How to: Paint a Metal File Cabinet

I wrote this post a couple of months ago for something else, but it ended up getting bumped, so now I’m sharing it here! Yay, another how-to!

So we all know my struggle with our “office space” and how having just one more room in our apartment would make our lives infinitely better, right? Well, for the time being, we’re stuck with what we’ve got. So I’ve had to get creative with how we use our space and what our storage options are.

Our cheap-o desk from Target had a single file drawer, but I found we were less inclined to use it (and therefore less organized) because it was so jam-packed. It was obvious that we needed a better option, but even the most basic white metal file cabinet was going to run us $159-300. Not going to happen.

As always, I turned to Craigslist to see if I could find a cheaper version. Unfortunately, most of the cabinets for sale were either ugly (dingy, awful colors) or rusted or both. Not wanting to give up completely, I did a quick search to see if it was possible to makeover a metal cabinet and found quite a few tutorials.

My mind was made up. Here’s how I gave a $15 filing cabinet new life for under $40.

1. Here’s what I started with. Let’s call him Fillip. Pretty awful, right? Especially that rusted-out bottom corner.

Fillip was living a pretty sad life in someone’s damp basement. He was originally listed for $30 on Craigslist, but I told the seller I could pick him up the same day for $15, and he became mine.

2. Next, Fillip got a serious rub-down with some sandpaper. I started with a heavier grit to remove the rust (and a TON of dirt…it was gross), then followed up with a finer grit to smooth things out. (Shout-out to my awesome father-in-law for letting me borrow his backyard and drop cloth!)

3. After wiping away the powdery substance that I sanded, it was time to prime. I used Rustoleum Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Primer in white because the package said it would cling well to metal and help stop rust, which, obviously young Fillip needed. I only needed one can of primer to cover the cabinet and drawer fronts, and I still had some leftover. (Note: Be sure to remove or cover any hardware, such as handles, locks, and plates, with tape. In the case of Fillip, his plates still had their original protective covers, so that saved some time.)

4. After letting the primer cure for the full 24 hours, it was time to paint! Here’s what I used. He’s starting to look so handsome, right?

I let the paint cure for 48 hours so the cabinet could off-gas and my apartment wouldn’t reek of spray paint fumes. Then it was time to take him home!

Doesn’t he look pretty in his new corner? Even better, we can now use the old file drawer to store stationery and craft materials that previously had no home.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

File cabinet: $15
Rustoleum Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch 2X 12 oz. White Primer: $4
Rust-Oleum 12 Oz. Gloss White 2X Painter’s Touch Spray Paint: $5 x 2 cans = $10
Sandpaper: $5
Total: $34

I mean, he’s not perfect. Those drawers don’t slide completely straight for some reason, and I still need to fully organize the inside. But it’s still a major improvement. (And I saved $100-250 compared to what I would have paid buying him new.) Not bad, eh?

Anyone else have any project they’re working on?


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