A dresser made from junk

I had been thinking about building a drawer cabinet for my big garage workshop when I came across some drawers on the curb, along with two sides of what was once a dresser. I figured, reusing these, I could get something with drawers for much less work.


I clamped the sides to a piece of plywood to hold them at the right distance and tried the drawers. Worked well enough.


To turn the parts back into a dresser of sorts, I needed a new top, back and bottom.

I started with the bottom, measuring the spacing of the dowels in the sides along the bottom edge, then drilling holes of the same spacing in a piece of MDF using a doweling jig


The dowels were originally used only as alignment pins, with the dresser held together only with knock-down fasteners. These had pulled out, probably when the dresser was dismantled.

There is something ingenious about how so much furniture today is put together with just knock-down fasteners, often assembled by the customers on site (if it's from Ikea). But these knock down fasteners are not very strong. If people also glued the dowels, the furniture would last much longer.

Here I'm applying glue to the dowels...


...then pushing the MDF panel (with lots of glue applied to the holes) over the dowels.


The metal leg brackets also have some metal flanges, which previously hadn't been screwed into. But I made sure to use these as well.


I used a clamping square to keep the just-assembled corner square as I glued the bottom to the other side.


Cutting out a back panel with my table saw sled from some recycled plywood. This used to be the back of a bookcase that I helped a neighbour dismantle.


I attached the back with glue and nails, just for good measure.

The back helps stabilize the dresser against side-to-side deflection.

For the top of the dresser, I wanted to use some particle board that I picked up from the garbage just for this purpose. But particle board is not that stiff, and if the top flexes too much, it hits the top drawer.


So I glued two pieces of particle board together to make a much stiffer top.


Clamped together, waiting for the glue to dry. I used my long reach C-clamps to clamp the far edge.


I cut a rabbet along a piece of hardwood (which was salvaged from a couch that I threw out years ago), to line it up with the front edge of the particle board.


I considered various alternatives for attaching the top. I could have just doweled it to the sides, but the particle board I used for the top wasn't that nice, and maybe some day I'll want to use this dresser in a house and make a nicer top for it.

I could have used knock down fasteners (the holes were already there), but these aren't that strong. Or I could have used pocket holes, but I don't have a pocket hole jig (because I rebel against the notion that pocket holes can substitute for proper joinery)

So instead, I glued a rail, with screw holes already in it, to the inside edges of the sides. This just barely fits without hitting the drawers.


Before gluing on the rail I had to scrape off the varnish. Wood glue doesn't stick to varnished surfaces.


To get the exact hole locations I put the top in place and then used screws as center punches to transfer where the pilot holes needed to be drilled.


Screwing on the top.


The resulting dresser feels quite stiff, much stiffer than the original was, I'm sure.


I also reinforced the drawers. They were assembled without any glue, and with the drawer bottom being quite loose. But the drawer bottom was the only thing that held them square, so they had quite a bit of give to them.

Taking the drawer fronts off was as simple as undoing the knock-down fasteners and pulling the front off. I pulled out the bottom, glued it in, then glued the front back on. This made them much more rigid.


I also added some 1" brad nails to help hold the bottom in place (in case the glue wasn't enough), and some 1 3/4" brad nails into the back corners.

The brad nails really hold in the particle board, but it's tricky. Some of the nails for holding the bottom just went inside the drawers, and a few poked out through the front of the drawers. So brad nailing isn't something I'd necessarily recommend.



The finished dresser looks quite nice. The drawers and sides are oak veneer (real veneer, not just printed melamine). Almost too good for shop furniture. But the top is only particle board with fake veneer that's probably made of paper.


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