Tips for fixing up and repurposing old file cabinets

This week our Jill of All Trades, Jill Washburn, tackles two projects with aging file cabinets. She extends the life of one of them and gives a new life to the other.

Jill started with the metal file cabinet, which was in really bad shape. She definitely didn't want to use it in the house. It was perfect, though, for repurposing in the garage.  

First, Jill pulled the drawers out. [*NOTE* You may have to trip a release on the bottoms or sides of the drawers to get them all the way out.] Those she will recycle.  

As for the actual cabinet part, she rolled it onto its back and dragged it over to the corner of her garage. That alone would have been good enough for standing the garden and yard tools in to keep them organized. (Jill's collection of outdoor tools were falling over in her garage.) But, Jill had an even better idea.  

She went up to one of the big box stores and bought some PVC pipe in various widths. Jill bought 1.25", 1.5" and 4". You could buy whatever configuration would work best for your tool collection.  

Then Jill cut the pipes into 2.5' lengths. She used her miter saw to make the cuts but you could even do it by hand with a hacksaw. Some big box stores sell the pipes in shorter lengths, or they may be willing to cut them to size for you. Jill says, don't be afraid to ask.

Once they were all cut, she stood all the pipes up in the old file cabinet, filling the empty space as much as possible. Then she moved the tools over to their new home, putting one tool per pipe.  

Now, all of her tools are organized and easy to access. They're not falling all over the floor and Jill can easily see what she has. They're easy to pull, and easy to put back. Plus, the space they take up is much more compact now. Jill recommends using a majority of larger sized pipes/tubes. If you use too many small ones, she says, it may still be tough to get the tools in and out of their spaces. In fact, if she were doing it over, Jill says that she would use mostly 3" and 4" pipes.

Now, onto for the other file cabinet.  

The second file cabinet is a smaller oak one. Jill bought it used off of Facebook Marketplace. She got a great deal on it, but there are no keys to the lock. In fact, Jill says, almost all of the used file cabinets for sale on Marketplace are missing the keys. No worries, says Jill. That is a problem that is remarkably easy to fix.  

The big box stores sell replacement locks for desk drawers, file drawers, mailboxes, etc. Whatever type of lock your cabinet might have, you'll be able to find a replacement lock for it. Pay special attention, Jill says, to the thickness of the drawer front. You'll have to choose a lock that accommodates that measurement.

Metal drawers will often have a lock cylinder that is threaded. They will fasten with a large nut that screws onto it. Wooden drawers may have a lockset that fastens to the back of the drawer front with a couple of screws. This is the type of lock that Jill's file drawer needed.  She found the right lock at Menard's for less than five bucks.

It took only a couple of minutes for Jill to unscrew the old lockset and replace it with the new one. Pay attention to the locktab, she says. Make sure it's pointing up. (Jill originally put hers in upside down.)  Once it's in place, the screws go in easily and, voila! You're done!

So, there you have it. New life for 2 different file cabinets. Their lives have been extended with a couple of easy projects.

PROJECT RATING: Easy (especially the lock replacement)

To watch Jill take you through the projects, just click on the video player above.