File Cabinet Makeover Using Homemade Chalk Paint
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I have two identical metal file cabinets that are perfectly functional in my craft room that I call my studioffice. They were a bit beat-up and just plain – boring! See how I made them over using chalk paint and wheels that totally transformed the file cabinet.
Metal File Cabinets: Before
I have spray painted metal with great success, but I chose to use homemade chalk paint for this transformation for two reasons:
- I want easy, 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 homemade chalk paint on metal? The answer is a big YES! – Chalk paint works beautifully on metal.
Metal File Cabinet: After
I have been wanting to glam up the file cabinet for sometime with paint and finally did it.
The metal cabinet is actually two file cabinets. For the makeover, I made a wheeled platform to place both on so they looked like one.
I also added the wheels so I could easily move it around the room if needed.
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 of furniture, even a large organizing basket 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 homemade chalk paint, then add small gold frames to label the contents of each drawer.
How to Makeover a Metal File Cabinet Using Homemade Chalk Paint
I made chalk paint to paint the file cabinets, but you could also use any brand of chalk paint that comes in the color you like.
Finding the right color is sometimes hard in the limited colors available in most brands of chalk paint. When you make homemade chalk paint, you can get the exact color you want.
- 2 – pieces of 3/4” plywood
- Bandit Wood Veneer Edge Trimmer
- Bandit Veneer Edging
- 3 plain wheels with metal bases and 1 locking wheel (it has a On/Off lever – shown in photo above )
- 16 wood screws
- Latex paint – satin finish
- Plaster of Paris and/or Calcium Carbonate Powder
- Soft rag and/or buffing mitt
- Paint brush
- Medium grit sandpaper
- 4 frames
- Krylon gold metallic spray paint #1510
- Johnsons Paste wax
- Glue gun and a glue stick
- Paper for drawer labels
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, you will need to add 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.)
How to Add Wood Veneer Tape to Raw Edges of Plywood
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.
How to Add Wheels To a File Cabinet
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Place the second cut plywood board on top of the file cabinets.
How to Paint the Metal File Cabinet With Homemade Chalk Paint
1. I mixed homemade chalk paint in a plastic container with a lid. I used the Calcium Carbonate Powder recipe.
Calcium Carbonate Powder Homemade Chalk Paint Recipe
- 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 the CCP with 1 – 3 tablespoons of water and mix very well until smooth. Slowly add to the paint and mix until the paint is smooth and you don’t see any undissolved powder in the mix.
2. If you are new to working with DIY or homemade 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.
3. 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.
4. Using a soft lint-free cloth (I use an old t-shirt), apply a thin coat of paste wax all over the surface.
- IMPORTANT: 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.
How to Make Drawer Label Holders
1. To make the label holders, I spray painted mini dollar store frames with metallic gold paint.
2. I used the font called, Ambrosia Bold, I installed on my computer and printed, cut out, and placed the labels in each frame.
3. I removed the easel from the back of the frames so that the frames could be attached flush to the front of each drawer.
4. 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.
I even glammed up the key by making a key chain with beads and buttons from my craft stash.
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Woahhh it’s so pretty! You did an awesome job, I love how it turned out. I am very much inspired with plastic pulls and gold frames you use to label the drawer.
Hi. I was wondering why you didn’t attach the wheels directly to the bottom of the file cabinet? I am about to start this project for one 4-drawer unit and am looking for the best approach.
Hi Deborah – I created the base since I had two units that I wanted to use and move around as one. The base also creates stability. My file cabinets where inexpensive where the metal is thin and flexible. Screwing the wheels into this thin metal bottom would not keep the wheels secure. If the metal on the bottom of your file cabinet is thick and rigid, you may be able to attach them, but make sure the wheel base doesn’t bend the metal when you move it around. I hope this makes sense.
Hi,I check your new stuff named “File Cabinet Makeover – In My Own Style” on a regular basis.Your story-telling style is awesome, keep it up! And you can look our website about proxy server list.
How do you open the drawers now that they are covered up with the cute gold frames?
Hi Amy – The design of my file in the drawer handles are recessed. If you look closely in the photos under each frame or in the before photo of the cabinets you will see the style handles that you place your fingertips in to pull the drawers open. I placed the frames above these. If the file cabinet style you have has drawer pulls you can place each frame above or below each pull.
Hey, Diane, I’m thrilled to find your awesome site! Wondering if you could talk briefly about how the finish has held up after nearly three years? Have you done anything additional to maintain? This is my next project and I’m hoping it’s low maintenance!
love this so much and is so helpful for my next project! question on why you did chalk paint instead of regular white paint? are you planning on writing on it or is it easier to paint with? [I’m such a newbie to DIY so i really have no clue (: ]
Hi Tori –
I used chalk paint on the cabinet since I think it holds up much better than regular latex pain. I also like that when you use chalk paint, painted furniture does not have a rubbery latex feel to it.
Chalk paint is not used in the same way as chalkboard paint. There is a big misconception about this. Chalk paint is like chalkboard paint, but once a soft wax finish is rubbed on over it, it takes on a new life and adds a beautiful patina to a piece. I have been painting furniture for years and when I use chalk paint and wax my pieces, they look so professional…factory finish, not just a piece of painted furniture. If you want to learn more about making and painting with chalk paint, you may want to start with this blog post and follow all the links to other posts I have written about chalk paint to learn even more. https://inmyownstyle.com/2012/08/testing-1-2-3-versions-of-chalk-paint.html
How did you attach the top wood to the file cabinets? I love this look! Thank you so much! I have only one file cabinet. Any suggestions?
Hi Betsy –
The wood top on the cabinet is not attached. I didn’t do it since after I placed items on it, it never moved. If you would like to attach the top, I had planned to do it by drilling holes in the wood and top of the cabinets, then use metal screws and wing nuts to the under/inside of the top to attach.
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!
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!!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Thanks for sharing this idea – it’s a must-do for my new office!
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.
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!
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.
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: https://inmyownstyle.com/spray-paint-faqs
If you want to go the chalk paint route, buy good brushes – Purdy brand and you will not get brush strokes.
Awesome! Thank you!
Diane am soooo sorry that I called you Linda in my earlier e-mail.
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. :)
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?
Hi Nancy – I use the Plaster and Calcium Carbonate Powder to make DIY chalk paint.
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.
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.
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!
I absolutely love this!! How long did it take you start to finish? Also how much would you estimate the materials? Thanks!!!
I am so inspired BY Y O U, DIANE!! THANKS AGAIN:D
Thanks Lynn – It makes me happy that what I write about is inspiring. I love blogging and hope I can keep inspiring for a long time XO
I really like the gold frames idea. Can you share the brand and specific color name of the metallic spray paint you used?
Hi Sara –
I will add it to the post. I used Krylon – Interior-Exterior spray paint in Gold #1510
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?
Hi Nicky – I just laid it on top of the cabinets. It has not moved at all. I keep papers and a few decorative storage boxes on top.
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!
Are you able to switch out the labels in the frames? or are they there for good?
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
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.
How very clever. Looks great
These file cabinets are fantastic! You always take the mundane and make it extraordinary! By the way, is the “golden hand” bookend a future DIY project? Would love to know how to do that too!
Hi Faye – The hand is a souvenir from my days of working in retail display. It is a broken mannequin hand. I have spray painted it many colors. I will have to think of a way to make one from scratch – stay tuned :)
just found your blog & love it! i especially love your large pinboard calendar- could you share the source for the calendar? thanks!
Hi Stephanie – I cut up a dollar store 12 month calendar and put a clear laminatated sheet over each. You can read about it in the post: https://inmyownstyle.com/2013/06/organizing-the-business-side-of-blogging.html
Maybe I missed it but are the base and top secured to the cabinets or just loosely floating for lack of a better word?
I did not attach the cabinets since they are heavy and impossible to move. If you want to secure them – use screws or bolts through the bottom of the cabinet and base. you would need to drill a hole through the metal – then use a wood screw or drill a hole through both cabinets and base and use a carriage style bolt to attach the two together.
I did not attach them- they are very heavy and just the sheer weight of them keeps them in place. If you would like to attach them – I just added how to do it in the post.
Darn, and to think I threw out 2 cabinets just like these when I moved because I thought they were too beat up looking. You amaze me with your ideas!
Ah! Wheels on the file cabinet would be awesome, why doesn’t my beohemeth already have them!
So the boards are not attached at all to the cabinet? Is it still pretty secure that way?
Hi Mickie – The cabinets are filled and weigh a lot. They are not going anywhere :) you could attach them. I added how – to do that to the post.
Such a great transformation! Beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration!
Wow! What vision. This looks fantastic ~ great instructions, may have to tackle this myself.
Great inspirations. Thank you!
I love this! What a great way to make something so dull looks so pretty! I have been making and using chalk paint on a lot of furniture projects. It has changed my life and I love the versatility!
Great makeover and as always, excellent tutorial. I always pick up use-able tips from you. I like the wheels. I like the framed labels. I like the laminate edging. I like it all! I’m sharing this with my readers on Facebook. Thanks, Diane.
Thanks Barbara – I learned about the laminate edging from Ana White. So simple, but makes a huge difference in the finished product. Thanks for sharing with your FB readers. XO
I think you are amazing and have felt that way since the first time I read your blog. You have talent, lady. Thanks for sharing this makeover, it is classy.
Diane, why do you make everything look so amazing and pretty?! Jeez… LOL. It’s the little touches that you add to your pics and projects that make me want to be your apprentice :) Great job on the makeover! I think you gave me an idea for a couple pair of smaller, more shallow drawer file cabinets I picked up from the ReStore, which are sitting in my basement, screaming for paint. ;)
Thanks Serena – I have had my two cabinets forever and they have been screaming for paint for a long time, too :) I love the ones Ballard and Pottery Barn sell, but out of my budget – DIY to the rescue!
This is great! I have your average filing cabinet that I was wondering what to do with. I just need to glam it up! Thanks!
Nice job! I never would have thought to put them on a base with wheels… Brilliant! It looks great Diane!
Did you attach the cabinets to the wood above and below, or are you just let gravity do its thing? They look great!
Hi Rae Ann – I did not attach the cabinets to the base or the top. The cabinets are heavy and are almost impossible to move. So far, the top board has not moved at all. If you want to attach them – I would remove the drawers and then use wood screws or bolts inside the cabinet to attach the boards to the cabinets.
You always have amazing ideas thank you!
Looks fabulous!!! I now know what to do with the yucky looking filing cabinets in my basement!!! Question… I have seen a lot of people talking about & using chalk paint. What exactly is it and why use it instead of regular paint? Thanks!
Hi Emily – Chalk paint is latex paint with an additive in it that makes the paint flat and adhere well. It is very porous and takes a wax coat beautifully. You wax it with soft paste wax to protect and give it shine. One of the selling benefits are the you don’t have to prime or sand the piece beforehand as you would with just latex paint alone. The aspect I like most though is that painted pieces don’t have that rubbery sticky feel that latex painted pieces have. If you like an aged painted look – it ages beautifully. A big misconception about chalk paint is that it is only used when you want a distressed look. I have completely many un-distressed pieces(the file cabinet is one). You can also add colored waxes over the paint to get different looks. I love working with it on furniture. I would not use it on doors, trim, or walls because I like it with a buffed wax layer and it would take too long to do these. If you want a very rustic, distressed, flat look with no shine – then you might love it for everything.
Wow! Thanks SO much for this awesome & detailed answer. I’m definitely going to have to give it a try!!!
Oh, I love this so much! I wanted to do this exact same thing with a couple of 5 drawer file cabinets, but wasn’t sure about how to do the wood bottom. Thanks for the tutorial, Diane!
I really like the mini frames. That adds nice dimension to an otherwise very flat piece. AND Good to know chalk paint is ok on metal. I just moved a round table to the kitchen last week after using chalk paint. It looks brand new instead of a 25 year old oak piece. I am working on bathroom cabinets now but using acrylic. I have learned so much especially from you and other DIY blogs. What did we do before?
I love love love this! I need to do that to my husband’s filing cabinet, it is so horrid! great job
I don’t want/can’t spend money on TV stand and don’t want TV mount. Can I place TV on top of file cabinet. It is a 5 drawer cabinet. 32″ TV
HI Mara – I don’t see why not. It should work fine.