Removing the paint from my cool vintage vertical file cabinet

Removing the paint from my cool vintage vertical file cabinet

Blog PhotoTo tell you the truth, when I bought cool file catalogs at an estate sale in September, I thought about stripping them ... and then figured I'd put that off for a month or five. (The photo to the left is how they looked when we bought them.)

But while I was at the hardware store last week, I decided to pick up a gallon of Strypeeze (not to be confused with an alternative spelling of "striptease," although I did a double-take the first time). The container said it would work on metal, which is why I chose it.

Blog PhotoThen, Saturday morning, I decided to take off the handles and label holders, just to ease myself into the project. Turns out, they're riveted on.

So I figured, what the heck, I'll try out the stripper. I had Rob carry them out to our driveway while I gathered the stripper, a scraper, rubber gloves, rags, newspaper and soapy water. Rob had to run in the house later on for me and grab steel wool and brush cleaner for when you're using oil-based paint.

I decided to use the latter after reading the directions on the stripper and learning that paint thinner could help clean up your project after you remove the paint. (I am notoriously bad at reading product directions, but I figured they'd be important when working with stripper. I was glad I did.) We didn't have paint thinner, but brush cleaner worked like a charm. More on this later.

Also, a note on supplies: make sure you have extra rubber gloves on hand. The stripper basically disintegrated mine.

Blog PhotoEach cabinet took more than two hours, so I did one Saturday afternoon and one Sunday morning.

I took the drawers out of each cabinet and coated the cabinet's edges and the top of each drawer with the stripper. It needed to sit for 15 minutes before you start scraping, so I covered the drawer tops with plastic grocery bags to try to stop it from evaporating.

Honestly, being patient enough to let the stripper sit 15 minutes was hard, but the rest of it wasn't. I love any kind of stripping, scraping, peeling or otherwise destructing things, so this was really fun for me.

The paint came off pretty easily, especially in my second and sometimes third rounds of applying stripper. I think that was because I'd roughed up the paint's finish with my scraper. So before I stripped the second cabinet, I had Rob rough up the paint with steel wool. It seemed to make a difference, and I only had to do two rounds of applying the stripper to get all the paint off.

The stripper seemed to take off the band-aid colored paint that someone added later in this cabinet's life, as well as what I'm guessing was its original olive green paint. Following the stripper's instructions, I washed down the surfaces really well with soapy water after getting the paint off and let them dry.

Blog PhotoA thin coat of something in a lighter green remained after I stripped it - I'm guessing it was maybe a primer? Whatever it was, it came off when I rubbed it down with steel wool and brush cleaner. This step also removed any spare paint chips, which infuriatingly sometimes re-stick to the surface you're stripping.

The steel wool and brusher cleaner also brightened the label holders and handles. I usually don't care for brass, but they look really nice next to the stripped metal drawers.

Rob finished the drawers by rubbing them with a soft cloth, and their stripped metal look is industrial but warm at the same time.

I know I'm always saying this, but these turned out so much better than I imagined. I was pretty sure I liked them before. Now, I positively love them.

When I was little, my mom was always stripping something (floors, dressers, you name it). When I asked hBlog Photoer for advice on these cabinets, though, she said she'd never stripped metal. I'm glad to find out that it's not any harder than stripping  wood furniture, with the bonus of not having to worry that you'll gouge the surface.

Now that these are stripped, Rob and I are brainstorming ways to turn these into some kind of console table ... as well as find a place to put them. Hoping to get that figured out soon.


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rsp wrote on October 01, 2012 at 9:10 am

I was thinking about you last night. I was looking at a website and they used chalkboard paper to make these little necklaces. I had thought you could use paint chips to make labels, just coat them with chalkboard paint, but I didn't know they made the paper. I have no idea where you would buy it though. The cabinets look nice. 

Meg Dickinson wrote on October 01, 2012 at 9:10 am
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Cool, I'll have to look into that. My sister-in-law also suggested cardstock covered with chalkboard contact paper, which would work, too. And thanks!