Monday, January 16, 2012

I painted a metal filing cabinet and you can too!

 I acquired this standard-issue filing cabinet about 10 years ago from my former employer.  It had been used in a warehouse and was a bit beat up and a lot dirty.  I cleaned it up a little and it's been stuffed full of our household's paper ever since.  Time for a makeover!

Step 1:  Remove the drawers and everything in them.  (This would be a good time to evaluate all the stuff you have stored in your filing cabinet.  I found tax return papers from 1993 and instruction manuals from electronics we haven't owned for years.  I was able to throw out a LOT of paper and make room for different things.)  Remove the handles (mine screwed off) and label holders (pried off with a screwdriver).

Step 2:  Everyone says to go over your metal surface with steel wool.  So I did.  I didn't spend a huge effort on this step because it honestly didn't seem to make much of a difference.

Step 3: Get your paint.  Almost all of the tutorials I found online involved spray paint.  Well, spray painting requires being outside (or at least in an open garage) and it's currently snowing here so that wasn't going to happen.  Wandering the aisles of Home Depot, I discovered paint for metal surfaces in a can to be applied with a brush.  So I went for it.  I really wanted a turquoise filing cabinet, and they had turquoise spray paint, but the stuff in the can had a much more limited color selection.  I settled for "espresso" which I ended up loving.

Step 4: Apply the first coat of paint.  Here is the cabinet after the first coat.  Looks pretty bad.  Do be afraid!  It'll look better!  I found it was easiest to do multiple thin coats rather than trying to lay it on too thickly so you don't get drips.  It's very important to let it dry between coats.  (The can should tell you how long that'll take.)

Step 5:  Apply additional coats.  I took this photo as I started the second coat on one of the drawer fronts.  You can see exactly what kind of paint and brush I used.  You can also see that the paint color looks very different when wet than when dry!  It looked almost a dark purple when it was wet, but it dried to a lovely dark brown.  I ended up doing three coats.

Step 6:  Put it all back together and fill it up!

Many online tutorials suggest spray paint because your brush strokes will supposedly be visible if you use paint in a can.  After the third coat, my brush strokes were barely noticeable.  You have to stand right next to the cabinet and actually be looking for brush strokes in order to see them.  Maybe that is due to the dark paint color?   I suppose if brush strokes are an issue you can sand between coats to help eliminate them?  I don't know.  All I can say is that it didn't end up being a problem for this project.

I am very happy with my finished project and I hope this inspires you to try it, too!  Let me know how yours turns out!


  1. Haha! Sorry, but you kind of reminded me of what I always do when my boss has old stuff. She would ask me if I could make use of any of her old stuff, and if I do, she’d let me take it home. She’s the best! Anyway, I also had a filing cabinet in my home/office. It only has three drawers, but spacey. I powder coated it with different colors: sea-foam green, aqua, and lilac. Very chic, right? ^_~

    Lonnie Summerall

    1. Ooh! Those three colors sound so pretty and fun! And you can't beat free stuff from your boss!

  2. I painted all my office cabinets with that type of paint. I used a small sponge roller and it left less brush strokes. It took only 2 coats.