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. Kelly says

    Oh my! I love everything about this. Living in a small home you have to often have the practical things you use every day out in the open. This takes what is often an ugly eyesore and turns it into a beautiful piece of furniture you can be proud to display. Thank you for your ideas, your inspiration, and your always easy to understand instructions. I am a huge lover of quotes, and I love that Life Is Too Short quote I saw.

  2. Sheryll & Critters. says

    I love the idea of wheels, but evidently this one I have (looks just like yours) is really a cheap thing, cause when I first started using it (inherited) the thing would fall over on me each time I opened the top drawer. I had to bolt it to the wall. I did paint it before I did that, but oh my, it sure needs a complete make over and only 10 years ago. Is ten years good to go before needing paint again? lol

  3. Cindy says

    Awesome makeover!

    Are you able to switch out the labels in the frames? or are they there for good?

  4. says

    Thanks to you I have become a chalk paint addict. I just happened to move 2 black file cabinets into my studio a few weeks ago. I’ll admit, I didn’t chalk paint them – I sprayed them a black satin BUT over the holiday I had intended to make a sub-par top for them. LAY-Z! You’ve inspired me to finish the project correctly!

  5. says

    Dear Diane,

    I love your file cabinet projects and plan to start mine asap. I understand that the base board does not need to be attached to the cabinets, but did you attach the top board to the cabinets or does it just lay on top?



  6. Sara says

    I really like the gold frames idea. Can you share the brand and specific color name of the metallic spray paint you used?

  7. Melissa says

    I absolutely love this!! How long did it take you start to finish? Also how much would you estimate the materials? Thanks!!!

  8. Linda Timberlake says

    Hi Diane,
    Thanks so much for your great detailed instructions for the chalk paint. They are great!! That said, I have a question no one else has asked. I have a file cabinet that I intend to finish with the chalk paint but also have an inexpensive book shelf sitting on top that I hope to match to the cabinet. It is covered in a paper backed vinyl material and I am not sure just how it would accept the chalk paint. Have you ever tried to paint such an “animal” and, if so, what kind of issues did you encounter if any?
    Thanks for any help you can offer.

    • says

      Hi Linda –

      The great thing about chalk paint is that it sticks to everything, even shiny smooth glass, tile, vinyl, and more. Clean it well before painting and let it dry. Apply one light coat, let it dry – then apply a second coat, let dry. After painting your piece it may take a few days to cure until it adheres like cement, but it will. I recently painted a mason jar just to see how it worked on glass. I had it sitting in my water filled sink for days. No paint came off – pretty amazing!

  9. mary says

    Hi Diane,
    I just saw your filing cabinet project. WOW! I just got rid of 2 old cabinets that we a mess. Wish I saw this sooner.
    I have a question. My contractor told me I can’t paint factory baked painted screen doors. The are white and stick out like a sore thumb. What do you think about painting them?
    Thanks so much.

  10. says

    LOVE what you did with the filing cabinets. I am also repurposing/redoing furniture & am using the chalk paint which I LOVE. My question: WHAT is the plaster paris/calcium carbinate for?

    • says

      Hi Nancy – That is OK I am so used to being called by another name. I have a twin sister and have answered to her name as well as mine all my life. :)

  11. Rita says

    I just picked up a file cabinet from a yard sale. The top has some rust spots on it. Should I sand those off first or will the chalk paint cover it fine and not bleed through?

    I also wondered if the chalk paint gives it a smooth finish. I was planning on spray painting it to get that “powder coated paint” finish. My goal is to simply change the color.

    • says

      Hi Rita –

      If you simply want to change the color, you could spray paint the cabinet. I chose not to spray mine since I did not want to take it outside. That is the only downfall of spray paint – it has to be done outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. Chalk paint does need a wax or poly coat over it to protect the finish – so there is an extra step. No matter which way you choose to paint it, youu want to sand the rusty spot as smooth as you can. Use steel wool or a Brillo pad. Once the spot is smooth – clean the surface, let dry. Prime with spray metal primer over the rusty spots. For paint, look for a spray paint for metal that is a primer + paint formula. Most big brands have this combo. Light coats about 5 minutes apart until you have the coverage you want. Check out this post for more spray painting tips:

      If you want to go the chalk paint route, buy good brushes – Purdy brand and you will not get brush strokes.

  12. says

    This is exactly what I have been looking for for our filing cabinet, design and color!!!! Thanks so much for creating and sharing! I will be linking back to you as soon as I get to start this project!

  13. says

    Truly beautiful. I have a 6 foot by 1.5 foot cabinet that will also be about 6 feet tall and therefore heavy and I was concerned with moving it (just to even get it in the right spot) because there is an electrical outlet behind the cabinet that we may need to access from time to time so I was considering wheels, however, the additional cost is an issue as the wheels needed should be, I believe, steel , in order to carry the weight. So I prices locking wheels , which are more expensive than non-locking wheels , and did not even consider that I do not need all wheels to be locking until I read how you did yours above with just one locking wheel. So now I am considering using just two locking ones in the front which makes more sense. So, to sum it up, thank you for sharing your project. It’s beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing and detailing this so well.

  14. Carolyn says

    I have just found your wonderful tutorial. Bought 2 tall 4 drawer filing cabinets yesterday to use for fabric storage and
    am thrilled to know I can chalk paint them. Questions:
    1) Does the painting interfere with the opening/closing of the drawers?
    2) Can you/would you chalk paint the interior of the drawers? If not, what other options would you suggest? Mine
    have quite a few rusted areas inside the drawers.
    3) What are some suggestions to give the cabinets a more distressed vintage look?
    Thank you so much in advance. I have just spent over an hour going back thru all your chalk painting
    projects/experiments and loved every minute of it!

    • says

      Hi Carolyn – Painting the file cabinets does not in anyway interfere with opening and closing of the drawers. If you want to hide rusted areas inside the cabinet – chalk paint will be perfect to use. I would sand the rusted areas to smooth them out first, then add one or two spot coats over just the rusted areas. Once that is dry, then paint the entire inside.

      To make the cabinet look more vintage or aged – sand the edges and the areas around the drawer pulls more to expose the metal or wood. Use dark wax over clear wax. Using it over clear wax first, will help you glide the dark wax where you want it to go.

  15. Emily Daniels says

    i was wondering where you got the gold hand that’s on top of the file cabinet as decoration, or if you DIY’ed it, could you explain how. If you bought it, i’d love to know from where and if there are any similar or other decorations you considered.

    Emily <3

    • says

      Hi Emily – I used to work as a retail display designer and worked with mannequins everyday. The hand is from a mannequin whose was outdated and was thrown out since it could no longer be used.I kept one hand to use as decoration.

  16. Katie says

    Hi! I just came across this blog and I wish I had done so before I attempted to paint my file cabinets! I picked up 2 used file cabinets in really good condition at a yard sale and decided to paint them. They had no rust of any kind on them. I went to the hardware store and the guy in the paint section sold me your average interior paint and primer 2 in 1. I just finished my 3rd coat and noticed that rust is appearing everywhere!! Any suggestions on how to get rid of it? Will I have to sand the whole thing again?

    • says

      Hi Katie –

      It is odd that the rust showed up after the paint went on. There must be something in it that is making something in the metal change the color of the paint. The best thing to do is to sand the rusted areas as smooth as you can. Clean off the grit and then use Kilz Original Primer over the rusted areas. It is oil based shellac primer that dries in 30 minutes. You can also use Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer. It is oil-based Paint and Primer in One. Either product will seal the rust and stop it from discoloring the paint.

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