Monday, February 4, 2013

card catalog coffee table tutorial

I know, I know . . . this is totally out of order. This project did well over at So You Think You're Crafty this week, so I was asked to write up a full tutorial and I'm posting it here. You can check it out over there, too!

Materials you'll need for this project:

one row of card catalog drawers (call your local library if they've recently switched over to a computerized system, or stalk a thrift store or rebuilding store like Habitat for Humanity's ReStore or Bring. The set I used for this project came from Goodwill, and cost $10.)

four vintage wooden mill bobbins (mine came from the Pendleton Woolen Mills store outside of Portland; call them if you don't live nearby, and see if they'll ship to you)

four metal leg attachment plates/corner braces (I found mine at Bring for 50 cents to $1 apiece, and all four match--amazing luck--but you can probably hunt some down at your local hardware store)

one scrap of 3/16 or thicker plexiglass, at least the size of your card catalog (mine was a scrap I used to use for displays at my bookstore a million years ago, but you can buy this new or used at dozens of places)

vintage or new wooden printing blocks (aka moveable wooden type) (I've been a collector for a few years; you can find blocks for sale on eBay or Etsy, or substitute with another type of collection)

thin wood trim (from the ReStore; 25 cents for 3 feet. Unbelievable deal.)

sketch paper (for labels)

piece of heavy tag board or thin wood paneling the same size as your inset space (you probably have something around the house)

flat game pieces like checkers or scrabble tiles

wood screws and nails

Tee Juice dye pen or wood stain

sticky-back felt furniture pads

Tools you'll need


drill bit for metal, just a little wider than your screws


X-acto knife


masking tape

typewriter (lacking this, you can also use a typewriter typeface on your computer)

How to Build It

Your bobbins should all be as close to the same length as possible. Drill three holes through each of your metal plates that align with the solid wood edge of your bobbins, and attach with screws.

Turn your drawers upside down and screw the bobbin legs onto the bottom. Add furniture pads to the feet.

Flip your table upright.

My card catalog drawers didn't have a top panel, so there was a built-in inset space once I cut a piece of heavy tag board to sit atop the drawer supports. If your drawers do have a top, you can call your table "done", or you can follow along and add a plexiglass top for a flat collection (see asterisk * below).

Measure twice, cut once. In fact, rather than measuring, you can lay your plexiglass right on top of your table and mark it in place. I marked mine with both tape and permanent marker. That way I could make sure that when I took it to the hardware store to have it cut, it would be as perfect a cut as possible.

You can try to cut the plexi yourself, of course, but it's messy and noisy and sometimes it cracks or splits. Know your strengths.

Fill the inset with wooden type. You can spell words or names or just randomly assemble your collage. I worked the word "Upcycle" into mine to showcase the week's theme.

I used game pieces (and/or old brass house numbers) around the edge to help support the plexiglass. You can use pretty much anything flat and non-perishable that will help the clear top sit and be supported level with your wooden type.

After the plexi was in place, I hunted down the thin, plain wood trim pieces and cut them to size with my X-acto knife. Drill a small finger hold at the back if you want to lift the glass out later to remove the top.

You could use fancier trim, if you wanted to; I kept my trim (and my cuts) simple, and attached the pieces to the card catalog with small wire nails.

To finish, stain to the color of your choice using a Tee Juice dye pen or some wood stain, and print up some paper labels for your drawers.

*If you do have a flat top on your card catalog drawers, you can still add the plexi top and either build up a frame to create an inset, or you can display print ephemera (labels, a poster, library book check-out slips, etc.) under the top for a cool effect.

Thanks a bunch for your votes, everyone! Send photos if you make your own table using these instructions; I'd adore seeing photos.

Linking up to:
Junkin Joe Vintage and Thrifty Finds
The CSI Project


The Cottage Market {Andrea} ♥ said...


Marium said...

Outstanding! I love this piece!

Amy of While Wearing Heels said...

I loved this the first time I saw it and I love it even more now. My fate put a card catalog in my path one day :)