D.I.WHY: Filing Cabinet/Side Table

Or: I Don’t Have The Proper Tools & I Need An Adult.


There comes a time in G.A.W’s life when her apartment can no longer look like it was furnished by finding the cheapest/least objectionable items on Craigslist/in Mom’s Garage, like Dunder Mifflin exploded on her desk OR like the Island of Misfit Toys.  This time has come.

While, my apartment is definitely adult-ish (I say-ish, because my Obi-Wan action figure/Super Mario Mushroom/Rainbow Fish will always have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf), I do have a number of “to-do” type New Years resolutions that should make me at least look more like I have my shit together. Additionally, the giant box/pile of pay stubs and paid bills and my bachelor’s degree (?) on my desk has been getting sort of outrageous.


I had been looking for a filing cabinet for a while, and finally some glorious folks sold me their “a-little-more-than-gently-used” legal sized filing cabinet for a very VERY reasonable $15 . It was functional and perfect for what I needed – but it definitely needed a bit of a refresh. Enter Pinterest…Oh the GLORY.


I loved about a million variations of the “filing cabinet upgrade” but I pinned a few of my very favorites here. After much deliberation and searching, I settled on this model with a few modifications, which is sort of a cross between a side table and a filing cabinet. I love DIY projects like this – I did a complete re-finish on my desk a couple of years ago (another free/low cost furniture acquisition) that took it from blue/salmon peeling paint down to a gorgeous espresso brown finish. My furniture is primary dark brown/espresso finished wood, and I have accents of red thrown EVERYWHERE, so I went with that for this project as well, but as you can see, there are a million combinations of color and wood finish that you could do to suit your needs.


Here’s what I ended up needing…NOTE:This is the culmination of a trip to ACE, Home Depot and my mom’s work bench (thanks mom!), but do yourself a favor and get it all ahead of time!!


  • Outdated Filing Cabinet
  • About 4 cans of spray paint (I used Rustoleum 2X Ultra Cover Paint + Primer in Gloss Apple Red)
  • 1 Can of Black Spray paint (for the handles–optional)
  • 1 small can of wood stain (I used MinWax PolyShades Espresso Satin Finish)
  • Fine grit sandpaper – nothing too rough, as you’re just smoothing edges on this project
  • A foam brush/Something to apply stain
  • A Drop cloth to protect your work area because spray paint is THE WORST
  • Lumber measured to fit the width/length of your filing cabinet (I got one 1″ thick, 5.5″ wide–more on this later, 8′ long board, and had it cut down to length size.)
  • Nuts & Bolts (I used six (6) 5/16 dia 1.5″ long bolts with accompanying nuts).
  • Tools of the trade – i.e. drill/drill bits/a crescent wrench/a screw driver. Or ask an adult to help you…which is pretty much exactly what I did.
To Begin…

Set out your filing cabinet on the drop cloth in an open ventilated area so you don’t get a cheap spray paint high. Since my filing cabinet was sitting in a dusty garage before its makeover, I wiped it down with a damp towel and let it dry in the unrealistically hot March sunshine. (Seriously….sunburned though). I also removed the hardware (seen here).

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Make sure that you have NO IDEA what you’re doing with spray paint. Between myself and my dearest mother, we were set. Within the first 5 minutes of spray painting, I had a drip (NOT cute) and neither of us had any idea how to fix it. After dabbing and wiping, I ending up just dousing the damn thing (and part/most of my arm) in paint thinner and then cleaning it off again before spraying it (mostly) evenly. “Good Enough,” I said to myself.


Realistically, the best way to avoid drips is to make sure you don’t spray too close to the object, and use long, smooth consistent lines. But I’m not about that life, apparently. Coincidentally, as I continued to paint, I got a few more drips, but thankfully they weren’t that bad or on the front, and also, I just didn’t care anymore.


You may need to do several coats of paint depending on the color of your “raw material.” I had to do three or four (I think?), and while I was at it, I spray painted the hardware black. I spent the drying time going to Home Depot and working on sanding:

photo 3But you could spend yours on other more productive things like check your Facebook or Instagram…..orrrrr you could read the other fabulous posts here on The Grown Ass Woman [SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION]….


Day one was pretty much only me spray painting the filing cabinet and hardware, sanding and staining the wood, and getting all the materials together (including time for drying). But if you were more prepared and didn’t start working at 1:00 pm like my lazy ass, you would probably be able to get more done in one day.

A Note on Staining Wood (Ron Swanson Would Be Proud)

Be sure that you wipe down whatever you’re staining before you start – sawdust or dirt will make a mess of your stain game. Next, remember to keep everything smooth and consistent. I used a foam brush, and I started and finished each stroke at either end of each plank of wood. This really helps to reduce drips, brush marks and mess ups.

photo 4

After everything was dry (day two) – I enlisted the help of a grown up (the illustrious super human known as MD) with power tools for the bolting. PLEASE BE CAREFUL FOR THIS PART – ESPECIALLY IF, LIKE ME, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING.

photo 5

With our powers combined, my mom, MD and I measured, drilled and bolted the three boards down. OF COURSE NOT BEFORE WE REALIZED THAT MY BOARDS WEREN’T THE RIGHT WIDTH. Never trust in-store signs that claim your lumber is “1” x 6″ x 8′.” I chose to suck it up and deal with the small gaps in between planks with PRIDE.


The trouble…of course…was actually getting this beast home. After several attempts, the three of us wedged the offending furniture piece into the back seat of my Jetta (along with a few other items that I plundered from my mom’s house – THANKS MOM!!), and home I went.


I wrestled it out of my car and single handedly dragged it up the homicidal staircase outside my apartment, set it up in its very own corner, and I was SO pleased with how it looked and functioned. Despite the few hiccups (read: seemingly ruinous mistakes), it came out essentially meeting my expectations of what I wanted it to be! The important part was for the piece to work as a side table and a filing cabinet, so it fit more in my living room/home office situation, and it definitely does!

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Plus, Gwen’s bed fits on it perfectly with room to spare, which is realistically the only requirement….#catlady

Have a wonderful week, darlings,



P.S: Guess who finally got a Facebook page!! Check it out and “Like” the page for posts and updates on all things G.A.W!!