Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Our brand new dresser, via Ikea hacking

October 8, 2014
ikea hacking tarva dresser

We spent the past several weeks building ourselves a new dresser. We were in the mood for another woodworking project, but with our limited amount of woodworking space, we weren't sure whether building a whole dresser was feasible. Then we realized that IKEA sells a few pieces of unfinished furniture and decided to try "IKEA hacking."

IKEA has two types of unfinished wood dressers: the Rast and Tarva lines. There are lots of hacks online for Rast dressers, but we wanted something bigger. Most of the Tarva options were also on the small side for two people, so we settled on combining two Tarva 5-Drawer Chests (pictured above). They're made out of solid pine, so no particleboard or engineered wood. Miraculously, we even fit both dressers into a two-door electric BMW that we had rented for our trip to IKEA.

As you can see we made a number of modifications:
  • We bolted the two dressers together.
  • We routed the edges of each drawer.
  • We routed across the middle of the top drawers, to make each look like two drawers.
  • We replaced the two top boards with a single piece of 1" thick solid pine and routed the bottom edge.
  • We added molding around the bottom.
  • We shortened the legs.
  • We painted and stained.
finshed tarva dresser ikea

All of this (of course) turned out to be a lot more work than we expected.

The routing wasn't difficult, just tedious. First, we experimented with different bits and depths on a throwaway board. Then we mounted each board to the saw horse. We had to cut fast enough to not burn the wood but slow enough to be smooth, and routing all 10 drawers took almost an entire day.

Fitting the molding perfectly was a challenge. To cut the ends at 45˚ angles, we used a simple plastic miter box. (The next big tool on my wish list is an electric compound miter saw.) We cut the legs to be tall enough for the molding plus 1/2" (most of the gap sinks into the carpet). For the molding to be flush with the front of the drawers, we added 1/4 shims to offset the molding from the legs. Unfortunately, between the width of the saw, the thickness of the pencil marks, the imprecision of the ruler, and simple error, we cut the front piece of molding almost 1/4" too short. Cutting a tiny piece off the end of the spare molding, we created a shim that we spliced into the gap with wood glue, which after polishing with a little wood filler and painting, is barely noticeable.

You can see the molding we added on the left and the routing on the right.

Unlike our media cabinet, we didn't have to measure and saw most of the boards — they came pre-cut by IKEA, and the top board we had sawed at the lumber store. But there was still plenty of sanding and routing, which we did in the driveway under our apartment, producing a lot of sawdust. Despite vacuuming constantly, and cleaning the dust off the neighbor's cars, our neighbor complained (reasonably) about "blanketing everything" with dust. So we've probably burned our political capital on that front for a few months.

Choosing colors was the hardest part. We had a vague idea of wanting a dark stain on the top and a light paint on the rest, but went through dozens of paint swatches and stain samples before we settled on the combination. The stain is "espresso" by Varathane, and the paint is "indian muslin" from the Pittsburgh Paints palette (though we weren't impressed with their actual paint, so we got the equivalent color from Benjamin Moore). The paint wasn't exactly as we expected — on the swatch it was a little darker, more pink, less off-white — but it came out nicely enough. One pint was enough for two coats on the whole thing (with primer underneath).

We used "clear satin" finish, two coats of oil-based polyurethane on top (over the oil-based pre-stain and stain) and two coats of water-based polycrylic finish over the water-based paint. (The knobs we stained with the same espresso color, no finish.)

The funny thing with this dresser project was it was actually the second iteration. Several months earlier, we saw a large, very nice-looking dresser on the street corner, and carried it into our driveway. It was old and worn, but we thought it was made out of good wood and worth re-finishing. So we stripped the paint off the whole thing, and started to replace the rotted wood runners with new metal ones, when we realized it was all just particleboard. (The giveaway was when a little rainwater that got through the tarps caused the top to puff up significantly; real wood wouldn't have done that.) We decided the low-quality materials weren't worth the work. Despite feeling foolish at having spent so much time working on it, we sold it on Craigslist pretty quickly, defraying the cost of "v2".

Our first attempt. What it looked like when we found it (left) and what it looked like when we sold it (right).

Our rough estimate for what this all cost:
  • 2 Tarva dressers: $218
  • Stain: $14 (including one can we didn't use)
  • Primer: $11
  • Paint: $8
  • Top board: $37
  • Hardware: $20
  • Assorted materials (drop clothes, miter box): $21
Total: $329
And the reason we went through all this trouble in the first place? Steph has been using a bookcase as a dresser for the past two years. We thought it was time for an upgrade.

- Ben


  1. Wow! This is amazing! Two very talented people :)

  2. Absolutely gorgeous!! That is one awesome Ikea hack - great job!

  3. Reader comment (that I accidentally deleted, sorry!):

    Hi! How did you bolt the two together? And did you attach the top in the same way the original tops were attached (drill holes for dowels, etc)? Thanks!

    1. Thanks for asking! We used bolts to connect the two together. We used the existing cam-lock nuts to connect the top on the two outer sides and used corner braces in the middle.

  4. This is awesome. We need a tall, narrow dresser for my son's room, but didn't wanna spend a ton of money, but didn't want it to look cheap. The molding around the bottom and the routed drawer edges are definitely on the list of things to add. As well as nicer knobs! Thanks for this!


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