How to Sand the Top of a Dresser: A Step-by-Step Guide

When it comes to furniture restoration, knowing how to sand the top of a dresser can make a world of difference. In this guide, we’ll break down the process step by step to make it as simple as possible for you.

How to Sand the Top of a Dresser
From by Anna Nekrashevich

Things You Will Need

Before starting on how to sand the top of a dresser, gather all the necessary materials. Here is a list of what you will need:

Sandpaper (medium-grit and fine-grit)

A sanding block or electric sander

Dust mask


Tack cloth or a damp rag

Drop cloth

Safety glasses

Step-by-step Process

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to sand your dresser…

Preparation Steps

Here’s what to do…

Empty the Dresser

First things first, clear out the dresser. Remove all the items from its drawers and from the top to make sure you have a clean workspace.

Having a clutter-free area will make it easier for you to focus on the task at hand, reducing the chances of accidents or errors.

Place a Drop Cloth

Place a drop cloth or plastic sheeting underneath the dresser. The cloth will serve as a catcher for any sawdust, paint chips, or debris produced during the sanding process. This not only helps keep your work area clean but also makes post-task cleanup a lot easier.

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Put on Safety Gear

Before you begin sanding, it’s essential to prioritize your safety. Put on a dust mask to prevent inhalation of sawdust and other particles.

Gloves are also important to protect your hands from splinters and rough edges. If you’re going to use power tools, consider wearing safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris.

Sanding Process

Follow these steps…

Attach Medium-Grit Sandpaper

If you’re using a sanding block, you’ll need to attach medium-grit sandpaper to it. This is usually around 80- to 100-grit paper.

Medium-grit sandpaper is ideal for removing the existing finish and any minor imperfections on the wood. If you’re using an electric sander, ensure the machine is turned off before fitting it with medium-grit sandpaper.

Sand in Sections

Tackling the entire surface at once can be overwhelming and could result in a patchy job. To ensure a consistent finish, it’s better to divide the dresser top into smaller sections—quarters or halves work well.

Sand one section thoroughly before moving on to the next. This will help you keep track of where you’ve sanded and ensure that every inch of the dresser top gets equal attention.

Apply Even Pressure

While you are sanding, make sure to apply even pressure throughout the surface. Uneven pressure can lead to dips or valleys in the wood, which will be noticeable once you apply paint or stain.

Whether you’re using a hand-held sanding block or an electric sander, maintaining consistent pressure is key for an even result.

Switch to Fine-Grit

After you’ve finished sanding the entire top of the dresser with medium-grit sandpaper, it’s time to switch to fine-grit paper, generally around 150- to 220-grit.

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This finer grit will help to smooth out any remaining imperfections and prepare the wood for finishing. Again, work in sections and maintain even pressure to achieve the best results.

Cleanup and Final Touches

Here’s what you’ll need to do…

Wipe Down the Surface

After the sanding is complete, you’ll notice a layer of sawdust and debris on the dresser top. Before proceeding with any finishing touches, it’s crucial to clean this up. Use a tack cloth, which is specifically designed to pick up and hold onto dust and small particles.

If you don’t have a tack cloth, a damp rag will also work well. Wipe the surface carefully to remove all traces of sawdust. A clean surface ensures that any finish you apply will adhere properly.


Once the surface is clean, take a few moments to inspect your work closely. Look for any areas that may still have the old finish or appear rougher than others. This is your opportunity to make any necessary touch-ups.

If you find spots that need more attention, go back to your fine-grit sandpaper and carefully sand those areas.

Wipe down the surface once more with the tack cloth or damp rag after any additional sanding. Your goal is to have a uniformly smooth surface before you move on to applying any finishes.

Apply Finish

Now that you’re satisfied with your sanding job, it’s time to add the final touches. Depending on your project’s needs, you can choose from several types of finishes, including paint, stain, or clear wood sealers like polyurethane. Read the manufacturer’s guidelines for your chosen product to ensure you get the best results.

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For Paint: If you’re using paint, apply a primer first to help the paint adhere better and provide a more even finish. Once the primer is dry, you can proceed with the paint application. It may require multiple coats, so be patient and let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next one.

For Stain: If you opt for a stain, use a stain applicator or a clean cloth to apply it evenly, following the wood grain. Some stains require wiping off excess material a few minutes after application, so be sure to read the instructions on the product you’re using.

For Clear Finish: If you prefer to retain the natural look of the wood, you can use a clear wood sealer like polyurethane. Apply it with a paintbrush, making sure to catch any drips, as these will leave marks once dry.

For more articles on sanding, click here: Sanding: Your Full-Circle Guide to Smooth Mastery

Conclusion: How to Sand the Top of a Dresser

Sanding the top of a dresser may seem like a straightforward task, but as with any project, the quality of the outcome relies on the attention given to each step. From the initial preparation to the final finishing touches, every phase matters.

Properly emptying the dresser and setting up a clean workspace lays the groundwork for an efficient process. Equally crucial is the sanding procedure, where the right techniques and even pressure contribute to a smooth, ready-to-finish surface.

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