How to paint a file cabinet | How About Orange

January 10, 2008

How to paint a file cabinet

A recent project. Our steps:
1. Hunted for a file cabinet in all the major office stores. Became dismayed to learn they only come in black and a nasty putty color. Had hoped for white. Settled on the only silver cabinet we saw.

2. Carted it home. Became dismayed to see that it stuck out like a sore thumb in the office. (Accentuated by the fact that the north corners of our room have slanted walls that prevent sliding a cabinet all the way back, so it literally stuck out. But we expected this part.)

3. Impulsively decided to paint it white. Googled to learn how.

4. Determined we needed: sandpaper, spray primer, and spray paint for metal. Got these at Home Depot.

5. Detached any removable hardware that we didn't want painted, e.g. the drawer handles.

6. Sanded the cabinet to rough it up and remove any oils transferred from our hands. This helps the paint stick. Wiped off the dust with a damp cloth.

7. Put painter's tape over any hardware we couldn't detach that we didn't want painted, e.g. the lock and side edges of drawers.

8. In a well-ventilated place (okay, it wasn't, but I don't want you to sue me if you follow these directions and end up getting high), we put down a drop cloth and sprayed a coat of primer on the cabinet. Followed directions on can for application and drying time. Started with the back side to get our technique down. Worried that it looked uneven. (Turns out it doesn't matter. It will be covered up later.) Used up one can of primer.

9. Applied as many light coats of spray paint as needed for good coverage (three, in our case). Note: don't spray on too much at once or it will make drips that run down the side. Luckily that spot is in the back. Used up 1.5 cans of spray paint. Allowed it to dry. We like it!

Note: If you know ahead of time that you're going to paint a cabinet a color you can't find anywhere, and you don't have the cabinet yet, you may as well buy a used one and save some money.

58 comments:

rachel said...

i spray painted our ugly white and rusted metal file cabinet a sweet deep magenta color and it totally revived it! great idea.

{Jenna Lou Loves You} said...

Thanks for sharing! I've been wanting to do this for a while to one I picked up at a thrift store. Glad to know it can be successfully done.

jcaroline said...

Cool. Who came up with that putty color for file cabinets anyway? Did they have to commission a special paint and specify that it not match anything? (I'm the proud owner of two of those putty delights. Need to buy some spray paint.)

Jess said...

I think the first-ever file cabinet was putty colored, and nobody ever thought to change it.

Cathy ~ Tadpoles and Teacups said...

Hi,
Thanks for the lesson! Definitely looks better, and chic. I'm going to try your technique on a metal chair I have--it's a hideous flesh color, (not too far off from the putty color of your cabinet) and in need of an extreme make-over.

Meari said...

Jess, it looks great!

Jess said...

Thanks! Cathy, sounds like a great project. The putty has to go.

laura r. said...

THANK YOU!

paperseed.wordpress.com said...

Nice paint job. I've actually never heard of someone painting a metal filing cabinet and I'm impressed. Do you have IKEAs in your area? That is where we got our white filing cabinet. As a matter of fact, I recently wrote a post called "Ode to our home office"Although it is nowhere near as nice as yours!

Kate said...

the cabinet is nice... but i couldn't stop looking at your sweet curtains... haha!

Crystal & Co. said...

How timely! Last week I was looking at our sadly painted file cabinet. It was a futile attempt from a year ago for exactly the same reasons you have listed. I'm going to have to try it again using these directions.
Thanks!

June said...

Live and learn! The cabinet looks great.

Mahan said...

Now, why waste your time Googling when you have a friend who's an experienced painter of metal? White metal, lead, sheet steel...it's all the same, after all!

:]

Karl Rove said...

Karl Rove remembers back in February when he painted his radiators. His method is faster and superior to yours. Step 1: make a plastic tent around the radiator in your dining room. Step 2: climb inside the tent with 2 cans of Krylon high-temp paint. Step 3: unload the spray paint taking breathing breaks every time your head hurts so bad you feel like you are going to pass out. Step 4: call cleaning service to clean all the dried spray paint on your floors. voila.

kelly said...

Just what I need!

Melissa said...

I have to say that the primer part and the sanding part are probably pretty important. I sprayed a cabinet without doing either and while the cabinet is fine (because it's mostly covered up with stacks of paper and a desk & wall on either side), in broad daylight, it was pretty embarrassing. In fact, it was so ghetto looking that I left it outside for two weeks because I didn't want to bring its ugliness into the house. Once I got it into its shady, obscured home, it wasn't so bad. But the lesson here is: don't skip the priming & sanding if your cabinet will be visible or well-lit!

Erin said...

I've been meaning to do this for my filing cabinet, but I don't have an outdoor area and hardly any space in my apartment to paint without destroying everything else. I'm planning to paint mine a pearly minty green, though. I'm surprised you chose white and not a bright colour, like orange! Although maybe it had something to do with the choice of colours on offer. Spray paint doesn't have the nicest variety, although I did manage to find the pearly minty green.

Jane who? said...

When we bought our first house, my husband and I splurged to have our old avocado-green refrigerator painted by a guy in town who ran a small auto painting business.

We kept all our food in a Coleman ice cooler for what seemed like a really long time while we waited for the guy to get around to finishing our little paint job. Once he did and we’d moved it into our new kitchen, though, we were thrilled with the new color.

It was the same putty color you painted over today. Everybody’s appliances were wearing it in the 80s.

hippofabulous said...

Tip from me:

If you want a really cheap filing cabinet, look for university surplus stores in your area. I live in NC, we have the University of North Carolina here and they send all the stuff the university no longer needs to surplus. Nothing in there is over $100 and that's anything from filing cabinets *typically $5* to computers.

-Stacy

Mrs. Hipp said...

We have a yucky black filing cabinet. I changed out the handles and that helped a bit. Now I know it's possible to change the whole color too! Thanks!

Clare said...

Have done this before (quite a few times actually, blue, brown, mustard even orange! Car paint is brill - you can have matching car and cabinet! )on big old cabinets but was looking for a small one to fit under the desk that I could paint lime-green. Checked out Ikea to see if I could find one to paint and there it was - already in the perfect lime green calling out to me!

Laura said...

Fantastic! I needed this because I have 2 putty colored ones that I have wanted to paint for awhile. You always have such inspiring posts! Thanks for sharing!

buddy-friend said...

it looks great! i'm painting my laminate dresser this weekend and have been debating the spray paint/oil based paint methods. this looks so good i might just try the spray paint(not exactly the same thing i know, but generally same ideas as regular paint won't stick to laminate).

kelly said...

looks great!
we've been making many trips to the home depot on halsted to check out paint as well this week :)

Freshly Found said...

We also have 2 'painted' cabinets. I used a non-drip enamel and a foam roller and it looks good and has lasted well!

Maria Jové said...

By chance, I discovered your blog, I congratulate you for all these wonderful ideas that we das, I has opened a lot of opportunities for my future projects

Thanks for being so generous with your tutorials

Congratulations
Maria

Jess said...

I love hearing about everyone's projects. This is fun.

And thank you, Maria!

iHanna said...

What a great tut, I will save it for reference because I know I will need to get one of those one day. For now I have a small one but I can allready fill it 10 times:

http://www.ihanna.nu/blog/?p=580

:-)

Jess said...

Hmm, I think you need something bigger! Get out the spray paint...

Ben said...

Great post and wonderful blog, Jess! I just bought four big, old butcher block tables from a commercial bakery that's closing up shop. I'm going to spruce and funkify them up a bit by painting the metal legs. Makes me feel better about doing it after seeing your project!

Katie said...

your post isn't about this at all, but I love your curtains!

Bree said...

thanks!
you are an inspiration!

hampton said...

i have this exact project on my to-do list. exact except instead of one tall cabinet it is two short ones that will be used as a dresser. thanks for the tips!

Jesse said...

I love step 3. Google is my usual starting point for projects!

AprilDawn said...

GENIOUS! I was wondering how I was going to do this. I happen to be a huge spray paint fan (there are so many fantastic things you can paint!) and I have an ugly black filing cabinet that I refuse to use because its ugly!

THANK YOU for this!

Anonymous said...

I have a Hon metal file cabinet I just picked up today and want to paint.

Is there any reason I shouldn't just paint over the metal handles instead of taking them off?

Thanks!

Jess said...

Nah, paint 'em. We took ours off and didn't paint them because we wanted them to stay silver. I still think it's a good idea to take them off and paint them separately, though, so the paint can get under the handle. Maybe less likely to cake on or make drips?

Sharon B said...

We recently renovated a room in our house and were looking for ways to use items around the house to decorate with. I found hidden away in our basement an old little cabinet that was my mother in laws. I googled how to paint and ended here. I took your advice and can't believe how simple it was to restore. Within an hour I had restored a old cabinet into a piece that looked new and unique.I did a first coat to cover the old finish then used the paint that creates a stone finish. Added new knobs and I have a beautiful old new item. My husband is thrilled as it was his mothers. Thank you for the advice.

Jess said...

Sharon, what a great story! I'm so happy it turned out well for you. Thanks for telling me!

Ashley said...

I have been wondering if this was possible. Just found your post by googling "diy painted file cabinet" I'm gonna do it! Mine is the hideous putty color.

A Home in Progress said...

Love it! I just posted my results of using your directions on my blog and gave you and your fantastic site credit! THANKS again! :)

Ryan said...

Thank you, I will be doing this shortly. What grade sandpaper did you use?

Jess said...

Hmmm, I can't remember. Something not too fine and not too coarse. Ha, I sound like Goldilocks. I think it doesn't matter too much. Maybe a little bit on the finer side.

Julie said...

Can't wait to try this! I plan to paint it...not sure what color yet, but then tape off apart to paint with chalkboard paint for our homework room!

Kate said...

I'm in desperate need of a filing cabinet, but I can only find a horrible grey colour, which is no good for an office in my bedroom! Love your simple how-to; I've now got a plan!

Bethany and Isaac said...

Thanks for this! Although apparently I suck at spray painting things or something, because I did probably 5 light coats of white paint over a sanded, primed, formerly-putty-colored 2-drawer file cabinet and it still looks awful. Guess I'll be buying another can and crossing my fingers.

Filing cabinet said...

Pretty nice tips and I think it would be quite helpful to people as painting qa cabinet is usual thing, done by everyone so it will help everyone.

Anonymous said...

Rather nice place you've got here. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Joan Swenson

Rose Tree Originals said...

Thank you so much for putting this up, it was very inspiring and I think I may do something along these lines with an ugly putty colored file cabinet.

I even blogged about it here:
http://rosetreeoriginals.blogspot.com/2011/04/considering-filing-cabinet-makeover.html

Sally said...

Thanks for this post! I found a cabinet for $10, sweet deal. Painting it will definitely make it a million times better!!

Texas Gem said...

Thank you so much for your tips! You inspired me to make my own beauty from a 20 dollar filing cabinet I got at auction. My paint job didn't turn out as well as yours, I don't think I am very good at putting on even coats of spray paint, but still I am very happy with it. Thanks again for the directions!

Gem

http://texas-gem.blogspot.com/2011/10/refinish-filing-cabinet.html

Jessica Jones said...

Fun project! The wallpaper is a great idea!

Willaude Gore said...

We also did the same, although we did add some artsy designs to transform an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. And yeah, buying used file cabinets can help save a lot of money. You'll never have a second thought in reinventing it.

Anonymous said...

If I'm using Hammerite metal spray paint do I really need to sand and prime?...

Jessica Jones said...

Not sure! I'm not familiar with that product.

Kady said...

Thanks for this post! I just found a metal filing cabinet/safe at the local thrift store. I will be using your instructions to re-purpose ours for the living room.

Trista said...

Okay, we just did this, from a grey / steel color to white and after almost three cans of the krylon (paint and primer in one) it still has the grey tint to it. what gives? Maybe one more full can? geez...thought it would be stark white, but it's not.

Jessica Jones said...

I haven't tried the all-in-one primer and paint before. Ours turned out smooth and pure white with traditional primer followed by paint... I guess keep going?!

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