id you know that you don’t always have to sand or strip a dresser to bare wood to be able to stain it darker? I’m showing you how staining a dresser darker, doesn’t have to be hard!
Get more ideas for your DIY dresser makeovers here!
Do you have furniture that has some minor scratches, and dings? Hide small scratches while staining old furniture with this easy tutorial on how to refinish a dresser without stripping.
This is, by far, the easiest way to restain a dresser! (If your furniture has bigger scratches or chips, here’s how to repair chipped veneer furniture.)
Staining a Dresser Darker
A typical wood stain soaks into and penetrates raw wood. But more than likely, you don’t want to sand (or strip) your old dresser down to raw wood.
To restain a dresser without stripping, you need a product that will soak into the old finish a little but mostly stay on the top of your old dresser.
But if you want a lighter stain, here’s how to refinish a dresser lighter!
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The Perfect Product to Easily Restain a Dresser
This amazing product is called gel stain.
There are many companies that sell their version of gel stain, but (in my opinion) the best gel stain for furniture is General Finishes gel stain.
You can use gel stain over an existing finish, when you’re staining a dresser darker, on painted furniture with a stained top.
You can use gel stain on veneer furniture as well, and even use it over paint to create a weathered wood finish like this.
Gel stain comes in many different colors, so you can choose one color, or a couple of colors and mix them to your desired stain color.
The most popular color of gel stain is their Java color. It’s a deep rich brown with hints of a deep red.
How to Use Gel Stain on Furniture
My technique for using gel stain is a little different than most, but in the end, I believe that it creates the most authentic-looking dark-stained dresser.
This will also help in avoiding brush marks in gel stain – something many have a problem with.
Supplies Used for Staining a Dresser Darker
- Old Dresser
- Krud Kutter and an Old Rag
- 320 Grit Sandpaper
- Tack Cloth
- General Finishes Gel Stain
- Cheap Paint Brush – (Get from the dollar store!)
- Lint Free Rags
- Oil Based Poly
Prepping Dresser for Stain
Before you can get restaining your old dresser, it needs to be cleaned off and prepped for gel stain. Here are all of my tips for preparing furniture for paint.
If there is any grease, oil or grime on your dresser, you run the risk of the gel stain not sticking. The grease oil and grime will repel the gel stain just like it repels paint.
You can easily do this by cleaning it off with Krud Kutter and a damp old rag. Krud Kutter easily cuts through grease, oil and grime. So it’s the perfect product to clean up your old dresser.
Learn more about how to remove grease and grime in this post about how to clean furniture before painting.
Then let the dresser dry completely. Once the dresser is dry, you need to scuff sand the dresser.
Now, I’m not talking about sanding the old stained finish completely off. I’m just talking about taking off the sheen a little bit. This will make the stain stick even better.
Scuff sanding it will also help disguise any minor scratches and level out a chipped stained finish.
When you scuff sand you only need to sand the stained finish by hand by going back and forth a couple of times over the whole piece of furniture.
It is really important to sand in the same direction as the grain and well, or else you will see your sanding marks after you stain. Learn more about sanding before painting furniture here.
(If you don’t want to sand by hand, here are the best sanders for furniture.)
How to Brush Gel Stain on a Dresser
Get a small amount of gel stain on the end of your cheap paintbrush. You want to use a cheap brush so you can throw it away after this project.
Brush the gel stain onto your dresser in the same direction of the grain. Let the gel stain penetrate into the wood and dry for a very small amount of time.
Then wipe the gel stain away with a lint-free rag. Make sure to wipe in the direction of the wood grain. Wipe the gel stain until you don’t see any brush marks or lines from wiping it away.
Let the gel stain dry for 24 – 48 hours. Once the gel stain is completely dry, you can apply another layer to make the dresser darker!
Gel Stain Tips
- Make sure to work in small sections like 1 or 2 drawers at a time, or one side of a dresser at a time.
- How long to let the gel stain sit before brushing it off depends on the weather conditions, (hot and dry vs. cold and humid) but it shouldn’t sit for more than a minute to 5 minutes before being wiped off.
- It also depends on how much gel stain you brushed on. If you brushed on a lot, it will dry slower, so you should have more working time.
- If you brush more gel stain on over wet gel stain that has been wiped away, it will remove more gel stain.
- Always brush on and wipe off with the grain of the wood. If there are any streaks left in the gel stain, it will mimic the look of the wood grain.
- Minor scratches and areas where the old stain had been removed will show up darker once gel stained.
- Switch out your lint free rag for a new one as the old one gets too saturated. I like it to have some gel stain on it, but not too much.
- How to remove gel stain from wood? If you don’t like the look, you can remove gel stain with mineral spirits before it dries and starts to cure. After it has started to cure, your best bet will be to remove the stain with a stripper, or sand it off.
How to Stain a Dresser Darker – Super Dark Method
If you’re wanting to make your dresser super dark and rich, you may not want to build up thin layers with the first method. Especially if you start with a light color of wood stain.
Instead of brushing the gel stain on, and then brushing it away, you can brush it on in a thin coat, and then leave it until it is completely dry (at least 48 hours).
Once that coat is dry, you can add another coat to deepen the color and also cover the streaks left by brushing on the gel stain.
Three coats of gel stain in this method will give you the most coverage and best results.
You will end up with a finish that doesn’t show the original wood grain at all, but has a deep rich wood tone. To me, this method looks like fake wood, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
How to Finish Off Gel-Stained Dresser
No matter the method you decide to go with, you will need to topcoat the gel stain for durability. If you use a waterbased topcoat, make sure the gel stain has dried for at least 48 hours.
Apply either 3 coats of wipe-on poly, or spray poly for the best results. You can wipe on poly with a lint-free rag. Or you can spray poly on in the paint can version.
Wait the recommended time in between each coat. Learn ALL of my tips and tricks on how to spray polyurethane here!
Now you’re done! You can attach your hardware back onto the dresser if it has hardware. Here is a video from General Finishes showing how to update existing furniture with gel stain!
Painting Top of Dresser White
This particular dresser was restained on the bottom with gel stain.
The top of the dresser had a few chips taken out of the veneer, so I opted to paint it white to create a faux marble top look. Check out my guide on painting over oil based stain here.
If you are wanting to recreate this look, I would recommend painting the top first by taping off the bottom, then painting the top. Learn more about how to prevent overspray when painting furniture here.
After the top is completely painted white, I would then move on to staining the bottom.
Check out more mid century modern painted furniture ideas here.
More Before And After Makeovers
Click any of these “before” photos below to view the “after” of that makeover.
- Before staining, clean off and prep your old dresser for gel stain. Clean with Krud Kutter and a damp old rag. Then let the dresser dry completely. Once the dresser is dry, scuff sand the dresser. Vacuum all the dust and wipe the dresser down with a tack cloth.
- Use a cheap paintbrush and get a small amount of gel stain. Brush the gel stain onto your dresser in the same direction of the grain. Let the gel stain penetrate into the wood and dry for a very small amount of time.
- Wipe the gel stain away with a lint-free rag. Make sure to wipe in the direction of the wood grain and wipe the gel stain until you don’t see any brush marks or lines from wiping it away.
- Let the gel stain dry for 24 – 48 hours. Once the gel stain is completely dry, you can apply another layer to make the dresser darker!
- Topcoat the gel stain for durability. Apply either 3 coats of wipe-on poly, or spray poly for the best results. You can wipe on poly with a lint-free rag. Or you can spray poly on in the paint can version.
- Paint the dresser top. Tape off the bottom so you don't get paint on other parts of the dresser you have stained.
More Stained Furniture Resources
- How to Paint a Stained Dresser
- The Best Stain for Weathered Wood Look
- How to Restain Wood
- How To Stain Wood With Paint
- Restaining Furniture
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