Friday, April 18, 2014

industrial file cabinet makeover (part two)


A few weeks ago, I started cleaning my room, realized we needed a full-sized file cabinet instead of a bunch of file boxes, and got sidetracked from the room cleaning project while I finished making this black-and-wood-pattern 1980s steel file cabinet . . .

. . . into this bare steel industrial-style cabinet I don't mind having in my house, even though it's full of boring papers and responsibility.

It's not just me, right? This is a little like when Eliza Dolittle turns out to be a stunner. The rain in Spain is falling mainly on the plain, am I right? Or like when Rachael Leigh Cook takes off the glasses and Freddie Prinze Jr. realizes she's Superman?

I really like the way this turned out.

When I last wrote about this cabinet, I'd stripped and sanded the main body, and managed to get most of the paint off. What was left after hours of the palm sander's clanging and waking the neighbors, I decided to leave, and I'm pretty happy about it. The black paint in the rivets and folds makes me happy.

Then I attached the casters. (I bought these new after searching the wheel shelves at Bring and coming up a couple short of a matching set. I flipped the cabinet . . .)

. . . and used the casters to mark where to drill the holes.

Once the holes were drilled and the filings swept away, I used three little bolts and three little nuts to attach each caster to the cabinet (the fourth hole won't fit on the frame).

And then, with all of the wheels attached, I flipped it upright.

The easy part was done! Because, see, I really wanted those bare steel fronts, but when I started sanding the first drawer it was slow, noisy going that reminded me (negatively) of sanding the cabinet. I thought I might prime + chalkboard paint them instead, and it was a bad idea.

I'd just finished removing all the black paint from the rest of the cabinet, and I just didn't like it on the drawer fronts. After a few days of waiting and gathering supplies, here's my attempt with the sandblaster + walnut shell + 30 minutes. Look at how it's not even breaking through the original wood patterned paint. Awesome.

I switched to sand and had an easier time of it, but really, our air compressor is just too wimpy for sandblasting. I decided to try the orange paint stripper again and actually had pretty awesome luck with it. You can see here the less-refective areas where, after an hour or so of sandblasting, some of the paint came off. The lighter areas are where the paint stripper did it's thing, and then I did mine with a Scotch Brite pad, a sanding block, and some steel wool.

I worked on it a bit to get the finish even. Happily I hadn't put too much time into sandblasting the other three drawers so after stripping them, I didn't have to put in the same amount of time getting the finish to match.

Handles were next! I gave you a preview in the previous post; I made the handles from some blank metal outlet plates and whatever those other pieces are. Sliding screen door handles, maybe? I bought the light switch plates, too, unsure of which combination would work out. These cost between twenty-five and fifty cents at Bring, and I'll be able to find another use for them.

I used each plate to mark holes for drilling right through the old handles, and then used little bolts and nuts to hold the plates in place on the drawer fronts.

After drilling one more hole and applying one more bolt per drawer, the handles were complete. Well-tightened, these don't shift or wiggle, which I'd initially worried about with only one bolt. No problem, though. I think the screw heads underneath help hold the handles in place, but whatever the reason, they're great. And I think they look good, too.

Here it is, back in one piece, spreading awesomeness and making paperwork look a whole lot less 1980s-style boring.

This was a time-consuming project, but not outrageously expensive:

filing cabinet: $11.25 on sale at St. Vincent dePaul
handle parts: $5 or so, total, used from Bring
casters: $4 total, on super sale at Harbor Freight for $1 each
bolts + nuts: $5 or so, including bolts from Bring, nuts from the hardware store
coarse sandpapers and sanding block: $6
orange stripping gel spray: $9
Scotch Brite pads had on hand

I'm going to leave the sand blaster kit and sand out of the equation since, ultimately, those things weren't useful or necessary for this project. If you already have sanding and stripping supplies on hand, it'll be even less expensive, but still very time consuming.

Thanks for sticking with me through the many, many words and pictures! I'm really pleased with how it came out, in case you couldn't tell. Now I can start obsessing over something else on Pinterest.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

free mulch? sign me up.

I'm sure there are other communities out there where this is a thing: the public works department chips up downed tree limbs and trimmings from parks and public lands, and makes the chips available for free. Research to see if your community offers the same.


There are several of these stations around town. We stumbled upon one while out for a bike ride a couple of summers ago. Now when I need mulch, I pack the kiddo, a shovel, five plastic bins and a couple of Ikea's big blue bags in my car and head off.

It's been a pretty awesome resource for our yard. Thanks Public Works Department!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

industrial file cabinet makeover (part one)

Don't avert your eyes; you'll hurt its feelings.

We were in pretty urgent need of a four-drawer filing cabinet for organizing papers and craft supplies, but I had some standards that needed to be met:

1) Must be under 18 inches deep. This was a hard one, as many of the filing cabinets I was scouting out were quite a bit deeper, and I just don't have that kind of space right now.

2) Must be steel. (That wood pattern you see there isn't wood; it's a wood patterned paint on metal drawers. In person, it's really easy to tell the difference.) Steel has the advantage of being lighter than wood (at least, with modern steel construction) and won't let me down by turning out to be made of veneered particle board. Also, modern steel filing cabinets are pretty easy to find at thrift stores; the more modern, the less likely to have lead paint.

3) Must either have a key or have an unlocked top drawer. I passed on a giant antique three-door filing cabinet because the top drawer was locked and I knew it would be a large additional cost to get the lock drilled out. And who knows what was in the top! Could be old papers, could be dead raccoon. Never mind that the cabinet in question met neither of the previous specifications. It was gorgeous blue and had really lovely handles. But the locked cabinet drawer was a deal-breaker for $150.

I spotted this cabinet at St. Vincent de Paul on a day when yellow price tags were 25% off. After discount, I paid $11.24 for it. It met all of the above specifications, with the downside being that it's not a showpiece. I absolutely can't stand the handles.

So, I never intended to leave it as-is. I wanted something more like one of the cabinets I've pinned to my File Cabinets Pinterest board: protected bare metal, nicer hardware, with a style more vintage-industrial than 1980s-office. Sadly, I'm completely priced out of that market. Completely. I'm in more of a $50-filing-cabinet tax bracket.

Okay: so, for the first step, I brought the thing home, removed the drawers, and dug some green paint stripper out of the shed.

I was pretty optimistic after an hour, as the paint on the back was very bubbly and then scraped right off without a tantrum. I'd only used the green paint stripper on wood before (and been frustrated by the lack of results), so I was all excited about how well the rest of the cabinet would go.

You can see the back here, mostly paint-less, and the top, still painty and scabby even after giving the paint stripper another few hours to sit. (I would have let it sit overnight, but for the rain.)

The front and sides fared about the same.

This was a pretty big letdown after how easy the back was. A second run with a different brand of stripper didn't do much but make a mess and waste money.

The palm sander started out not making very good progress, but did better once I'd attached a 35-grit paper and really went at it. It was a lengthy, messy, NOISY undertaking. Sometimes you know a project is done because it's better than you could have imagined. Sometimes you know it's done because no one can listen to even one more minute of the sander vibrating a piece of sheet metal.

After sanding, I buffed it with a coat of automotive wax to protect the finish.

Here is the cabinet as it will stay, with a bit of black left, emphasizing the vintage look (I think it will do nicely).

And here is a sneak peek of what's yet to come:

If getting paint off of these cabinets wasn't such a major pita, I'd have a couple of sets of lockers in my carport stripped already. Wanna know something exciting? We've bought a sandblasting kit! I haven't tried it out yet, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how much faster and easier this project is with that tool in hand.

I'll be back soon with part two of this vintage industrial file cabinet makeover, when things really start coming together. Thanks for reading! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

mini art kit

A recent car trip highlighted the need to have various distractions for the kiddo in my bag at all times. I wanted a stash of compact little things to fit in there that won't add too much extra bulk, but will keep him entertained in a restaurant, in the back seat, or in a yurt during an overly rainy overnight trip to the beach. Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything.

An empty mint tin is a great way to organize a few art supplies, including a couple of those crayons that restaurants sometimes give out.

I also added a couple of short colored pencils, some neon posterboard cut to size, and a sheet of stickers sent to me as part of an advertisement. (Kids magazines sometimes send them out to tempt us to subscribe.)

When cutting the posterboard, I made sure to leave an inch of space at the end and a textured edge to make it easier to remove from the box.

And there is is! A mini art kit perfect for stashing in your bag, next to a Hot Wheels car and a travel-sized packet of Play Doh.

I know it's really the Boy Scout motto, but I think I'm going to adopt "Be Prepared" as my own.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 28, 2014

sketched storage ottoman upholstery

We bought a small wicker storage ottoman a year ago to replace a large upholstered ottoman that had been given to us with our couch. The larger ottoman never had storage, so it was pretty much a useless space hog.

This ottoman, though, has the disadvantage of being made of wicker in a house with cats. The top got pretty beat up in a short amount of time, so I covered it up!

I upholstered the top in painter's canvas, which matches the new couch pillows I made (more on that soon), but to tie it in to the Ikea curtain fabric, I also sketched on the top with a permanent pen.

The result is a little more sketch-y looking than the original, but I think it's a nice tie-in without being too matchy-matchy. I haven't decided yet whether to thicken up the lines or add color or anything; I'm leaning toward leaving it as-is, but things tend to evolve around here over longer periods of time.

If I were to do this project over, I'd use more batting to obscure the wicker, but generally I'm pretty happy with how this came out. I'm trying to convince the cat to use the scratching posts exclusively, but cats are notoriously unreasonable. Here's hoping the sides of the ottoman hold up!

Thanks for reading!

p.s. You can make these photos larger by clicking, if you'd like to see more detail!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

simple animal paw shoes for theater + halloween costumes

I made these shoes for the Cat in the Hat for our preschool's recent production, to match the costume I retrofitted (coming up in a future post). It's funny; I had let the other costume maker borrow my one and only costume shoe pattern and was scrambling to get some shoes made for a dress rehearsal, but this style actually ended up working better than the pattern I'd loaned her.

You'll remember that my computer died? As in DEAD dead. The hard drive and logic board both keeled over at the same time, which means I could only use my phone for internet searches, and my phone won't send anything to my printer. So while I remembered this Martha Stewart felt slippers pattern, I had to improvise and hand-draw rather than printing it. All's well that ends well; these turned out just right.

For the soles, I used two layers of this old rough-backed felt from the stacks of leftover fabric in the theater supplies at school. For the body, I used one layer of the stiff-backed felt and one layer of the hound's tooth flannel I'd used for the Cat's costume. The foot pads are cut from a scrap of red ostrich leather I bought awhile back at a thrift store, zig-zag appliqued into place before assembling the shoes.

To make your own, you can follow Martha's original instructions with the following changes:

1) Instead of a single layer of thick felt, I used one layer of thinner craft felt and one layer of woven fabric, serged together at the edges. Word to the wise: when using thinner felt, using mutiple layers is key. You'll get a lot of stretch and wear-through with single layers.

2) The appliques are used (in addition to the rough-bottomed felt) to make the shoes non-slip, and to add some durability. Highly recommended, whether for Halloween or for theater. In addition to making the shoes less slippery and more sturdy, the pads are an especially nice touch if, at any point, your character shows the bottoms of his or her feet to an audience. This happened in our play, and every time I could feel how much it added to the kids' experience.

3) The original pattern leaves the seams on the outside; I tucked mine inside.

4) As the cuffs are layered with woven fabric + felt, they don't have much stretch, so the wearer will have to spend a minute working them onto his or her feet. It actually makes them fit really securely, and for a seldom-used costume piece it's not too much of an inconvenience.

Like most things, you can adapt these pretty endlessly to a variety of costumes. Switch up the fabric, use faux fur, different color leather, etc.

More to come! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

removing water stains from a dresser

I have a veneered 1928 dresser with Bakelite drawer pulls that I found at a thrift store a really lot of years ago. We were mostly broke at the time, so it was kind of a big deal. It came with a vanity and a headboard, too (which aren't currently in use); I think I carted it home piece by piece in my car? Or maybe I borrowed a truck? It was a lot of years ago. I was really into Bakelite at the time, so I was pretty excited.

Right before we left on our road trip to Montana a year and a half ago, I tipped over a glass of water that had been on top and it splashed and dripped all down the front. The water stains appeared right away. I mopped up all the water, made sure everything in the drawers was dry and in good shape, and hoped that the water stains might dry out and disappear by the time we returned.

But that's not how water stains work, as it turns out. I've just been staring at my ruined treasure since then, wondering whether it was salvageable or whether it'd have to wait until I could pull it out and completely refinish it.

Good news: while cleaning my room, I finally decided to do a little on-line research to see if there was a safe, non-toxic, simple solution that'd tide me over until refinishing. There is!

Denatured alcohol is recommended; as I don't have any of that, I used standard rubbing alcohol from my first aid box. I just poured a little on a wash cloth, and rubbed it on.

I had stared at those water stains for so long, I really didn't expect them to disappear so quickly, but they did. It worked so quickly that I didn't even take the time to run down the hall for my camera; I just snapped some quick photos with my smart phone. (Sorry about that.)

The alcohol took a little of the finish off, too (totally expected), so I followed up with some thorough drying and some paste wax.

Eventually the whole thing needs to be refinished (the shellac, like the shellac on my piano, is starting to crackle), but in the meantime, I don't have to stare at those accusatory water stains anymore. You might be amazed how much that improves the feeling I have when I walk into the bedroom, unless you've got some water stains of your own that you've been staring at for over a year. You will want to try this on your own.

Thanks for stopping in!