Home ยป How to Restore a Metal Filing Cabinet – 6 Simple Steps

How to Restore a Metal Filing Cabinet – 6 Simple Steps

Are you wondering how to restore a metal filing cabinet?

Furniture restoration may sound like a niche hobby at first, but is part and parcel of a sustainability trend ever-growing in popularity. Older, pre-loved items of furniture are a steal from charity shops and other second-hand avenues, and sprucing them up can be an incredibly rewarding DIY project – especially when you see the results! Here we’ll be looking at the humble filing cabinet, once a relic of the 20th century but now a chic restoration opportunity.

Here is a step-by-step on how to restore one, and make it the trendy addition your home office deserves.



How to Restore a Metal Filing Cabinet


How to Restore a Metal Filing Cabinet

How to Restore a Metal Filing Cabinet


Step 1: Take Out the Drawers, and Remove Handles

The first step to any restoration process should be disassembly. This allows you to examine and repair individual elements with ease, and get into every nook and cranny as part of the cleaning process beforehand. With regard to your filing cabinet, you can remove the drawers and runners from inside the cabinet, and unscrew any handles from the drawers and main body, if they are present. If your cabinet has a lock, this might prove more trouble to remove than it is worth, so simply leave it be.

Step 2: Clean the Cabinet

Your next step is to clean the cabinet and all it’s constituent parts. Dirt and grime can make it difficult to know exactly what you’re working with, and even with removing the finish from the drawers and cabinets you’ll want the surfaces free of dirt first. The handles can be scrubbed clean in a tub of soapy warm water, and then polished to a sheen using a cream cleaner or equivalent abrasive polish.

Step 3: Remove Rust and Old Paint

Perhaps the most labour-intensive part of your cabinet restoration process, removing the existing coat of paint and any developed rust from the surface of the cabinet and drawer fronts is key to preparing for a re-finish. You can use an angle grinder to take off the majority of the coat and attack any aggressive rusting with ease – simply attach an aluminium oxide flap disc to safely and quickly abrade the surface down to the bare metal. Don’t worry too much about scratching the bare metal – this will be rectified in the next step!

Step 4: Sand Down Surfaces

Using a medium-grit silicon carbide sandpaper, sand down the bare aluminium surfaces of your filing cabinet. If you were polishing to a sheen, you would want to spray the surface and sandpaper with water, and work your way up to higher grits – but here we’re sanding in order to prepare the surfaces for spraying the primer. We don’t want a completely smooth finish, but we do want a consistent one, to ensure a consistent finish!

Step 5: Apply Primer

Now you can spray your drawers and cabinet with primer. Before you begin, mask off anything you don’t want painted with masking tape, such as the locking mechanism or any feet attached to the body. Primer is a crucial first step in the re-finishing process, to prevent rusting in the future and provide the optimal surface for your finishing coat. Using a spray primer can expedite the process, but be sure to do so in a well-ventilated area.

Step 6: Finish With Paint

Lastly, you can now finish your cabinet and drawers in a paint colour of your choice! Use an enamel paint for a long-lasting finish, and make several passes with light coverage to give the best chance of an even coat; five minutes between passes will suffice. After leaving your surfaces to dry for 24 hours, you can remove any masking tape and begin the re-assembly process. Applying grease to the runners before you install the cabinet proper will extend their life, and remove any annoying squeaking – and there you have it! You are now the proud owner of a lovingly restored filing cabinet.

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