 Sanding an inlaid design can be done with a Dremel Tool if you have one. I debated on whether or not to sand the original stain out of this dressers recessed design – but then really like the look of the contrast so decided to leave it.
ColleenB.~ Tx. says
That is beautiful and I do like the more natural look of the wood. I love seeing he grain of the wood.
I have used tung oil before on pieces that don’t receive much wear but pieces that get a lot of daily use should be protected with a surface finish
Apply tung oil with a rag rather than a brush. First, remove any dust from the wood with a tack cloth. Shake the tung oil container and apply a liberal amount to a clean cloth. Rub the oil directly onto the wood, adding more to the cloth as necessary. Wait 5 to 10 minutes, or until the tung oil begins to feel sticky, then wipe off any excess with a clean cloth.
Wait a few hours before applying the next coat. Some rubbing may be required to work the finish well into the wood. Once the wood takes on an even sheen — usually after four coats or so – let it dry completely. Apply more tung oil anytime the finish becomes dull or dry-looking.
Thanks for this Colleen!!! Does the tung oil darken and enhance the raw wood? I’ve used Minwax Tung Oil (which I believe is not a 100% ‘real’ tung oil) on this dresser here but the top was stained a dark walnut so hard to tell.
Oh Denise! It’s gorgeous. THANK YOU for leaving this beauty so natural. It seems like a forgotten treasure in this world of paint. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some painted furniture, but sometimes it’s nice to see a little makeover that gives big results.
Thanks so much Josie, glad you like the wood finish! And I agree, obviously, I like me some painted furniture too 😉 – but it was really nice working on a piece that wasn’t covered in holes, scratches and missing parts. 🙂