Introduction: Refinished Cabinet


This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375: Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo.

The authors of this Instructable are Keira and Meagan, 2 design-focused, DIY-queens and self-starters who work better, together. We chose to do this project because we saw a lot of potential in this cabinet. With a little bit of love, we thought we could give it a whole new, (and much cuter) life.

From a trash pile on our friend's front lawn, to displayed in a museum, we would be lion if we didn't say that we took the witch out of this wardrobe.

Step 1: Finding a Good Find

We drove around and found this amazing cabinet. We had to get creative when transporting it because of its size, but it safely arrived at our destination.

The Project

We found this cabinet on our friend's driveway, and he told us that it was broken. Since he no longer wanted it, he was throwing it away. The purpose of this course was to find an object just like this one, and reroute it from the waste stream.

Upon closer investigation, we determined that the cabinet was in good shape, and the "broken" bits could be easily fixed. The cabinet was very unstable, had missing shelves, and the doors were falling off their hinges. It just needed some touch-ups, new screws, and a good face-lift to make it better than ever!

Step 2: Devise a Plan

We took note of all the repairs that this cabinet needed to be functional again. At first glance, it appeared to be in good condition, but further investigation showed some broken hinges, water damage, and lots of scratches.

We came up with a repair-plan and brainstormed ideas to improve the aesthetic of the cabinet. We wanted it to be beautiful and functional!

We found it helpful to keep a running list of repairs throughout the process. This helped us stay organized, and keep track of what we were working on.

Step 3: List of Materials Needed

The following is a list of all the materials we used during this project:

  • Bungee cord -- used to help transport the cabinet
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Philips head screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Masking tape
  • Wallpaper
    • A water source
  • Staple gun
    • Staples
  • Wood glue
  • Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF)
  • Panel saw (or miter saw, hand saw, table saw)
    • If you do not have access to a workshop space, there are probably workshops in your area that will let you use their power tools for a small fee
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint roller
  • "L" brackets (x2)
  • Power drill
    • drill bits
  • Rubber bumpers for cabinet doors
  • Cleaning supplies
  • and a partner for capturing the process with photos!

The next steps will be outlining our process of refinishing this cabinet to be better than its original glory.

Step 4: Remove the Back

We decided we wanted to improve the overall aesthetic of the cabinet by wallpapering the back of it. The steps to prepare for the wallpaper include:

  1. Take the nails out of the back very carefully to avoid damaging the back and the cabinet.
  2. Measure the width of the wallpaper and the width of the back. Our wallpaper was narrower than the back, but included white stripes so we decided it would be sufficient to centre the wallpaper on the back instead of using multiple columns.
  3. Mark on the back where the wallpaper should line up.

Step 5: Wallpaper the Back

  1. Roll out the wallpaper to determine how long it needs to be.
  2. Cut the wallpaper to size. Make sure to leave an extra inch. This can be trimmed after the wallpaper has set.
  3. The wallpaper we used was self-adhesive. To use this wallpaper, wet it using a wallpaper tray. We did not have access to a tray, so a sink filled with water was sufficient. Make sure the wallpaper gets fully emerged in the water.
  4. "Book" the wallpaper by folding over the edges on itself to allow the glue to get tacky.
  5. After 1-2 mins (or when the back of the wallpaper begins to get tacky), lay the wallpaper on the back lined up with the marks made previously.
  6. Once the wallpaper is lined up where you want it, wipe a clean, damp cloth over the top to eliminate any air bubbles. Make sure to not rub too vigorously as that would damage the finish.
  7. Allow the wallpaper to dry.

Step 6: Wallpaper Cabinet Doors

We liked how the backing turned out so much, that we decided to use the same wallpaper on the outside of the cabinet too! Since the wallpaper is striped and there are 4 cabinet doors, we wanted to make sure the stripes continued all the ay down the cabinet in the same pattern. We used these steps:

  1. Mark the order of the cabinets (TR = top right, BR = bottom right, etc.).
  2. Measure the inside panels on the cabinet fronts.
  3. Mark the size on the wallpaper and cut to size.
  4. Before sealing the wallpaper, make sure the panels fit. We cut the panels slightly smaller (1cm) than the inside panels to allow for expansion when wet and to give us some wiggle room when placing them.
  5. Wet the wallpaper and "book" it, following the same steps as the backing.
  6. Place the wallpaper on the centre of the panel.
  7. Smooth the wallpaper with a clean, damp cloth.
  8. Allow wallpaper to dry.

Step 7: Reattach the Backing

The next thing we tackled was reattaching the back of the unit. This step was actually sufficient in stabilizing the unit.

  1. We squared the unit to make sure it would not wobble when standing.
  2. We glued the back onto the unit using wood glue.
  3. We used a staple gun to reinforce the glue.

The cabinet now has its back and no longer tilts from side to side.

Step 8: Make Shelves

This cabinet was missing two of its internal shelves but still had the pegs. We made new shelves using a leftover sheet of MDF from our instructor. Any type of lightweight but sturdy material can be used.

  1. Measure the width and depth of the cabinet. Our cabinet had another shelf that we measured to make the new ones.
  2. Mark the measurements on the MDF.
  3. Using a panel saw, we cut out the shelves. This step can also be done using a miter saw or hand saw.
  4. Check that the shelves fit the cabinet. Since our cabinet was outside and was rained on, it warped slightly. To accommodate for this, we had to cut an extra 1/8th of an inch off the bottom shelf.
  5. Sand the cut shelves. Make sure the edges are smooth.
  6. Paint the shelves. We decided to paint them white to match the rest of the cabinet. The shelves can be painted any colour, or also wallpapers to match the back!
  7. Rest the shelves on the pegs.

You now have more shelves!

Step 9: Fix the Drawer

Our cabinet had a drawer that did not run on the track smoothly. Upon further investigation, we noticed that two of the L-brackets had broken and needed to be replaced. We did not have new brackets that lined up with the pre-existing screw holes, so we had to drill new ones.

Tip: use masking tape on the drill bit to create a "flag" that prevents the drill from going too deep into the piece of wood. This was especially important to do on the drawer face as we did not want the hole to go all the way through.

Step 10: Fix the Drawer AGAIN!

We tested everything to make sure we fixed the drawer the right way, or so we thought. In efforts to reduce waste, we wanted to reuse the screws in new brackets. Unfortunately, we never tested if the screws fit in the new brackets. SPOILER ALERT: they didn't.

This was when we had to ask for parental assistance. Hey kids, don't try this at home and make sure to ask your parents before operating any power tools! Our handy course instructor used a drill bit the size of the screw to enlarge the holes in the hinge. There was some smoke, shaved metal, and a very hot use caution!

With a fixed hinge, we were able to reattach the sides of the drawers and once again had a functioning drawer.

Step 11: Fix Any Damages and Paint

There were quite a few dings and scratches on the cabinet. We sanded these smooth and used a flat eggshell white paint leftover from a previous museum project to cover the spots. While the supplies were out, we painted the entire side of the cabinet to make sure everything was covered and consistent.

Tip: If any pieces are removable, it is easier to take them off, sand them, paint them, and then reattach. For example, we did this with door handles and face pieces.

Reflection: We did this step throughout the process. If we were to do this again, we would wait to do this step at the very end to avoid cleaning up paint multiple times, waiting for paint to dry, and causing more scratches as we did more tasks.

Step 12: Attach the Doors

The next step was to re-attach the cabinet doors.

  1. Line up the half of the hinge on the door with the half that remained in the cabinet.
  2. Using a screwdriver, tighten the hinges.
  3. This cabinet had concealed hinges, which meant we could adjust how the doors lined up (left to right, front to back). This was especially helpful when one door wouldn't close.

With all doors attached and lined up, the cabinet is taking shape!

Step 13: Finishing Touches

We added rubber bumpers to the corners of the cabinet doors and the drawer to prevent banging and future damage.

Once the cabinet was all finished, we did one last check to make sure everything was done. We asked ourselves:

  1. Is all the tape off?
  2. Any sharp points we need to fix?
  3. Are all the cabinet knobs screwed on tightly?
  4. Do the doors line up?
  5. Are there any scratches we missed?
  6. Is it clean?

Don't forget to take a step back and appreciate your work. Congrats, you've done it! :)

Step 14: Admire Your New Wardrobe!

The Recipient

As we repurposed this object, we made sure to keep the future owner of this wardrobe in mind. We imagined this going to a home and being used as some sort of storage cabinet; perhaps for craft supplies or clothing. When making decoration choices, we wanted the cabinet to be cute - but inclusive. We chose neutral colours and a pattern that could appeal to all ages. As we sanded and rounded sharp edges, we were sure to consider the possibility of the future home having children and wanted it to be safe.

A few weeks later we learned that a friend of ours needs some sustainable pieces for a display that her theatre program is putting on. She has asked to use the cabinet and feature it in her museum exhibit. She has ensured us that it will ultimately find a home at a local donation centre. We are excited that the cabinet will be in good hands and out of the waste stream!

The Learning

In doing this project, we learned a few things! First, and most obvious, we learned how to fix a cabinet! In fact, we have used these skills to fix bookshelves in our own homes. Second, we have changed the lens we use when looking at "broken" objects. Our instinct is no longer to throw something away, but to ask "how can I fix this?" Third, we now consider ourselves watch-dogs for trash on the side of the road, always looking for a piece of coal to turn into a diamond. Finally, we feel empowered! Rosie the Riveter would be proud to see women taking charge and getting their hands dirty.

We hope you learned something from our experience and also feel empowered to redirect a "good find" away from the waste stream!

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