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Hope Chest Refinishing

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I love old furniture, it’s no secret. Everyone in my life knows this about me as well. So when I was asked to take on a hope chest refinishing project for a friend, I was more than happy to do so.

It’s an antique Hope Chest, with gorgeous cedar lining inside. There are no tags or markings on it which led me to believe it wasn’t a Lane Cedar Chest, but regardless it’s a beauty. 

Aside from the top having scratches and some damage, this vintage hope chest was in great shape. 

Tools & Supplies to Refinish a Cedar Chest

Restoring a Cedar Lined Hope Chest

Before I started the cedar chest refinishing process I accessed the inside of the chest to see what condition it was in. In this case, it was like brand new!

The cedar was still fragrant as ever and there wasn’t a visible scratch anywhere.

If you aren’t as lucky as I was and you need to give the cedar inside the hope chest some love there are 2 ways you can go about it.

  1. Cedar Oil. Using 100% cedar oil will restore the aroma of the cedar lining as well as repelling moths and mildew.
  2. Lightly sanding. A sure-fire way to restore the lovely, fragrant cedar smell back to your hope chest is by lightly sanding it with a fine-grit sandpaper. Sanding will open the pores of the wood, exposing new oils.

The first course of action was assessing the damage the vintage cedar chest had and giving it a good cleaning.

hope chest

As I mentioned, it was not bad at all. The top of the chest is what needed the most work. There were a few deep scratches, water rings, and your normal wear and tear scratches. Nothing a good sanding couldn’t handle.

Once I thoroughly cleaned the hope chest, I got my Sander ready to go. 

Sanding the Vintage Cedar Chest

In preparation for this project, I went out and bought myself a new Bosch Sander.
I had an older porter cable sander that I bought years ago, while it worked great it would tend to disappear every now and then. I don’t want to name names here, but you know who you are.
So I decided to purchase a new one that was a little bit more powerful. I highly suggest investing in a good sander, it’s amazing what a difference it makes.
In addition to my new sander, I also picked up a contractor pack of sandpaper and a few different grit sanding disks for my sander.

I began sanding with 80 grit sandpaper, which was perfect to remove the layer of polyurethane as well as the previous stain. 

sanding a hope chest

Sanding the cedar chest took quite a bit of time, which was expected.

I started with the top which had the most damage and worked my way down, leaving the feet for last.

The feet of the hope chest required some elbow grease. I used the sander when I could but, the majority of the time I had to sand them by hand.

hope chest refinishing

Once the entire vintage hope chest was sanded with the 80 grit sandpaper, I then switched to the 220 grit. I wanted to ensure the cedar chest was completely smooth and ready for the next step, which was the stain.

I used the air compressor to clean the dust of the chest. I wanted to make sure it was completely free of any dust to prepare for a smooth stain application.

sanded hope chest

Choosing a Stain for the Antique Chest

When it came to the stain color for the refinished hope chest, my friend wanted it dark, but not too dark. 

I had shown my friend a few pictures of lane cedar chests for inspiration. The one she was drawn to was the lane hope chest with the red-ish stain. 

Minwax stains

After testing a few different Minwax stain colors, we decided to go with  Minwax Red Mahogany.

Ultimately, the red mahogany stain resembled the refinished Lane cedar chest I had shown her as inspiration.

I think it was the perfect choice for the newly refinished hope chest. 

Interested in More Projects?

Staining the Hope Chest

To apply the stain to the hope chest, I used 2 rags, one for the stain and one to wipe off the excess. 

Starting at the top of the hope chest, I lightly applied the stain in the direction of the wood grain and eventually finishing with the feet.

I decided I liked how the cedar chest looked with one coat of stain and left it at that. 

I let the cedar hope chest fully dry overnight before I moved on to the next step.

stained hope chest

Applying Lacquer to the Hope Chest

The last step to this hope chest refinishing project was applying a sealer.

There are a few different sealer options on the market today, most popular being polyurethane. However, because I wanted the refinished cedar chest to a bit more durable, I opted to go with Minwax’s Brush on Lacquer. in a semi-gloss finish.

Just a few tips when using this lacquer. This stuff is no joke. You need to wear a mask in a very well ventilated area. I highly suggest applying it outside. Also using a high-quality natural bristle brush is recommended for the best application.

A good rule of thumb is to always fully read the directions on any product you use to ensure you apply it properly and safely.

refinished hope chest

I applied one layer of lacquer and let it dry, about 30 minutes or so. 

As soon as the lacquer was dry I hit it with a light sanding using the 220 grit sandpaper. This was just to ensure a completely smooth finish for the last layer of the lacquer.

I removed all the dust from sanding the hope chest and applied the final layer of lacquer and this hope chest refinishing project was complete. 

The finished product is gorgeous. It resembled the Lane cedar chest I was using as inspiration to the t,  I am so glad I had the opportunity to restore this beauty. 

 Now, off to find the next project.  Who am I kidding? I have a garage full of projects!

Looking to buy a cedar chest? Check out Etsy. They have a ton of antique cedar chests available as well as refinished hope chests.

Recent Articles:

Virginia Rohde

Saturday 5th of June 2021

The one with gray spots showing up sounds like moisture in the wood where glass or coffee cup sat or a flower. It has happened to me yrs ago

Rub the spot with lacquer thinner and it should disappear

Thursday 28th of October 2021

@Virginia Rohde, Rub the spot with lacquer thinner and it should disappear

Sandra L. Salle

Saturday 20th of March 2021

I have removed the veneer on a 1957 Lane Cedar chest exterior. The remainder is beautiful Eastern red cedar. Just one question: Why is the interior stained with a red finish over the cedar? The rear exterior was stained this color as well, but I sanded it off. What is the purpose of the red stain? Do I need to apply this stain(?) or protective coating(?) to the now-exposed raw cedar? I am a bit worried that by removing the veneer, I may have endangered my chest. Any help or advice is greatly appreciated.


Sunday 21st of June 2020

Why does my cedar chest get gray spots after I Varnish it

Cate Griffing

Thursday 2nd of July 2020

I'm not sure, I have never experienced that.


Tuesday 28th of April 2020

What other sealers would you recommend for a cedar chest? I'm refinishing my grandma's chest. I have it stripped but am afraid to apply stain because I can't decide on a color. And I don't want to sand/strip it again. When I finally do decide on a color, I want to preserve the chest. Not sure I'm up for lacquer.

Cate Griffing

Wednesday 29th of April 2020

Hey Melissa, You can use Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish or Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. The polyurethane will be a bit more durable.


Wednesday 21st of November 2018

Looks amazing!! You did such a great job!!! ~Emily


Wednesday 21st of November 2018

Thank You so much Emily!

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