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Restoring a Cedar Chest

Category Refinishing
Cedar chests were very popular for a long period of time, meaning that there are many either still being used or in storage. If you are lucky enough to inherit one or find one at an antique shop, it may need some work. This is a guide about restoring a cedar chest.


Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

May 16, 2005

I have a cedar chest that was mine as a young girl. The top is now gone and for many, many years it has held toys for my kids (now grown) a nephew, and now my grandson. I love the old chest and now that I'm older I appreciate it.

I would love to strip off all the old paint, have a new lid made and try to restore it. My question is how do you get the old cedar smell back or does it just die out and can't be revived? I'm just curious if anyone would know.

By Sharon, KY


By Janette (Guest Post)
May 17, 20050 found this helpful
Best Answer

I believe you can restore the cedar ordor by sanding with fine sand paper. I bought cedar hearts to hang in the closet and it came with sand paper to restore the odor when it faded.

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February 21, 20150 found this helpful

What do you use to strip varnish off the chest and what would you to put back on the chest?

By Kervin


February 22, 20150 found this helpful

If you visit a store that sells paint products, you will find products to use. You may find booklets or books that will help you.


You could search on Youtube for information as well. There are directions to just about everything on there. You could also visit the library for books on furniture refinishing to help you.

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February 22, 20150 found this helpful

2 gallons of varnish stripper or the kind to remove paint it's gummy like not like water. You can tell which one is which when you pick it up and give it a gentle shake; one sounds more sloshy than the other.

steel wood pads w/o soap
paint brush
a lot of old rags
catch all container (for liquid stripper only)
"thick" non rubber gloves
Remove all knobs, drawer pulls, chains first

Put wood item in the catch all and with paint brush, keep stripper brushed over the surface doing one side at a time until you have only the raw wood showing. With rag, swipe off cleaned off wood in direction of grain. Wrap screwdriver edge with old cloth to get into corners/crevices/drawer pull holes.


At this point, repeat procedure on all sides before doing this next step: Use steel wool pad in direction of wood grain to smooth the grain and wipe off the dust with a lightly dampened rag only. Continue to wipe with clean old rags until all dust/debris is removed. The key is to stay with the grain only for a smooth surface.

When the raw wood is cleaned well and looks even in coloring and is totally dry then you can stain with a clean cloth or leave natural wood and paint Varathane over the surface in light layers repeating after each is dried. You have choices of clear gloss, semigloss, satin finishes.
From experience, I've tried the gummy stripper on stain/varnish/shellac and it's a real mess to clean/wipe off. It's my opinion the liquid stripper remover works best and fastest. It's also able to be used again over the wood until too much varnish/stain/shellac is added to the solution making it too thick to work with and doesn't remove all, but rather puts it back on making the wood look darkened. With practice, you'll know when it's time to change the old for the new stripper.


If you're good with an electric sander, you could also remove the old finish and go with the grain; use the finest grain of sandpaper as a final sand job and wipe off all dust/debris from surface continually using a clean rag and then with a slightly dampened clean cloth go with the grain and wipe off any remainder. If the rag becomes dirty; get another clean rag and do it again.

Use a steel wool pad without soap going with grain if the wood isn't smooth enough and wipe off dust as stated above. Apply your choice of finishes as directed on label and let dry.

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October 16, 20150 found this helpful

I want to paint the inside of a cedar chest which is unvarnished, does it have to be sealed or does the paint do it? I am repurposing it without the lid.

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May 12, 20170 found this helpful

I tried stripping with electric sanders and it gums up the sand paper then I used a belt sander and it gummed up the sand paper, so I used chemical and it was a mess, what I settled on was electric planner and was able to strip of a 1/84 slice and it took it down to the wood, then I came back with sand paper, it worked the best and a lot less trouble

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February 8, 20120 found this helpful

How does one refresh an old cedar closet?

By Olga from Houston, TX


February 9, 20120 found this helpful

If you mean to bring the scent back, I would think just a real light sanding with a fine grade of sand paper would work.

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February 10, 20120 found this helpful

Sanding will do the trick. An easy way is to sand with a sanding sponge. You will have better control. Hope this helps.

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