From funk to functional! -filing cabinet

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I’ve got a DIY for yall today! I made this about six months go, but I am still so in love with it!

I’m big on filing, and our poor little filing boxes were just overflowing, so I got my mind set that I wanted a filing cabinet… and a new project. I watched Craigslist for what seemed like forever, checked our local Goodwill and Repurpose Project and just couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I wanted a two drawer with no dents and no severe rust. I even had other people keeping an eye out for me! Weeks later, C had an ah-ha moment that really made me feel like a dummy. He had a two drawer filing cabinet in his shop! Duh… I completely forgot about that! He told me he’d get it cleaned out for me, but in true C fashion, that never happened. So when he left to go on a work trip, he got robbed. I fought the spider webs, dust, and woodchips and rescued my cabinet!


I didn’t get any in-process pictures {forgive me}, but it’s super easy; I have faith in you! As long as you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

This is a relatively time consuming project, as you have to wait for paint and glue to dry between steps, but you can cut a few corners and make it go a little quicker.

Step 1:
First I gave her a good cleaning. Depending on where your cabinet is coming from, you could maybe skip this step. But you see what I was working with… This was a completely necessary step for me! (And you can’t even see the puddle of black mystery gunk that was in one of the drawers.)


Step 2:
This was the worst part – the sanding. I’m stubborn when it comes to my projects and insist on doing everything myself; I want it done my way. That being said, I refused to use C’s sander and did all of the sanding by hand. Stupid stupid stupid! Take it from me… Don’t be stubborn with this step. Use the freaking sander.

The goal here is to rough up the surface so your new paint will stick. In the process, it is going to remove some of the old paint. (Depending on the color of your cabinet and the color you’re painting it, this may be important for you to focus on. However, if you don’t get all the old color off in sanding, it’s not a big deal.) You also want to sand away any surface rust you may have.

Step 3:
Prime. The level of perfection required here depends on your colors. If you’re going from a black cabinet to white, you’re going to want to get it pretty well covered with primer to be sure the base color doesn’t show through; the primer will hide the previous color better than paint will. With mine going from beige to off-white, the primer was really just another step to give it some grit for the paint to adhere to. Even if your colors are similar like mine, I do not recommend skipping this step.

Again, you need to trust me here.. Go with spray paint!!! I’ve never painted a metal surface before, but the brush stokes drove me absolutely batty! I went back and forth between a bristle brush and foam brush, and found that the foam brush did better; but hindsight, I wish I would’ve done spray paint. You’ll probably use a few cans, take a couple more coats, and maybe spend a few dollars more, but in the end, it’ll be quicker and less stressful. You won’t regret it.

Step 4:
Install feet. I repurposed my feet. When I moved in with C, I no longer needed my coffee table and end tables, but I was so in love with them! I bought them because of the legs (and I got them for a steal; $10 for all three!). I was having separation issues, so I removed the legs, determined that I’d use them for a future project, and just did away with the tops.


So to make my cabinet feet, I had C cut the bottom 6ish inches off of the coffee table legs and screw them to the bottom of the cabinet from the inside.

If repurposing isn’t an option for you, they sell feet for just a few dollars. I think these are super cute!

Step 5:
Remove/cover your fittings. For the next step, you’re gong to want as smooth of a surface as possible on the front of your drawers.

You see the type of handles that were on my cabinet to begin with? They’re inserts. I had originally planned on leaving them on; it would mean the front isn’t flush, but the inserts do have backs, it’s not just a hole. But then C got involved in my project. I know he means well and just wants to help, but like I said, I want things done my way. And when it comes to my projects, he never thinks that my way is the best way. Needless to say, the handles ended up coming off. The lock had to come off too because it stuck out.

If you have the resources, you could use construction glue to adhere a thin piece of wood behind your holes where the fixtures were removed. This would make your drawer front smoother. This isn’t required, but recommended. I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on this project, so I cut that corner.

As far as removing your fittings, mine just popped out, but I have seen some that require a screwdriver. You’ll just have to check yours out and see what you’re working with. There’s a ton of youtube videos that can help you with this step, if needed.

Step 6:
Add texture. Hit up the scrapbooking section at your local art supply store, and find some paper that you like the print of. It doesn’t need to be in a matching color, but you want to make sure it is rigid so that you’ll see the indentions once painted. I picked mine up for about 50 cents per sheet, and you’ll need one sheet per drawer. (I picked up a couple extras just in case, but didn’t end up using them.)

You’ll then want to trim your paper to size. For my drawers, the sheets didn’t reach all the way to the left and right sides, which was okay because I knew that the gap would be covered with trim. I did have to cut some off of the top and bottom though.

Secure your paper to the drawer with mod-podge, and I put books on top to keep it flat while it dried overnight. I then did a thin coat of mod-podge on top as a sealant.

Where the hole was (where my handle used to be), the paper got a little wavy since it wasn’t adhered to anything. If you were to cover this space with a thin piece of wood like I mentioned, I don’t think it would have this problem. I knew my cabinet was going to reside in the closet and be out-of-sight so I wasn’t overly concerned about it being perfect. But the ripples are noticeable enough that I would be upset if the cabinet were going to be out and visible to guests.

Step 7:
Panel your drawer fronts. The wood trim is going to be located with the moldings and baseboards and what-not; I think I picked mine up from Lowe’s. I’m not sure that this is the exact one that I got, but it looks pretty similar. You will need to measure your drawer fronts to know how much to get. The nice thing about purchasing it from a big box store is that you can cut them down in-store and only buy what you need. I didn’t mind having extra, so I got two of the long strips.

Once you have them cut to size, you will need to cut the ends at 45 degrees so they meet together to form your square. I recommend laying out your square first and marking which direction to cut your angles. It’s a good think I got extra, because C cut these for me and got a couple of the angles backwards.

For an easier route, skip this ↑ and just buy two picture frames. Remove the glass and backing so that you’re left with just the frame. They may be slightly smaller than your drawer face, but it’ll still look fine and will save all the cutting. If the picture frame is plastic, I would recommend priming it.

Once you’ve got your squares (either trim or picture frames), you will secure them to the edges of your drawer. I did not secure the four trim strips together first into a square shape, just adhered them one by one and made sure the corners lined up. But if you’re using a picture frame, you don’t need to take it apart into four pieces, just secure the whole thing at once.

You have a lot of options when it comes to glue, just be sure that it says it will work on metal. I had some of this Liquid Nails on hand, so I used that. Just beware if you use this: you will need a caulk gun, and it takes forever to dry. I clamped on my trim pieces to be sure they wouldn’t slide around, and left it overnight.

If possible, allow your trim to overlap the scrapbook paper, it will help hold the edges of the paper down and look more polished.

Step 8:
Getting close to the end now… time for painting! I can’t say it enough, go with spray paint! See all these ugly brush marks?!


I also had a hard time getting in the creases of the scrapbook paper with the brushes, spray paint would’ve made it much easier.

I didn’t bother priming the scrapbook paper or trim pieces because I knew the paint would stick to them just fine. However, I definitely should’ve sanded and primed the feet. If you buy new feet, you should be fine, but the old paint on mine was pretty slick and my new paint didn’t adhere worth a dern. You’ll see in the final picture how unmatched the feet are.

Step 9:
I didn’t do this because my cabinet was going to be hidden, but if you were to have it out, you could give it a spray with an epoxy to give it a bit of shine. Also, if your paint feels rough in any places, you could give it a light hand-sanding (be sure not to sand your color off!).

Step 10:
Measure out where your center is on the drawer face, and drill a hold for your knob. If you’re lucky enough to have had a normal handle on your cabinet previously, you could possibly use the same hole(s). Thankfully my center was just above the big hole where my handle used to be. If your center were to fall in that space, you would definitely need to attach that piece of wood to the inside so you can secure your new knob/handle to it.

And here’s the finished product!


What do you think?? For the most part, I’m happy with it and had fun doing it. I’m actually itching to do another filing cabinet makeover, but I have no place for it, and I just don’t know that I’d want to get rid of this one!

The price point for this project really just depends on what you have on-hand. The only things I bought were knobs, trim, and scrapbook paper, so I rang in at under $20.


Have you done a filing cabinet makeover? Comment with some pictures, I’d love to see it!

Would you be interested in a DIY on the bench I made using the legs from one of the end tables? Let me know in the comment section below.



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