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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

Before-Furniture-Makeover-Before-and-After

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

  1. 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

File-Cabinet-Makeover-using-DIY-chalk-paint

I have been wanting to glam up the file cabinet for sometime with paint and finally did it. 

File-Cabinet-makeover-Before

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.

File-Cabinet-makeover-on-a-budget

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.

Office-organizing-ideas

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.

Metal-File-Cabinet-makeover-after

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

File-Cabinet-Makeover-Supplies-needed

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.

supplies needed:

  • 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.

Bandit-Edge-Veneer package

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.

steps showing how-to-add-wood-veneer-to-the-side-of-wood

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

File-Cabinet-Makeover-how-to-add-wheels-to-the-base

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.

Metal-file-cabinet-makeover

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.

File-cabinet-makeover-tutorial

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

How to Paint the Metal File Cabinet With Homemade Chalk Paint

File-Cabinet-makeover-painting-with-DIY-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. 

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.

File-Cabinet-Chalk-Paint-Makeover-with-Johnsons-Paste-Wax

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

File-cabinet-makeover-Spray-paint-frames-gold

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

File-cabinet-makeover-labels

2. I used the font called, Ambrosia Bold, I installed on my computer and printed, cut out, and placed the labels in each frame.

File-Cabinet-Makeover-frames-for-labels

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.

File-Cabinet-Transformation-with-DIY-chalk-paint-and-soft-paste-wax

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

File-cabinet-makeover-top

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

File-cabinet-key-chain

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

File-Cabinet-Makeover

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84 Comments

  1. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. Wow! Thanks SO much for this awesome & detailed answer. I’m definitely going to have to give it a try!!!

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. I love love love this! I need to do that to my husband’s filing cabinet, it is so horrid! great job