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spray painting a rusty metal card file

c_Card File_After 1

It was a dark and stormy night…literally. We were on our way back from dinner and John was telling me about some curbside goodies he’d seen on his daily running route. Apparently one of the big houses up the hill had decided to get an early jump on the monthly bulk trash pickup, and had set out quite the display. “Oh, let’s just go up and look,” I said, and off we went to check it out. I spotted 3 full size metal file cabinets, a wood coffee table (with no glass on top, and a badly damaged upholstered bottom shelf) and some cheap office furniture and other random stuff. I briefly considered the coffee table, but it had been sitting out in the rain and seemed beyond repair. Plus, we had nowhere to put it. Then I spotted 2 metal card files…and before I knew it, I was darting out of the car like a weasel in the night!

In a split second I was back in the car with one of the card files, laughing maniacally and urging John to “Go, go, go!” Like a thief in a getaway car! I had officially made my first curbside “pick,” and I’ve gotta tell you, it was oddly thrilling.

Not that the card file was a real prize or anything. It was quite old, VERY rusty, and the hardware was just about disintegrating:

The piece was also oddly heavy. Like, WAY heavy. I opened one of the drawers and discovered that it had belonged to an insurance broker or underwriter (you can really see the rust on the top here, too):

And it was completely filled with insurance policy records from the 60s and 70s!

Ya think they would have thought to shred these before throwing them out? (I blurred out all the important details in the photo.) And speaking of throwing stuff out, it drove me absolutely nuts that the occupants of the house thought nothing of tossing all this stuff in the TRASH. The card file was in pretty bad shape, but the large file cabinets were in great condition and could easily have been donated to Salvation Army or Goodwill. We’ve even had Big Brothers Big Sisters calling every week about free pickups for donations! Come on…if you can haul it outside you can just as easily pick up the phone and arrange for pickup. It’s not like too many people were “picking” at it either, since the house is on a side-street cul de sac in a residential area and doesn’t get much traffic. As far as I could tell I was the only one who spirited something away…the rest went straight to the trash.

But anyhow, back to the good stuff. I was set on turning this old card file into cool, retro-looking office storage. I loved the hardware but it was in sad shape, and attached with rivets. Once John pried it off it was all bent up and obviously never going back on.

So we headed out to Home Depot and came home with a stiff wire brush, Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer, 2 cans of Rustoleum Universal in Silver Hammered, and some brand spankin’ new Martha Stewart hardware. I got to work with the wire brush and some sandpaper, but after several passes it was clear that not all the rust was going to come off — so the Rusty Metal Primer turned out to be a good call. Apparently it bonds to existing rust and keeps it from spreading (I think). After John drilled holes for the new hardware (we picked something large and substantial to cover the old holes), I sprayed on 2 coats of the primer:

So funny that it’s rust-colored! I’d never worked with this primer before, but it went on super-even and dried very quickly. As for its rust-containing properties, I guess we’ll find out over time! When it was dry, I sprayed on 2-3 coats of the Silver Hammered spray paint. I’d never used one of the hammered finish paints and was really curious – plus, I thought the finish would cover up any imperfections and add to the retro look I was going for. Here it is all done with the new hardware attached:

Love it! The hammered finish was a little difficult to work with at first, but I found that moving the can with a consistent speed helped get the best results. Too fast and you won’t get the hammered effect; too slow and the paint will pool and look splattery. For me, the ideal speed was just a touch slower than I’d use with normal spray paint. At first, I was definitely going too fast and not getting the hammered look I wanted. By the second coat I had it down.

Since I wanted to use this piece as storage for office odds-and-ends, I needed to do something with the drawers — they had a track at the bottom, like you’d see in most file cabinets. So I collected a couple of pieces of sturdy corrugated cardboard from an old box that I’d been using for spray painting, cut them to fit, and covered them with pretty wrapping paper. I popped them in and presto! Flat bottomed drawers.

I’m loving the way this piece turned out! It’s great for stowing our office essentials, we can stack things on top if we need to, and it was FREE. :)

Linked up at Home Stories A to Z, House of Grace, Domestically Speaking, A Beach Cottage, The Shabby Chic Cottage, The Shabby Nest, Tatertots & Jello and Funky Junk Interiors

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. That came out great! I love how you made new bottoms, I have one of these little card files and I never thought about doing that.

    June 20, 2011
  2. I don’t know what it is about curbside picking that inspires hysterical laughter, but it does that to everyone I know! One time my old roommate and I were dumpster diving for a marble-topped table I spied when taking out the trash, and she almost lost me over the edge into the dumpster head-first after I told her to “hold my legs, I’m going in”! We were laughing so hard I’m sure the neighbors thought we were drunk or something.

    Your card file is an amazing save! Those things new can be expensive! It turned out beautifully, and I for one am glad you kept it out of a landfill.



    June 20, 2011
  3. Talk about an amazing transformation…what a great job! Such a fun and easy project. Keep up the great work and thank you so much for using Rust-Oleum to give the card file a fresh new look.

    June 21, 2011
  4. I love what you did with this old beauty. Your description of the “dark and stormy night” had me laughing. I can see myself doing the same thing, and have done the same thing many times before. Thanks for the info on the spray painting technique. The handles you chose are perfect.

    June 21, 2011
  5. I love it! I once scored two of these…I pained one turquoise and the other bright green. Still wishing I had kept them!

    June 21, 2011
  6. You did a great job with the card file! I love curbside finds.

    June 21, 2011
  7. looks great, great idea!! stopping by from a beach cottage.
    cheryl x

    June 22, 2011
  8. I found one of these at a local thrift store recently and even though mine is in better condition, I still wanted to spray paint it to have it match what I already have and just to freshen it up. I love your choice of color, it turned out great! Thanks for sharing! I came over from Transformation Thursday.

    June 22, 2011
  9. It turned out soooo cute! I did my first curbside hijack this year – it sort of feels like stealing! Who in their right mind would really want to get rid of such treasures. :)

    June 22, 2011
  10. Ava #

    Wow, these came up a treat, love those handles ! xx Ava

    June 23, 2011
  11. Love what you did here! Really great job and so glad I saw this at Transformation Thursday. My husband’s business has lots of old file cabinets and old steel desks no one uses anymore. I’ve painted a few but never thought about changing the handles. It makes such a difference!
    Thanks for sharing

    June 23, 2011
  12. Benita Fox #

    I love these drawers and I see them from time to time. I haven’t tried to paint any yet but I definitely will buy the next ones I see. They are so versatile. Great job!

    June 23, 2011
  13. Susie #

    Fantastic. Looks great. Ol things done up is great. It has a story. Love the curbside collections. Such treasures to be had. Found you at the shabby nest today.

    The Home of Beautiful Fabrics & Oilcloth

    June 23, 2011
  14. It turned out great. Thank you for sharing at Beach Cottage Good Life Wednesdays.

    June 24, 2011
  15. I always wondered how that hammered finish spray would look, now I know. Nice transformation – you made it look brand new and fresh!

    June 24, 2011
  16. I love them! Now I need to see if I can find something like this in the night :) Congrats

    June 24, 2011
  17. I love finding things in the trash! Turned out great. This would be such a great addition to my blog party, “From Trash to Treasure” I hope you’ll join me!!

    June 24, 2011
  18. This is super cute!! I love these things. I have done this to one, too

    Visiting you from tt&j!

    June 24, 2011
  19. Hot stuff!! l love vintage stuff.

    June 24, 2011
  20. Very, very awesome! Nice work!

    June 24, 2011
  21. Penny #

    The project turned out great and you recycled too! Love it!!! Saving the planet one project at a time is my motto!!

    July 18, 2011
  22. That is a seriously awesome find. And it looks fabulous post-spray paint. I’m constantly amazed at what my neighbors throw in the trash and don’t even try to donate.

    I would have been equally peeved to find that the personal info was thrown out in the garbage too. That’s just not cool.

    August 10, 2011
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