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Stripped and dyed

My Son needed a dresser. His clothes were strewn about his room. But we didn’t have the money to buy him one. His aunt gave him a small dresser, which he filled with everything but clothes. Aside from his closet, he didn’t really have any place to store his clothes.

About a year ago, we were introduced to FreeCycling. I looked around, and didn’t find anything that was really useful to us, so I forgot about it for several months. Then one day this past spring, I remembered, and started browsing again. Only this time, there were hundreds of posts, and I became hooked on it. I found myself checking for new posts several times a week. Then daily. Then several times a day. Never for anything in particular, just looking to see if something caught my eye.

I wasn’t even thinking about a dresser … until I saw one on our local FreeCycle FB group. When we got it, it was an ugly orange color, and the previous owner’s children had marked it with pen, marker and a ton of stickers. It was in decent shape, otherwise.

Unfortunately, we didn’t think to take “before” pictures. Never did we expect to turn out a piece of furniture that was even worthy of having its picture taken. Boy were we wrong about that!

Neither my Husband nor I were skilled in refinishing furniture. Since it was free, we decided to just take a crack at it, and see what happened. If we did a terrible job, we’d just chalk it up to experience. You know what they say – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

When the weather was finally nice, we started stripping it. Using a chemical stripper didn’t work so well. We applied it twice, and busted our butts trying to scrape off the old mess. Someone suggested lightly sanding it so the chemicals would work better.  Well, it didn’t, and Bill ended up sanding most of the old varnish and stain off, until it was down to the natural wood. Then he fixed quite a few things (drawer glides, feet, back) and put some brackets in the corners to make it more sturdy.

We were encouraged when we saw the results, and thought maybe we could actually make it look halfway decent. Provided we didn’t screw up on the staining and varnishing part. When the weather was nicer, I stained the body with ebony wood stain. I had no idea what I was doing, so of course I Googled every “how to” site I could find. I was shocked at how nice it looked after only 2 coats of stain! Once the varnish was applied, it was starting to look like a professional had done it. The only snafu was that the wooden knobs (bought to replace the old hardware) didn’t want to take the stain.

Wanting a little punch of color on the drawers, I researched how to stain wood in unconventional ways. We experimented with copper pennies (pre-1970 worked best) soaked in vinegar for a Caribbean blue. I used a rag, soaked it in the solution, and rubbed it onto the scrap piece. The color was nearly indiscernible. While that turned out to be a gorgeous color, it would have taken far more pennies than we anticipated, plus the smell of the vinegar was nauseating. So I decided against the pennies. I do wish I’d seen this first, I might have changed my mind.

I wondered if I could get the same color using Rit dye, so we bought containers of yellow and blue. I didn’t really research it very well, since it was just an experiment on a scrap piece of wood. I mixed 1/4 teaspoon of each color into a cup of water. The water turned a dark – almost muddy – teal. Again, I used a rag to apply the color to the scrap wood. It turned out just the same as the pennies did. I was becoming discouraged.

I went back inside to do some serious research on the Rit Dye, not even knowing if it was possible to dye wood that way. The first site I happened upon was this one, which gave me all the answers I needed!  I needed hot water! I grabbed a Mason jar, microwaved a cup of water until it was just about boiling, then ran back outside to add the Rit dye to it (1/4 teaspoon each). I dunked a piece of scrap wood into the jar, and the results were immediate! It didn’t produce exactly the color I wanted, but it was a start. We experimented with different amounts of dye, and finally found one that was very close to the Caribbean blue.

Then an idea hit me. I wondered if the vinegar/penny solution would have the same results if it were hot. So I ran back in and microwaved that … taking the pennies out first, obviously. Back outside, we dunked another piece of scrap wood into the jar, and although it wasn’t anywhere near as dark as the Rit dye, it had the same immediate effect. But the smell was horrible, and the color wasn’t dark enough, so we again scrapped the penny idea. It wasn’t until later in the day, after the wood had dried, that we got to see the full effect. Let’s just say, I’ll be trying it on something else in the future!

Since the dresser was for my Son, I thought I’d let him decide on the color.  Thanks to Whitney at Shanty2Chic for providing the link, I found the ColoRit Color Formula Guide. He choose #384 under the “Cool Red” subset of colors.

We didn’t have anything large enough to dunk the entire drawer front into, so we ended up buying a storage bin, which we could use afterward for … well … storage (we needed one, anyway!). Following the instructions from the Shanty2Chic page, and the dye ratio from the Rit site, we boiled 2 pots of water, added the dye, and hoped for the best.

We dunked a drawer in, waited 60 seconds, then took it out to see if it was the right color. It was pretty darn close! Another 30 seconds, and we had the color we wanted. I remembered the not-quite-black knobs, and decided to throw them in the dye, just to see what would happen. They turned out a beautiful mixture of the black stain and the reddish dye.

All that was left to do was to apply the varnish to the drawers. I was worried that it would change the color of the dye, but we couldn’t leave them unprotected, so I had no choice. It did change the color a bit, but not terribly. It pretty much just darkened it, and brought out more of the brown than the wine color.

The end result: a gorgeous dresser that the kid can take with him to college or leave in his room for his visits back home.

This pic shows the more of the true reddish color of the drawers.

Next project: another FreeCycle dresser that was in terrible shape. We’re hoping to do it the same color as this one.

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