What to Do with an Old Cedar Chest – Refinished Furniture

Give your old cedar chest a new look and new life with this easy makeover! This step-by-step guide will show you how to prep, sand, and paint your cedar chest to create a beautiful and functional piece of furniture that will last for years to come.

With a little bit of time and effort, you can transform your old cedar chest into a stunning centerpiece for your home.

You remember the 1980s when receiving a cedar hope chest was the thing everyone wanted, right? Sometimes they were called a blanket chest. The vintage hope chest would be placed at the foot of your bed.

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before image of Lane blanket and hope chest with heart decal on front

1980s Lane Cedar Chest

As a hope chest, Young women would use this storage chest to collect household items she would use in her own home.

It’s a dying art it seems. But we move along with the times, don’t we?  Some may think it is old-fashioned, but I still like the idea of collecting items that would be used to set up homemaking. 

Often young ladies would receive one while she was in high school. The Lane Company was a huge retailer of a beautiful cedar chest like this one. 

You might remember this old cedar chest from this post. It was in the background of another project that y’all loved. The chest was standing on end behind a beautiful dresser that had a dark red mahogany stain. That piece of furniture needed a makeover too!

The red mahogany dresser and this old chest belong to sisters. They both had custom work that needed to be done so I told them to bring them at the same time!

cedar chest makeover

Our client wanted this vintage cedar chest brought into the 2020s and we accommodated her request of course! 

I’m pretty sure she will be using it in her living room. I will list a couple of other creative uses later in this post.

supplies and tools

Lane chests are perfect pieces of furniture for painting at home. The supplies are simple and you only need a couple of tools!

Here is a list of supplies and tools:

refinish cedar chest

simple steps to prepping old furniture

  • Using a shop vac will do a great job cleaning away all of the loose dirt, dust, and cobwebs
  • Give a good cleaning to this vintage lane chest. Clean the front as well as the top of the cedar chest and the inside of the chest. A good cleaning will go a long way in a beautiful finished product. Use hot water and TSP cleaner or Simple Green over the entire piece. Then go back over the entire surface with a clean cloth and clean water to remove any soap residue. Change the water often if needed.
  • When the furniture piece is completely dry, it’s time to give it a good sanding. Using 150 grit sandpaper, sand any deep scratches until you have a smooth surface. You do not need to sand the entire piece down to bare wood since this piece will be painted. If the sanded surface is rough, you can run the orbital sander over it again with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it out.
three images showing steps to give an old hope chest a makeover

apply stain-blocking Shellac

  • To create a crackle finish to this cedar wood chest, apply a coat of clear Zinsser Shellac. Use a disposable chip brush for easy cleanup after you apply 1-2 coats. Shellac is a great way to prevent bleedthrough of the red tone that cedar wood has. 
  • Next, brush on Zinsser White Stain Blocking Shellac over the front of the cedar chest if you want to hide the decal that these old wooden chests often have.
graphic with images and text overlay describing how to apply shellac and paint on an old cedar chest

painting a hope cedar chest

Now for the fun part! Let’s give this unique piece a new look! We all love to paint things, right? It’s my favorite way to listen to an Audible book! 

​types of paint for an old cedar chest

You can use any of the paint colors you love. Many of us like to use white paint colors to go with our decor and to last for years of use. Here are several options of paint to use:

  • chalk paint
  • acrylic based milk paint
  • clay based paint
  • old-fashioned milk paint

Many people like to use spray paint on furniture pieces but I never do. It is expensive, messy, and toxic to your lungs. The smell seems to linger as well.

cute dog sitting in front of blanket chest used to teach how to prep furniture for painting in blog post

how to apply milk paint

I chose to use the last option. Mixing milk paint is easy. It is mixed in a one-to-one ratio.  My client chose the color Mora by MMS Milkpaint. It’s a lovely soft blue that is almost white!

The first coat of paint always looks a little scary. But continue to press on my friend!

BTW, there is no need to paint in the direction of the grain with milk paint. You won’t have any problem with brush strokes with the amazing self-leveling paint.

This piece needed two coats of milk paint with a chip paint brush. I’m glad I used the Zinsser White Shellac to cover the decal – that helped to save paint!

after makeover image of painted blanket chest in how to prep furniture for painting blog post

seal the milk paint

The last step is to seal the milk paint. Depending on the type of paint you use, you may or may not have to seal it. Check what the paint company suggests for that particular paint!

The chalky finish paint loves to be sealed with wax. I used MMS clear wax over the large cedar chest. It’s easy to do: just brush it on with a clean chip brush, allow it to dry slightly then buff off the excess with a clean blue paper towel. Both the brush and towel are disposable so clean-up is a breeze!

lady applying furniture wax to an old cedar chest3

Wasn’t that easy? And the results are amazing! Now it has the look of a real antique cedar chest! Milk paint is the easiest way to make many pieces look older than they are. With minimal effort, you can breathe new life into a vintage chest and have a great storage piece for your home.

after makeover image of lane blanket chest showing cedar interior

YouTube video tutorial

Our little dog Barkly, wants you to know we made a quick video of the process. He’s very thoughtful like that 🙂 Just click on the image below to watch! Be sure to subscribe while you are watching so you don’t miss any of our free tutorials on YouTube!

YouTube graphic for video link about cedar chest makeover

cedar chest ideas

These blanket chests have so much storage!

Let’s think of some ideas for using it!

It could even be used as a side table between a couple of chairs!

staged shot of painted blanket and hope chest including wall decor and vintage chair

crackling goodness

The crackling on the chest gives a beautiful rustic look to the paint.

Let’s take a closer look….

close up of one side of blanket chest from a furniture prep and painting blog post

… aaahhh, be still my vintage lovin’ heart!

That’s just the kind of look I love!

close up of lock on 19080s blanket chest that was painted

painting wood furniture

I hope you enjoyed this post and video! Learning how to prep furniture for painting is a valuable skill.

Think of all the thrift store pieces and vintage finds that you can use these techniques on! It makes me want to go shopping!!

Be sure to pin any of the images you see so that when you find the perfect piece to paint, you’ll have this post as a reference!

It could even be used as a side table between a couple of chairs!

blanket chest after being painted in Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint Mora staged with home decor

Pinterest graphic with text overlay "before and after vintage cedar chest makeover" showing images of hope chest

Vintage Cedar Chest Makeover Tutorial

Give your old cedar chest a new look and new life with this easy makeover! This step-by-step guide will show you how to prep, sand, and paint your cedar chest to create a beautiful and functional piece of furniture that will last for years to come. With a little bit of time and effort, you can transform your old cedar chest into a stunning centerpiece for your home.
Prep Time1 hour
Active Time3 hours
Additional Time2 hours
Total Time6 hours
Author: Cindy


  • orbital sander
  • shop vac
  • paintbrush
  • 3M respirator
  • shop stool


  • old cedar chest
  • sanding discs in 150 & 220 grit
  • Simple Green or TSP Cleaner
  • microfiber cloths
  • Zinsser Clear Shellac
  • Zinsser Whtie Shellac Stain Blocking Primer
  • MMS Milk Paint Mora
  • MMS Furniture Wax


  • Use a shop vac to remove loose dust and cobwebs.
  • Thoroughly clean the cedar chest with Simple Green or TSP Alternative Cleaner. Rinse with clear water and a clean cloth. Change the water as needed.
  • When the cedar chest is dry, use an orbital sander and 150-grit sandpaper to remove any scratches. Go back over the whole piece with 220-grit sandpaper to smooth the finish.
  • Create a crackly finish and prevent bleed-through by applying two coats of Zinsser Clear Shellac. Cover any decals with Zinsser Shellac Stain Blocking White Primer. Allow proper drying time between coats.
  • Apply two coats of milk paint to the entire cedar chest.
  • Seal the paint with furniture wax. One to two coats are perfect!



If you do not want the crackle finish that clear shellac creates, try using Dixie Belle's B.O.S.S. in white or gray depending on the color of your paint.

Be sure to pin any of the images you see so that when you find the perfect piece to paint, you’ll have this post as a reference!

join the journey!

We would love you to join our journey over on Instagram and Facebook! You can also find more inspiration on our Pinterest page! We’re always pinning fresh ideas!

Our YouTube channel has even more projects and tutorials!

more makeovers

Until next time….

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Recipe Rating


  1. Turned out beautiful friend! Love how it looks!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Thanks Kayla! Our client loved it too! Thank you for stopping by!!

  2. This project turned out BEAUTIFUL! And I am SO excited for my paintbrushes!!! 🎉🎉🎉🎨

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      You’re going to love the Zibra brushes Stacey! Thanks for entering the giveaway!!

  3. Cindy, I always love seeing what you’re up to on here! This chest is beautiful! I have a few pieces of furniture that my husband has now given me “permission” to paint. (They belonged to his family.) I’m so excited, but I don’t even know how to begin picking colors. Any advice when trying to choose the right color? I’m thinking of trying milk paint for the first time. Do you just have samples on hand, or do you order swatches of some kind? Thanks!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Thanks for your kind words Crissy!! And yay for getting the thumbs up from you hubby! As for colors, pick an accent color in the room you will use the piece in. I do not sell milk paint personally but I know of a couple of online vendors that do. They can send you pamphlets with colors or you can look online at the Miss Mustard Seed website. I will message you over on IG with the small biz accounts who offer the paint! Thanks for stopping by and keep me updated on your project!

  4. How could you paint that lovely box
    Sorry I am very old-fashioned and I go for restoration if possible.

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Thanks for stopping by for this post Hilary! This piece was a custom job for one of our clients. She was not a fan of the 1980’s style with the decal and wanted brought into today’s current style. Our client loved the results and is enjoying the hope chest in her home 🙂