New vanity from 120 year old dresser

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Blog entry by MC posted 02-21-2016 01:15 PM 970 reads 3 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Like most on this site I prefer to make rather than buy furniture but sometimes money and time constraints force compromise. When our weekend “cosmetic” update of the guest bathroom turned into much more ( the only item not replaced was the bathtub) we became creative. We found this old dresser made from white oak at an antique store for much less than the rough cut wood to build a new one would have cost.

There were no markings on the piece but based on an article shared by the Wood Whisperer this joint was used from 1880 to 1900 making the dresser approximately 120 years old.

The dresser was rickety and needed to be made more stable in order to hold the weight of a sink with water. The first step was to remove the panels from the back. I removed the outside portion of the groove in the remaining stiles to form rebate that I would later use for a new plywood back.

The next modification was to create a toe kick. The bottom rail was removed and moved back 2 inches.

After removing the bottom rail I needed to flush cut some support blocks that were in the way of the new toe kick.

To support the bottom rail in its new location I made backing boards from some scrap ash I had on hand. The ash was pre-stained to match the old wood. Before gluing up the lamination the original rail was planed down to 1/2 an inch.

The next modification was the sink cut out. I had hoped that the sink cut out would remove most of the damage. There were deep gouges in the top which had been filled in with wood putty, I was not the first person to make repairs and modifications in the 120 years since it was built. The top still looked bad so the decision was made to plane the top down until the gouges were removed. During this process it was learned that the previous woodworker had attempted to sand out the gouges as there were pockets in these areas.

The top of the dresser had a trim piece in the back attached with nails which was removed before planing. After removal it was clear that this was not original and the dresser most likely had a mirror in its place at one time. The trim was replaced with a back splash made from some new white oak.

The plywood back was measured, cut, and screwed to the back of the old dresser. This added much needed stability to the old piece.

From the original back rails I cut supports for the top as well as the middle drawer. The supports were attached with pocket screws.

The drawers all needed repair and or modification. Someone in the past had unwisely tacked the back of the drawer bottom causing the wood to split over time. The bottom of the top drawer was removed; next the top drawer was glued in place as support for the top with sink. The middle drawer was modified to accommodate the water and drain lines.

An old mirror which was left over from my bachelor days and had been banished to a closet just happened to match the old dresser/new vanity. It was added to complete the look.

On to the next project!

5 comments so far

View SpartyOn's profile


23 posts in 1567 days

#1 posted 02-21-2016 02:19 PM

Beautiful work, MC! Thank you for the detailed pics and process. I would love to attempt something like this someday when my skills improve. Did you refinish the whole piece or just finish the new parts to match the old?

View MC's profile


138 posts in 1768 days

#2 posted 02-21-2016 02:21 PM

Thanks for the comments. Just the top was refinished. The sides and drawer fronts were in good shape with only a few minor scratches.

Beautiful work, MC! Thank you for the detailed pics and process. I would love to attempt something like this someday when my skills improve. Did you refinish the whole piece or just finish the new parts to match the old?

- SpartyOn

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


13570 posts in 2039 days

#3 posted 02-21-2016 02:52 PM

Very nice job! Saved an old piece and some $ along the way. What’s better than that? And, it looks great.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View theoldfart's profile


7935 posts in 1872 days

#4 posted 02-21-2016 03:20 PM

I’m impressed. Great save from the landfill; great new bathroom vanity. Nice job.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View BurlyBob's profile


3468 posts in 1686 days

#5 posted 02-22-2016 03:59 PM

Wonderful save. It really looks great in your final picture.

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