DIY disaster: refinishing a toddler bed

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DIY projects sometimes aren’t worth the work. Refinishing Red’s toddler bed turned out to be one such undertaking. We snagged a sturdy bed off of Craigslist for $20. It was painted an ugly mousey brown, but we thought we’d just refinish it, give it a nice dark stain to match the other wood in the boys’ room. Silly us. We didn’t realize the amount of work it would take. Wait. That sounded like I actually did most of the work. I didn’t. Caveman did all the literal and figurative heavy lifting, so I asked if he would write a post describing the endeavor. Give him a warm welcome, folks! Here’s refinishing a toddler bed, from Caveman’s perspective.

Was stripping, sanding, and painting a used toddler bed worth it?  

Monetarily: Yes
Time-wise and frustration: A definite NO.

This project started out due to Red graduating from the crib.  He was getting too big for it, and we needed the crib for Number Two anyways. Where is the first place you turn to find cheap kids items?  We found a toddler bed for $25 on CL and pretty much bought it on the spot for the negotiating price of $20.  The picture on CL was totally different than the actual bed (they had painted it  brown instead of factory white, as the ad showed).  Apparently they forgot to mention that they had painted it since taking the picture; but that can be forgiven for the $5 off I received.

The crib, as we bought it

The general idea of the process was to strip the bed down to bare wood so we could stain it a dark brown to match the rest of the furniture in the boys’ room.  I figured that we’d just strip the paint as well as we could and then sand the rest of the paint off.  That sounds so much easier that it really was.  We used Citristrip because it was the “green” option and doesn’t contain harsh caustic chemicals, but we weren’t impressed with performance. After about three hours of stripping the bed I had had it.  The end result was mediocre at best—about half the paint was still on the wood.  Once we realized that there were more than two coats of paint covering the bed, we gave up on the staining idea. It wasn’t going to happen. We decided we’d just have to paint it. Of course, by now we’ve already removed half the existing paint so we had to finish the job as best we could. Mental note:  Never try to strip paint again. It’s a messy, time-consuming job.

On to the sanding.  I was happy that my hand belt sander and palm sander were accessible in the Shoebox.  Without these tools I would never have finished the project; I used them to get as much paint off as possible.  We hand sanded the last bit for a smooth finish, and I hate hand sanding.  Another 3-4 hours of my life gone up in sawdust. God made power tools for a reason.

Caveman sanding.

Painting is painting, and there is no way around it.  We chose to go with a grey since the bed had come to us as a brown and I wasn’t going to paint it the same color after all that hard work. I was able to get two coats of paint on in about two hours by returning to the beginning piece when the last was done.  We weren’t thrilled with the color; it seems that paint cards and real life never really match. Thankfully, we are not picky—we just wanted the project done.

All in all, I am never again buying a toddler bed and then trying to customize it.  It would have been easier to build one from scratch from a sheet of plywood.  No stripping paint, not as much sanding, no painting if you get nice plywood.  Someday I’d like to try to build something like this.  But until then, we’re glad we saved a little bit of cash by investing a lot of elbow grease.

 Toddler bed-$20  | Sandpaper-$5  |  Stripping supplies-$25  |  Paint-$18  = Total: $68  | Time: 8hrs. 


Red on his new big boy bed.

Evelyn’s back. The verdict? All that work may have been worth it if we had gotten the exact result we desired. If we had wanted a grey, we would have just painted straight over the existing top coat of paint. But you know, we are easy to please. At least the bed is functional, and the fresh coat of paint helped to personalize the piece to us and Red. Not that Red cares. He’s so excited to have a big boy bed he wouldn’t care if it was covered in Lima bean wallpaper. And Caveman and I? We’re just glad to the project is over.

Talk to us. Have you had a DIY disaster that you can share? Do you think we should have just bought a bed new?

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  • Jane Sasser
    September 4, 2012

    I had a bad experience trying to strip paint once, too. You guys did better than I did. I just gave up and junked the piece.

    I love “another 3-4 hours of my life gone up in sawdust.” 🙂

    • Evelyn
      September 4, 2012

      It is hard work! I guess you live, you learn. Caveman did a great job, didn’t he?! 🙂

    • Cntrygal
      August 5, 2015

      Ladies ladies! I had this same bed,Inalso wanted it to match my grand childs dresser so on,all you have to dois do a faux finish on it!mine looks like wood still and didnt go thru even a tiny bit of this! i will post a pic later,however you put a basecoat down,lighter then the color you will use ,about 1 1/2 shaes lighter buy yourself a graining tool,For 4$ at walmart.Or not can be done either way,using a graining tool or small brush to put your wood streaks into the second coat.what you will need is 1 bottle of light brown arylic paint and another the one for the top coat 1.88 for both in whatever tone,you want ur bed,yes one bottle will cover it diluted some with water, but put a good coat, then you need a pint size water based poly if you have this around ,if not buy water based poly.if you want high gloss get high gloss if you want satin buy the get a paper plate mix a tiny bit of your poly and paint like 1 part to 3 parts paint, get to glazing ,after you get the effect you want and its dry put a couple coats of your poly over your handy work.Looks amazing! Yes I bought a graining tool, but i get to use iver and iver again on ugly colored furniture I want to look like nice wood!And this was fun! make a boo boo? try it again!you might want to pratice on card board , you want to pull your graning tool theu the second mixture by rocking it from side to side as you drag it.have fun!save big bucks too!

  • Tom
    September 4, 2012

    Great job, Caveman, and Red really looks happy. Of course, he almost always looks happy, Red and Caveman. Here’s hoping he sleeps well in his new bed. 🙂

  • Evelyn
    September 4, 2012

    Thanks, Uncle Tom! So far, he is sleeping really well in his big boy bed. He truly does love it. 😉

  • Alli Stone
    November 21, 2013

    I know it’s a year since your post, but im going on day 2 of stripping a toddler bed of its ugly finish. We luckily got our bed for free from a friend. Im determined to have the natural wood look, but my reality is headed towards the distressed look. Wish me luck. I hope it doesnt become firewood! !!

    • Evelyn
      November 21, 2013

      Oh dear–what a task! Good luck Alli. We know how hard that is. 😉

  • lexi cox
    January 10, 2014

    not to be a Debby downer but, for literally a few dollars more you could have bought the most expensive toddler bed at target. but i understand wanting something unique for your toddler. there are so little options when choosing beds and bedding for them

    • Evelyn
      January 10, 2014

      Lexi, you’re so right! 🙂 Caveman and I both looked at each other and said, “oh yeah. We learned that the hard way.” 😉 The good news about redoing a bed isn’t so much that it turned out perfect (because clearly it didn’t!), but it would be the green factor of reusing an already worn piece with life still in it. And, when Caveman built the bunk beds, we sold the refinished toddler bed… so now its life continues! Thanks for piping up!

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