how tidy are your drawers?

Marian ParsonsPainting & Refinishing, Secret Weapons, Tutorials27 Comments

Some of you have noticed and commented on the fact that I paint pieces while the drawers are still inside their recesses/cubbies.  (Drawer holes?)  And yes, I do leave the drawers in when I paint and I wanted to share the method to my madness.

The habit of leaving the drawers in started due to a lack of space.  When I worked out of my house, every square foot needed to be used strategically and I just didn’t have the luxury of being able to spread my drawers all over the floor.  (This post is getting a little personal, isn’t it?  Can’t help myself.)

So, I learned I could paint with them in and the world didn’t implode and, actually, things end up looking nice and tidy when it’s all said and done.

I paint the piece, as we’ve established, with the drawers in.  When I’m painting around the edges of the drawer, I make sure my brush isn’t fully loaded with paint.  I don’t want paint to settle into the cracks, making a mess and causing the drawers to stick.  There may be some seepage, but it’s pretty minimal.

This is what a typical drawer looks like once it’s painted…


You can see that some paint seeped through.

When I’m distressing the piece, I just hit those areas with the sand paper.  It might sound like a laborious extra step, but it takes about 10 seconds.  Literally.


And I hit the edges, too.  (I sanded the inside of the cabinet where the paint seeped in after I took this picture, by the way.)  This way, everything looks nice and tidy and paint doesn’t interfere with how the drawer functions.  With these old drawers, the fit can sometimes be pretty tight and even a coat of paint can make the drawer stick.


Speaking of old pieces, aren’t those joints fantastic?  I’m sometimes more in love with the construction of a piece or the maker’s mark or the wide, solid wood planks on the back, than I am the actual piece of furniture.

There you go!  My little shortcut when painting pieces with drawers.


I spent most of the day laying flooring in the studio.  Well, I should say trying to lay flooring.  As with many DIY projects, we ran into some hiccups.  That’s all for another post, though…

how tidy are your drawers?

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27 Comments on “how tidy are your drawers?”

  1. Thanks for showing us the state of your drawers :)) ! Will try the drawers-in technique next time. Which leads to my question….I imagine you do some sanding by hand and some with a sander. Would you mind sharing what type/brand of sander(s) you like? I always wonder if there is a lighter, more comfortable sander than the one I sometimes use. I have an old hand-me-down palm sander but it is very loud and also heavy and awkward in my hand. And I wonder if it would be worth it to get the kind that has a sawdust collector attached. Do you or others have any thoughts/suggestions?

    I’m grateful that you share your creativity, positive energy, and encouraging spirit through your posts. I always look forward to reading and seeing what interesting new projects you are working on. But when you need time for a little R and R, I hope you take it. You are one busy lady!

  2. Hi Marian!
    The beautiful joinery on your drawers are called Knapp joints. They were patented in 1867 by Charles B. Knapp of Waterloo, Wi. They pretty much disappeared from production by 1900. Just a fun fact ?

    1. Yes,…. Machine made and people didnt like them so they stopped. It’s a great way to put an almost exact date on furniture pieces. I love the knapp joints myself and get so excited when I find a piece with those.

  3. I love that you notice the joints in the drawers…that is my obsession when starting a new piece….since most of my pieces come from farm auctions (and most were stored in barns for years) I need to take my air compressor to them and start the cleaning process which lead to my joint/construction obsession of older pieces..they are so simply constructed and I love to look at the different construction styles…..great post–pretty piece!

  4. Very clear with the photos. I like the shortcut. Many of us get way too carried away with perfection in what we do…when sometimes just getting it accomplished brings just as much Beauty and Pleasure of use.


    1. I saw a quote somewhere the other day that stuck in my head……..

      “DONE is better than PERFECT”

      I had to laugh because I’ll have projects that seem to never get DONE because I’m striving so hard for PERFECT. So, I took that quote to heart, pulled out some projects that had been languishing in closets and corners and got ’em DONE! Thus far, nobody has looked at any of them and screamed “Oh my god, it’s not PERFECT!” nor has anyone called the police of PERFECT on me, lol! Felt good to have them DONE and out and being used instead of being hidden away like dirty laundry!

  5. You must remove the drawers to paint the inside edges of the body though? I find that drawers that don’t have an overlap and are flush with the body need paint on the inside edges or the piece looks unfinished. Just curious.

    1. That’s actually a nice thing about keeping the drawers in. I can see if any of the recess will show and then I know what and how much to paint.

  6. Really glad you wrote this post. I actually had the same question. When I paint furniture white, if I don’t remove the drawers and paint just along the insides of the drawer cubbies, then you see a dark patch on a white piece of furniture. But I see it still works with the style when you’re distressing.

  7. Just beautiful !!! I love the “Make” of a piece as well…. I am ALWAYS checking out the legs…. There is just something about a piece of furniture that has gorgeous curvy legs!!!!! Thank you for sharing your paint tips concerning the drawers!!!!!

  8. Good idea ..I once painted my drawers out of the pieces and they didn’t fit anymore…I had to remove the paint wasn’t funny….

  9. When I first read the title of this post, “How Tidy Are Your Drawers,” my first thought was: Really, Marian? What a drag, I don’t want to deal with organizing the drawers in my house! Not interested!

    Then when I saw what the post was really about, I WAS interested. So much for jumping to conclusions! It was a very useful post. Thanks!

  10. Makes total sense. I like it. I have memory issues but I do think I’d end up being more messy because the drawers were out. Good advice. Write on a recipe card and tape to the inside of your cupboard door. That’s what my Grandma did with the BEST advice she’d read!!!

  11. I’m going to have to try this. I like this much better than when painters paint all the drawers inside and out. I like some of the original wood left intact. Beautiful!

  12. Thanks for the insights. I’m considering painting an old sewing machine cabinet that I actually use, so this was useful and timely.

  13. What do you do if the drawers are in bad shape. For example, stained or they have a musty smell or the interior just looks really bad.

  14. Well i’ll be darned…yes, I was one of those people wondering how you did that!!! I will have to give that a try. Looks professional when done and that is all that matters.
    I just acquired a beauty of a piece with those same joints…AND an original marble top…for $10.00!!!
    My jaw dropped when I saw those joints.
    Thanks for clueing us in!!!

  15. Can definitely tell from the comments on this post that you truly have an old furniture-loving crowd reading! How fun that your passion has come through so much that you’ve attracted like-minded people to your blog! We can all learn from each other. How wonderful to have a name for those amazing scallop joints; have always loved those. So funny that you started painting with the drawers in to save space. My family’s been walking around drawers and other projects in the dining room for 5 years;) Paint on the fronts, poly all the rest of the old wood to seal in any odors & then briwax all the drawers so everything slides well…perfectly done, but a whole heck of a lot of work…probably why it all needed to stop. I’ll do it for myself, but not for meager pay anymore. Kudos to the rest of you furniture lovers; hope you make it worth your while for your artistry and hard work!

  16. I love how this dresser turned out, and I think painting with the drawers in makes perfect sense! This is a “Why didnt I think of that” moment! One big question though…do you have a trick in getting the drawers open again without the handles?

    1. I am dying to try this technique as well, but that has been my question too. How do you get the drawers back open?

      1. I insert a screwdriver into the hole and use that to pull the drawer open. Sometimes I can just rock the piece forward, too.

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