Oak Dresser Restoration #1: Initial Inspection & A Pleasant Surprise

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Blog entry by Mark D. posted 01-04-2009 11:01 PM 8666 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Oak Dresser Restoration series Part 2: Finished at last! »

My girlfriend and I have been on a quest to find an affordable small dresser for our room. I’m not yet confident enough to build one from scratch in a style that would lend itself well to our other furniture in the room.

After two months of searching craigslist and ebay, I ran across a craigslist posting for a “1920’s Oak Dresser” There was no photo on the listing but it stated that one of the large drawers was missing the bottom panel, and that it would need to be refinished. They were asking $50.00.

I called the poster and asked for more information about it and to see if I could talk them down any. I ended up talking them down to $30.00 and met them the same day to pick it up. The photos below are of the beautiful piece of furniture in need of a little TLC.

The carcase is frame and panel construction with hand cut half blind dovetails on the drawers, and mortise and tenon joinery on the rails and legs. The drawer slides are rabetted to accept the drawers which just sit on top of them.

The back is also frame and panel construction as you can see from the photo below. You can also see the manufacturers label(more on that in a minute.)

It is coming apart, but you can slide all the pieces back up in to place and I suspect only the bottom rail should be glued or fastened which will allow the rest of the rails and panels to move up and down with seasonal change.

The half blind dovetails are decent with some gaps which may be due to the extreme difference in humidity between Michigan where the piece was built, and here in Vegas where humidity is… well… there is no humidity here. One of the drawers is missing half of the bottom half pin as you can see in one of the pictures below. The drawers are all rigid and do not have any diagonal play. Even the one with no bottom panel.

Now, back to the manufacturers label. :-) As you can see from the close up below, the piece was built by the ‘The Stenglein Mfg. Co.’ in Saginaw, MI.

This is where the pleasant surprise came in. Remember how the OP stated the piece was from 1920? I did a quick google search and found references to ‘The Stenglein Mfg. Co.’ in one of their book results. The book details the history of Saginaw County, MI. The result of my search can be found: here . The excerpt on ‘The Stenglein Mfg. Co.’ states that it was closed and re-incorporated as ‘The Saginaw Showcase Co.’ in 1903. Meaning this piece was made at least prior to 1903. :-) The book also showed a photo(below) of ‘The Saginaw Showcase Co.’ facility which was previously home to ‘The Stenglein Mfg. Co.’ I can look at that picture and know that at least 106 years ago, my dresser was sitting somewhere in that building :-)

So now the question is, where do I start on restoring this piece of furniture? What type of finish should be used once I have it sanded down? And, when fixing the back, should the bottom rail be the only one secured with the others left free floating? Any and all advice you guys have on restoring this beaut properly would be greatly appreciated.

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5 comments so far

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3786 days

#1 posted 01-05-2009 12:48 AM

They don’t build them like that anymore, if they someone did, it would cost you an arm and two legs. I have refinished many antiques over the years which has become a debatable subject over the last few years, but I don’t really care what others think, I know mine will be around another 100 years if takein care of. Anyway, looking at your dresser I’m guessing that at one time it was painted, and it has been stripped. it may need to be stripped again, I can’t really tell. It would be alot easier for me to just do it then try to explain everything to you in detail. One thing I did notice is that the hardware doesn’t look like it’s original, you may want to either find some thats more period correct at an antique dealer, or purchase reproduction hardware from someone like VanDykes. The rails I would glue, the panels I would not glue. The finish ? Well thats your choice, I usually use a Minwax Early American penetrateing stain and Minwax oil base Poly because it’s so durable and will yellow some in time like antiques do. Take your time and you’ll have a beautiful piece.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3844 days

#2 posted 01-05-2009 01:59 AM

I see a lot of potential in the piece. We have the before pictures and it would make a nice comparison to see it after you have completed the restoration process.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3587 days

#3 posted 01-22-2009 02:49 AM

Nice find, beautiful piece. $30? A STEAL! if it was me i would stop in to a couple of local antique shops and look around, if you see something that strikes your fancy ask what they use for stain and finish, a lot that stuff has been refinished. I agree glue the rails, the panels float. Can’t wait to see some pics of it finished.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3695 days

#4 posted 01-01-2010 05:56 AM

Thats a nice antique dresser.

View a1Jim's profile


117114 posts in 3599 days

#5 posted 01-01-2010 05:59 AM

Looks like a lot of work

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