How to restore an old filing cabinet

How to restore an old filing cabinet
Hands-up if you've ever taken one of these unsightly filling cabinets to a charity shop or worse – chucked it in a skip?  Cassie Fairy has rescued one which may have been destined for a landfill – she’s transformed it and turned it into a very useful piece of office storage furniture.  Stunning Result!

With more and more people taking up the option to occasionally work from home, having an office space that you can call your own is important. However, buying new office furniture can soon add up! If you’re trying to create a home office on a budget, this filing cabinet makeover is a great place start. The drawer unit is ideal for storing your essential paperwork and, if you can get your hands on two cabinets, you can use a piece of wood to span the top and create a retro desk.
Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Before-opt.jpgLuckily, the condition of the filing cabinet doesn’t matter, as you can bring it back to life with this quick and easy makeover. No matter how rusty it is, any sturdy metal cabinet can be refreshed with a flap disc, some spray paint and little time. Plus, we’ve added locking wheels to this cabinet to make it easy to move around if you need to reconfigure your home office at any time.

You will need:

Rusty old filing cabinet
Masking tape
Angle grinder
Alum oxide flap disc
Fine grit sandpaper
Primer spray paint
Gloss spray paint

For the optional base:

Timber to fit the base of your cabinet
8 Corner brackets
24 Screws
4 Locking castor wheels

Step 1

Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-1-1-opt.jpgStart by removing the drawers and unscrewing the handles. If you want to add wheels to the unit, turn the filing cabinet over and cut two long pieces of wood to fit within the outer lip of the underside. Slot these in and cut another two smaller pieces to brace across the middle.

Step 2

Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-2-2-opt.jpgScrew in 8 corner brackets to attach the shorter central pieces to the longer side pieces. This creates a frame that the filing cabinet can sit on and you can attach the four locking wheels at the corners.

Step 3

Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-3-1-opt.jpgAttach an alum oxide flap disc to your angle grinder and use it to buff away the rust and old paint from the filing cabinet. You’ll be left with a shiny metal finish and you can use fine grit sandpaper to smooth this down further. At this point you can either spray it with coat of clear varnish to create an industrial style metal cabinet, or you can mask off any parts you don’t want to paint (such as the lock) and give the whole unit a coat of spray-on primer.Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-3-2-667.jpgSafestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-3-3-opt.jpg

Step 4

Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-Step-4-1-opt.jpgOnce the primer is dry, spray paint the unit with gloss paint. Choose any colour you like, and spray paint the filing cabinet with plenty of fine coats of paint. It’s better to build up thin layers of paint (allowing them to dry between coats) rather than spraying on a thick layer that might create drips. We used Rust-Oluem’s Painters Touch spray paint in ‘Real Orange Gloss’.

Step 5


Once the paint is dry, screw the handles back onto the draw fronts, remove any masking tape and reassemble the filing cabinet. Remember to lock the wheels once you’ve positioned the unit in your home office, and don’t forget to add retro labels to the drawers to keep track of what’s inside! Safestore-Filing-Cabinet-6-opt.jpgSo, the next time you see a rusty old filing cabinet, just imagine how good it could look after you’ve given it a coat of paint. If your old metal drawers have been stashed away in storage for a long time and is looking a little worse for wear, we hope this project has given you inspiration for putting it to good use in your own home office. What colour would you choose??

Discover more upcycling articles on Safestore’s blog where you may find inspiration.  Or, if you’re looking to store some items which you may want to upcycle in future we have a range of self storage options in nearly 120 locations – find your nearest store for a quote today.

Get a Self Storage Quote

Find a store by entering a postcode, city or town below.
Find a store & Get a quote

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
 Security code
There are no comments yet
Complete your quote

You’re almost done!

Complete your quote at