File Cabinet Makeover

Last week, I showed you what I have been up to in my kitchen.  This week, I am taking you to my studioffice, where I have two identical metal file cabinets that are perfectly functional, but were a bit beat-up and just plain – boring!



I have been wanting to glam them up for sometime with a file cabinet makeover and finally did last week.   I also added wheels as I wanted to make them easy to move around the room if I ever rearrange the room – which I tend to do a lot.


I have added wheels to a few other pieces of furniture I have made over in the past – the game table in my family room and my crafts cart, that I take with me to load up my supplies when working on a project while I am watching a movie on TV.

Wheels make a piece more versatile while adding a fun modern vibe.

When thinking about how I was going to transform the cabinets, I thought about adding a metal horizontal bar pull to each drawer, but the fronts are thin metal and it would have bent when pulling the drawers open.


To keep the makeover simple and affordable,  I chose to paint the cabinets and the inset plastic pulls with DIY chalk paint, then add small gold frames to label the contents of each drawer.

File Cabinets: Before


I have spray painted metal with great success, but I chose to use DIY chalk paint for the transformation for two reasons:

#1 – I want easy – and if I used spray paint, I would have to empty the contents of the cabinets and move them outside.

#2 –  One of the questions I frequently receive is, Can you use DIY chalk paint on metal? I had read, yes, but had never tried it on metal myself.  I can now answer these questions with a big  -YES!  – It works beautifully on metal.


I needed to buy paint, a new supply of Plaster of Paris, wheels, and wood to start the transformation.  I went to my local True Value to pick them up.


supplies needed:

How To Makeover a Metal File Cabinet and Add Wheels

1. Cut plywood boards to size needed.  The size is determined by the base of your file cabinets, when they are placed butted together.


2. Since the sides of the plywood boards are unfinished and will look rough even after painting, I added iron-on wood veneer to the edges.  (I had a piece of particle board left over from another project and used that for the base for the cabinets. I bought a new pine board for the top.)


Adding the wood veneer is so easy to do and will make the edges of the wood look perfectly smooth.

1. Use a rag to dust off the rough edges of your boards.

2. Heat up your iron (your clothes iron). Lay the veneer along the edge and simply press it on with the hot iron.  E-Z!

3. Presto-chango!  No more rough edge.

4. If the height of the veneer is more than the height of the edge of the board, simply run a knife along the edge to trim the excess veneer or use the handy little edge trimmer.


2. Attach wheels to the bottom board with wood screws.  Place the base of each wheel at each corner.  Leave about two inches from the edge of the center of each wheel. I marked and pre-drilled each hole to make the process easier.


3. Turn the base board over and put the locking wheel in the “ON” position so the base doesn’t move.  Place the file cabinets on the base.

I did not attach the file cabinets to the boards – they weigh a lot and are very secure. If you want to secure yours – remove the drawers and drill a hole through the bottom of the cabinet and the wood. Use a carriage style bolt to attach.  Do the same for the other cabinet.

You could also use wood screws. Working from the inside of the cabinet -remove the drawers and drill a small hole in the bottom metal so the screw has a place to get into the wood. Screw a wood screw through the hole and into the base wood.  Add as many screws as you think you may need.


4. Place the second cut plywood board on top of the file cabinets.


5. I mixed my DIY chalk paint in a plastic container with a lid.  Since I loved how the hutch in my dining room came out when I mixed both Plaster of Paris and Calcium Carbonate powder (health food store) into the paint, I decided to do that again. Here is how I mixed my paint.

  • 1 quart white Easy Care Interior latex satin paint
  • 8 tablespoons Calcium Carbonate Powder + 2 Tablespoons Plaster of Paris.  ***If you want to use only Plaster of Paris – use 10 tablespoons.

Mix this with 1 – 3 tablespoons of water and mix until smooth. Slowly add to the paint and mix well into the paint.

6. If you are new to working with DIY chalk paint – no primer is needed, but I always run a sanding block with 60 grit sandpaper over the surface before painting.  It only takes a few minutes and will help with adhesion. Clean off sanding grit before painting.  You will find more information about chalk painting in this post  – How to make and use DIY chalk paint.

7. Apply two light coats of paint with a brush or foam roller.  Let the first coat dry before adding the second. Let dry overnight.  Between coats, sand any ridges or drips with sandpaper to smooth the surface.


8.  Using a soft lint-free cloth (I use an old t-shirt), apply a thin coat of paste wax all over the surface.   *** Do not wax the area where the frame labels will be attached.

Wait about 10 minutes and then use another soft lint-free cloth to buff the surface to bring up a shine.  Buffing is like polishing – you need to put some elbow grease into it.  Rub over the surface in a circular motion.  If you want more protection or shine, add one more thin layer of wax and buff.  You can also use a paint mitt to buff.  I have one made of fleece that brings up the shine very nicely.


9. To make the label holders, I spray painted mini dollar store frames with metallic gold paint.


10. I used the font, SNF Ambrosia Bold, (it is not a free font – around $3.oo ) which I’ve installed on my computer and printed, cut out, and placed the labels in each frame.


11. I removed the easel from the back of the frames so that the frames could be attached flush to the front of each drawer.

12. I used a dot of hot glue on each corner on the back of the frames to attach them to the drawers.



I now have easy-to-move, glammed-up file cabinets, along with…


… another flat surface to organize my stuff.   To find out how I made the wall calendar – click over to this post – DIY Wall Calendar


I even glammed up the key by making a key chain with beads and buttons from my craft stash.





For more paint project ideas, visit or follow True Value on PinterestI was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program as well as writing about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.


  1. says

    Thanks Diane I’m stoked to have discovered your website! If I’m putting wheels on only one filing cabinet, is a wooden baseboard necessary or could I attach the wheels directly to the metal base?

    • says

      Hi Amy – You do not have to add the board, but it does help to secure the wheels firmly. If your file cabinet is high quality and not flimsy metal – it will be fine. My cabinet is a super cheap one with thin metal. If I screwed the wheels into the bottom of mine, when I moved it I am sure the metal on the bottom would bend.

  2. Blackbird says

    I just found your blog because I recently bought a little table made of cheap but solid wood with a laminate top, well made and sturdy but hideous and brown in a room full of matched furniture. I was looking for a way to paint it so it would blend in but I’m not a fan of the distressed finishes. You’ve given me the recipe and steps to do exactly what I wanted, and ideas for improving other things I’ve learned to live with, like the ugly file cabinet under my desk! Thanks so much for the effort you put into this, and the ideas you’ve shared.

  3. says

    Hi Diane

    I love the finish all your furniture has. I am painting one side table with your recipe of Plaster of Paris + CC using a brush… but I can see the strokes. What do you use to have that smooth finish?

    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge!!

    • says

      Hi Pili – To smooth the finish of brush strokes, once the paint is dry go over with 220 grit or higher sandpaper. This will smooth out the brush strokes without removing paint. To help alleviate them while painting, apply very light coats and try using a high quality angled brush like Purdy or Wooster brands. I find that when I use a good brush, I don’t get brush strokes. If your paint is thin enough, you can roll it on with a sponge roller that has rounded sides. I have only done this once, but it created a very smooth finish.

  4. Marilyn says

    Thank you for being so thorough describing this project! Love that chalk paint adheres to metal… And that you don’t have to dismantle the cabinet to paint!


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