How We Refurbished a Vintage Hardware Cabinet

How to refurbish a vintage hardware cabinet.

I came across a couple of vintage card catalogs on Pinterest and fell in love!

Not only do they have a funky vintage vibe and beautiful natural wood grain, but they are so functional. After seeing a few refurbished ones, I knew I had to have one!

Buuuuttttt…..after seeing the STEEP prices for them on Etsy, I quickly decided to find one and refurbish it myself!

I asked my dad to keep an eye out for one and he told me that he had one that I could have….FOR FREE! I was ecstatic!

How we refurbished this vintage hardware cabinet.

When we went to pick it up, we discovered that it wasn’t really a card catalog, but a vintage hardware cabinet. It had been used to store nuts, bolts, screws, phone jacks, and other small pieces of hardware.

This cabinet had been sitting in the corner of an old farmhouse-turned-barn that belonged to my great-grandparents. This building has been used to store hay and corn since my dad was little.

It was full of rats’ nests and termite damage and was in ROUGH shape.

Here is how we refurbished this vintage hardware cabinet!

**Note: I’m sorry that this tutorial isn’t very detailed or specific. I hadn’t planned on doing a tutorial, but I keep getting questions about this piece.**

Step 1: Get Rid of the Rot

After moving it home, we discovered that it couldn’t even stand upright without something to support it. The wood on the back and sides were so rotten that we could pull it apart with our hands. It was a mess!

Yet, we were still able to salvage half of the face piece, some of the trim, and about 30 of the 58 original drawers.

Most of the damage to the cabinet was done by termites. Which means that the pieces made of hardwood were still {mostly} intact. That included the face piece, the drawer fronts, and the internal drawer supports.

After deciding which drawers and supports we could keep and carefully removing the trim, we dismantled the cabinet completely.

Because irreparable damage to the bottom left side of the cabinet, we cut the face piece of the cabinet in half, leaving 2 columns of drawers. Due to severe termite damage, we also cut off the top 3 rows of drawers, making 12 drawers in each column.

The face piece we salvaged from the antique hardware cabinet.
(This portion of the face pieces is what we were left with!)

Step 2: Re-Install Drawer Supports

After cleaning up the pieces that we were keeping, our first order of business was to figure out our drawer support system. We were able to keep most of the original wooden drawer rails.

We simply slid the original drawer supports back into their place, using the existing tongue and groove on the back side of the face piece. I wish I had taken pictures of this part, but it was so simple, I didn’t even think about it.

The top view of the inside of the cabinet.
(Top view of the cabinet with drawer supports in place.)

Step 3: Build a Frame

Hands down, this was the most difficult part of the whole project.

I won’t get too technical for this part of the tutorial, simply because it was a lot of trial and error.

The original cabinet had tongue and groove wood joints on all four sides. We don’t have a router (or the money to buy one), thus, we couldn’t make identical replacement pieces ourselves.

So, we had to get creative. A few months ago, my husband picked up a pile of scrap wood (for free) when a co-worker was doing some remodeling. Part of the wood that he brought home was old tongue and groove oak flooring.

It could not have been more perfect for this project! We sanded {most} of the paint from 2 of the best looking floor boards we could find and used those as the back corners of the cabinet.

Then we placed 1/4″ plywood between the front and back tongue and groove pieces to make the sidewalls of the cabinet. We added a few brad nails to hold it in place.

To finish out the frame, we planked the back of the cabinet using 1x4s. We made sure to nail them into the back drawer supports for extra stability.

After the frame was built for the vintage hardware cabinet.
(Front view of cabinet after framing.)

Step 4: Add Top and Bottom

You wouldn’t think that adding the top and bottom to this vintage hardware cabinet would be a big deal…..but you’d be wrong!

We measured the length and width of the cabinet, cut the top and bottom from plywood only to find that there were parts hanging off.

The cabinet was not square. We’re not sure where we went wrong or if it’s an unavoidable part of refurbishing janky, old furniture.

We had 2 choices: take the cabinet apart and try to square it up or continue with these pieces of plywood and try to make it fit as best as possible.

We decided that trying to take it apart would risk damaging the original pieces even more, as we had already nailed everything in place. So, we trimmed the plywood to fit as best we could.

It’s not perfect, there’s a slight gap on the top (that we eventually filled with wood filler) and a small gap at the bottom (that was covered by trim). So, it all worked out.

Anything was better than what we started with. As you can see in the picture below, the top of the cabinet had completely rotted away leaving the top drawers exposed.

Top view of the cabinet before removing the rat nests and rotten wood.
(Top of the cabinet when we brought it home.)

Step 5: Add Trim

This was one of the most stressful steps for us.

I really, really, really wanted to keep the original trim. It was one of the things I loved the most about this vintage hardware cabinet as soon as I saw it.

We salvaged just enough trim to cover the front and sides of the cabinet. There was no room for mistakes when we made the cuts. Which wouldn’t be a big deal to most wood workers, except neither of us (me or my husband) have ever cut trim before.

We Googled and YouTube-d some tutorials and gave it our best shot. And I’ll be damned if we didn’t get it right!

We had to piece together the back of one side, but only because we didn’t have a piece long enough. It’s barely noticeable and I’m just glad that we could keep the original trim!

After adding the trim to the vintage hardware cabinet.
(After adding trim to the top of the cabinet.)

Step 6: Fix Drawers

We were pretty fortunate to find that all of the drawer faces were intact and more than 30 drawers that were still in overall excellent shape.

In fact, the only part of the drawers that we had to replace was the back. Mice had eaten through most of the backs of the drawers, but left the sides, fronts, and bottoms alone. It was strange, but it made our lives much easier!

We simply cut 1/4″ in plywood to replace the chewed up backs and nailed them in place with brad nails. It was tedious work, but not difficult at all.

Mice had eaten through the backs of the drawers.
(Apparently mice found the backs of the drawers more appealing than the sides.)

Step 7: Stain

We could almost see the finish line when we were able to start staining our vintage hardware cabinet!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as just slapping on some stain. There are 4 different types of wood on this one piece of furniture: the original oak on the face piece, trim, and drawer fronts, the oak floor boards on the sides, the pine plywood sides, and the ash trim around the bottom.

Since there were different types of wood, we had to use different stain colors to get a cohesive look.

For the original wood and the floorboards, we used Minwax Wood Finish Stain in Early American. For the bottom piece of trim, we used Minwax Wood Finish Stain in Espresso because it was so much lighter than the oak. And for the plywood sides we mixed our own concoction of several different stains to try to match it up as best we could.

Step 8: Add Drawer Liner

No matter what I did, I couldn’t not get the bottoms of the drawers clean. It always felt like there was a layer of dust covering it.

I ordered vintage newspaper peel ‘n stick wallpaper from Amazon and used it to line to drawer bottoms. And I could not be happier with how it turned out!

We used vintage newspaper peel and stick wallpaper to line the drawers.
(This wall paper turned drawer liner is one of my favorite things!)

Step 9: Add Legs & Bottom Trim

One of the most agonizing parts of the whole project was waiting for the legs to arrive. We ordered 12-inch hairpin legs from Amazon, but because of the coronavirus crisis, it took a long time for them to come in.

As soon as the mailman dropped them off, we headed out to the garage to screw them onto the bottom of the cabinet. They were perfect!

We added trim around the base of the cabinet to hide the ugly plywood bottom and were were done!

The legs and trim were the finishing touches on our vintage hardware cabinet.
(The legs and trim were the finishing touches on our vintage hardware cabinet.)

Our vintage hardware cabinet is definitely not perfect. Some of the drawers have gaps and it’s not square, but I am in love with how beautifully it turned out!

And it’s not only beautiful – it’s functional! It’s no surprise that I have a ton of craft supplies. Many of which, are small enough to fit into these drawers. Now, all of my scissors, pens, pencils, markers, buttons, stamps, stickers, etc. are all contained in this one cabinet!

It’s the perfect addition to our home and we could not be prouder that we were able to take on such a big project!

If you like this furniture makeover, you might also like how we turned an old dresser into a farmhouse buffet!

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