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How to Turn a Dresser into a Bathroom Vanity

Taking a cue from reader remodels, we decided to retrofit a charming vintage dresser for a whole new purpose.

Vanity Dresser With Mirror In Bathroom

"I was looking for antique dressers on Pinterest when I stumbled across people using them as vanities," says reader Caleb Kettler, who decided to make one himself. "The trickiest part is fitting in the plumbing."

Indeed, to make way for the trap, you'll have to modify the drawers. Who better to demonstrate how to do that than This Old House master carpenter Norm Abram? Now, his version of the project is pretty involved; the dresser here is all curved openings, and it got a new top of marble with a drop-in sink, requiring more modifications.

You can make an easier go of it by plopping a vessel sink right on top of a rectilinear piece. Either way, the approach on how to build a DIY bathroom vanity from a dresser is the same. See for yourself as Norm walks you through the steps to adding a truly original focal point to your bath, all while preserving a precious bit of drawer space.

Faucet: Rohl Viaggio Country Bath Collection, about $370

Dresser to Vanity Overview

Bathroom Vanity Dresser Overview Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Project Timeline:

Day 1: Modify the drawers (Steps 1–8).

Day 2: Complete the vanity (Steps 9–17).

How to Turn a Dresser Into a Bathroom Vanity

1. Cut the Drawer Sides

Man Cuts Drawer Sides With Handsaw For Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • On this dresser, the upper drawer must be removed to allow room for the drop-in sink. That means the drawer face has to come off and be reinstalled later to create a false front.
  • Clamp the drawer to a work surface and use the trim saw or handsaw to cut along the sides of the drawer where they meet the face, as shown.

2. Cut the Drawer Bottom

Man Cuts Drawer Bottom For Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Flip the drawer upside down and fit the oscillating multi-tool with a flush-cutting blade or grab a handheld flush-cutting saw.
  • Cut along the back side of the drawer front, where the bottom meets it, keeping the blade snug against it.
  • Set aside the drawer front as well as the parts of the drawer frame—you'll use them in Step 4 to modify the lower drawer.
  • Use the drill/driver to unscrew the dresser top.

3. Mark the Lower Drawer

Man Marks Lower Dresser Drawer To Make Cuts For Plumbing To Make Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • To make room for the plumbing, you'll need to build a cutout into at least one of the drawers—in this case, the lower one.
  • Rest the drawer upside down on your work surface, and measure and mark spots 4 inches to the right and left of the drawer's centerline.
  • Use the straightedge, as shown, to draw cutlines on the bottom of the drawer. Transfer your marks to the back of the drawer.

4. Cut the Drawer

Man Cuts Drawer With Trim Saw To Make Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Clamp the drawer so that you can work on its back.
  • Using the rafter square as a guide, follow the cutline along the back of the drawer with the trim saw. Keep the drawer clamped, and continue following the cutline on the bottom of the drawer until you reach the face.
  • Use either the multitool or the handsaw to finish the cut and separate the cutout where it attaches to the face.

5. Cut the Internal Sides

Man Marks Internal Sides Of Dresser Drawer To Make Cuts For Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Take the upper drawer's back and use the sliding T-bevel to find the angle where one end meets the front, then transfer the angle and cut the end.
  • Hold the piece upright in the cutout, and mark it where the back of the lower drawer intersects it. The new piece will be sandwiched between the drawer front and the drawer back.
  • Cut the piece on the miter saw. Measure, mark, and cut the opposite piece.

6. Attach the Internal Sides

Man Attaches Internal Sides Of Dresser With Wood Glue And Pneumatic Nail Gun For Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Dry-fit the newly cut pieces. One at a time, remove them and run a bead of wood glue along the edges where they attach; fit them in place, and secure them with the pneumatic nail gun and 1¼-inch 18-gauge brads, as shown.
  • Wipe away any excess wood glue with a damp cloth.

7. Add the Corner Blocking

Man Adds Corner Blocking To Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Rip angled blocking from 1 stock on the table saw. Brush the right-angle edges of the blocking with wood glue, position them between the drawer sides and face, and tack them in place.

Tip: If you don't have a table saw, make corner blocking from cove or quarter-round molding.

8. Cut the Slide Blocking

Man Cuts Slide Blocking Of Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • The grooved dresser drawers slid on wood guide rails. To update the dresser drawers with optional heavy-duty slides, install blocking flush between the leg framing.
  • First, measure between the front and back of the dresser frame just above the wooden guide, as shown.
  • Cut a 1x4 to that length. Make 1x4 blocking for the other side the same way.

9. Install the Slide Blocking

Man Installs Side Blocking Of Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Add spacers to fill the gap between the blocking and the dresser, securing them with glue and brads.
  • Wedge a cut 1x4 between the leg framing just above the wooden guide on each side, and toenail the ends into the framing.
  • Use the hammer and pry bar to remove the old wooden drawer guides.

10. Set the Drawer Rail

Man Sets Drawer Rail Of Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Follow the slide's installation instructions to position the inner rail against the side of the drawer. Check that the hardware is square to the back of the drawer, and mark the prepunched holes on the blocking.
  • Hold the rail in place, and secure it to the drawer with the included inch wood screws. Repeat the process on the other drawer side.

11. Secure the Slide to the Dresser

Man Secures Slide to Dresser Of Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Measure below the dresser's crosspiece according to the slide's installation instructions, and mark that spot on the blocking.
  • Extend the slide rail from the track to access the screw holes, and hold the track in place, with its top edge at your mark.
  • Fasten one side of the track to the support with an included screw. Square up the track before driving a second screw, then drive screws through the remaining holes.
  • Install the slide on the other side in the same way.

12. Add the Drawer Supports

Man Adds Drawer Supports For Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Use the hammer and pry bar to remove the center drawer guide from the bottom of the dresser frame.
  • Measure and cut two pieces of ½-inch-thick scrap to connect the front and back of the dresser frame. The supports should rest on the back of the frame and be flush with the front edge of the dresser. Space them under the new drawer sides, glue down the supports, and tack them in place with 1¼-inch brads.

13. Make the Face Braces

Man Makes Face Braces For Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • To attach the face of the upper drawer, make L-shaped braces. First, cut 3-inch pieces of 1x2 and glue them together, edge to face, in an L-shape, as shown.
  • Tack the pieces together with 1-inch brads.
  • Make four braces, two for each side of the drawer face.

14. Attach the Face

Man Attaches Face Of Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Hold the face of the upper drawer in place on the dresser, and position a brace in the corner where it meets the dresser frame.
  • Tack the brace to the frame and drill a pilot hole through the brace and into the face of the drawer.
  • Secure the face with 1-inch wood screws. Screw the brace to the dresser frame and install the remaining braces. Slide the lower drawer in place.

15. Secure the Piece

Man Secures The Bathroom Vanity Dresser In Location Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Position your new vanity in the bathroom, its back edge about 3 inches off the wall.
  • Use the stud finder to locate mounting points and cut two pieces of 2x4 scrap.
  • Align the scrap with those marks and screw through the back of the vanity into each 2x4 with a pair of 3-inch wood screws.
  • Push the vanity against the wall and drill an angled pilot hole through each 2x4 and into a wall stud, and fasten it with a 3-inch wood screw.

16. Trim the Sink Hole

Man Trims Sink Hole Of Bathroom Vanity Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Once the marble countertop was cut for the drop-in sink, Norm had to make a curved cut in a cross support in the dresser frame. If your installation requires a similar cut, set a compass to the width of the sink rim and follow the opening, marking a curved cutline on the cross support. Follow along the line with a jigsaw.

17. Install the Sink

Man Installs Sink Of Bathroom Vanity Dresser Photo by Anthony Tieuli
  • Dry-fit the sink in the opening in the countertop. If it still hits the crosspiece, remove the sink and continue to trim the crosspiece until it fits.
  • Once it does, run a bead of silicone caulk on the underside of the sink's perimeter and press the sink in place.
  • Install the drain and faucet and make the plumbing connection.

Tip: To ease installation, attach your fixtures before dropping the sink in.


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