Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, teachers used overhead projectors to share material with their students. Those overhead projectors were wheeled around the classroom on super sturdy steel AV carts - carts built so strong they could withstand daily life with schoolchildren! Eventually, laptops, iPads and teeny tiny projectors came to be, and one by one classrooms are finding that they no longer have a use for those bulky old overhead projectors or their carts.
What is happening to those old relics of the past? Well, the ones near me ended up discarded in a school surplus sale. It was here that I picked up a steel projector cart for $5!! What? YES - $5!! I had no idea what I'd do with it, but it sure was one sturdy cart and there's no way I could resist that price tag. So I wheeled her off and home we went...
I happen to also have a way too small kitchen with nowhere near enough storage space or countertops... Hmmm.... It didn't take long to connect those dots and settle on the perfect use for my super sturdy projector cart - It would become a mobile kitchen island jam packed with much needed storage! Because there's no room for it to permanently reside in the kitchen, the end result would have to be pretty enough to be stored in the living room.
Step 1: Evaluate the Cart and Develop a Plan
Key features of my cart:
* Power strip - That'll come in handy when I want to use the slow cooker, mixer, blender, etc.!
* Super sturdy - This cart is awesome. It's made of steel, and there isn't even the slightest wobble to it!
* Big Hole for a Projector - hmmm... That's not something I want on my extra counter top space - will need to address.
* Lots of Space - lots of open space, but currently no shelves or way to use that space, but I can take care of that!
* Adjustable height!
* Wheels - they work great, easy to move and lockable if I so desire!
* Ding in one corner - but for $5 I can't complain!
HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT: I thought through the space where I'll store it and how I plan to use it to settle on its height. I went with 40" because I'll be standing when I use it as extra kitchen prep space. There were just 4 simple bolts (one in each leg) that had to be adjusted to get it my preferred height.
Step 2: Add Bottom
To be able to use this for storage, I needed to add a bottom to the cart. I used a leftover piece of 1/2" MDF. I cut it to the size of the lower portion of my cart (21 1/2" x 36"). I opted to spray paint it black so it would blend with the black metal of the cart. I used Rustoleum Hammered Black. I also finished it with a coat of Rustoleum Clear Gloss.
Installing it was simple. I just set it in its place. Because there was an existing ledge and the legs wrap around each of the four corners of the MDF, the shelf doesn't budge from its position!
Even though the lower shelf is just the beginning, it already looks more functional and a little less institutional!
Step 3: Add a Shelf
There was a huge open space remaining, so to maximize use of that space I decided to add an additional storage shelf. I didn't want my shelf to be visible from what would be the front of my finished furniture piece when it's stored in the living room between use, so I measured the distance between the wood bottom and where the metal backing begins (15"). I needed to be able to really load this shelf up, so on each side I created a rectangle support structure that the shelf will sit on. I used my Kreg jig to drill pocket holes, and thought through where I was placing those holes so they wouldn't be visible in the end. Pocket holes are on the top which will be covered by the actual shelf and the bottom of each side support where you won't see them.
Those two side pieces were the original extent of my plan to support the shelf, but as I was building it, I decided that when the unit is stored in my living room, I don't want to see all the stuff I plan to keep on the lowest level shelf. I added a center piece of wood that divides the lower storage into a front and back section. I decided I would put baskets in the front for "pretty" storage, and then have that back storage separate for more utilitarian uses. This ended up even further maximizing my available storage, while also adding strength to the shelf. I placed this divider off center because I want most of my storage space in back for bigger items like the slow cooker. The baskets that I'll use in the front are only 8" deep, so I gave them a little extra room and went with 9" of space in the front and left the remaining storage in back.
I spray painted my shelf support pieces black to blend in with the metal of the cart and the MDF bottom. I was going to paint the piece of divider wood black as well, but I used a leftover scrap of pretty plywood that I just couldn't bring myself to paint. So I oxidized it with a vinegar/steel wool solution to give it a reclaimed wood look instead.
To assemble, I positioned the two rectangular legs in first. Then added the lower horizontal 2x2 that would become the bottom support of the divider piece. Next, I attached the upper 2x2 directly to the wood divider with pocket holes. I fit the divider piece in and checked for square before screwing it in place.
From there, I added the actual shelf. I used a piece of project panel (pre-purchased, but really just some 3/4" boards laminated together) that I cut to size (21 1/2" x 36"). Normally I would have oxidized this piece too, but I wanted to experiment with layering stain colors to recreate a weathered wood look to see how it would compare. I use leftover stain from a couple previous projects and then sealed it with polyurethane. In the end, it's okay but I do wish I stuck with the oxidize & wax approach. (The stain gives it a little too uniform of a look for my taste.) Now if you're wondering why I didn't go with scrap wood or plywood for the shelf, I have a confession... Originally I was going to use this piece as the top. But the finish was not to my taste and I couldn't shake the idea that a butcher block top would be amazing, so I decided to repurpose this as the shelf instead!
Finally, I worked the shelf into position sitting on its new support structure and held in place by the metal of the legs. It did take some effort to work the shelf in place, but the upside is that it fits like a glove and won't budge from its final position.
Step 4: Add Storage "Drawers"
The back side of the cart had the lowered shelf where the overhead projector once sat as well as a little shelf right beneath the projector for the teacher's storage. I decided to turn this awkward feature into two drawers. I measured my openings and cut drawers to fit.
DISCLAIMER ON DRAWERS: I used only pieces of scrap wood I had around, which meant my drawer builds are very much cobbled together. There are far more elegant ways to build drawers, but I went with what I had on hand.
The height of each drawer face is 3.5" - to reach this height I used a 1x3 stacked on a 1x2 laying on its side (because I wasn't in the mood to rip pieces of wood down to my precise size requirement, this was the easiest way to use what I had to quickly get the drawer face measurement I needed). I used my trusty Kreg jig to drill pocket holes and secure the 2 pieces of wood of each drawer face. Due to limitations of scrap supply on hand, the remainder of the two drawers differ from each other, but they work just fine and since the drawer faces were built the same way, the end result looks consistent!
I finished the drawers by oxidizing the wood with a steel wool and vinegar solution. I sealed the finish with clear wax. From there, I dug through boxes of knobs and handles I have hoarded away from previous furniture refinishing endeavors and found a pair of metal handles that I had saved off an old serving tray. I measured out where I wanted the handles placed, marked where the screws needed to go, pre-drilled pilot holes and then secured each handle in place with screws.
Then, I just slid my new drawers into the existing openings, stood back and admired!
Step 5: Adding the Top
My cart needed some type of top. There is a big square hole where the projector once sat which just won't work on a kitchen island! Luckily the cart also had a lip that went all the way around the top (including around the sides of that big open hole), this worked perfectly for keeping the top in place without any complicated attachments required.
For my top, I decided it was time to join this whole DIY butcher block trend I've been admiring from afar. I cleared my scrap pile of 1x2 pieces and also borrowed a few from a stash set aside for a different project that has... well, failed to progress. I still didn't have quite enough 1x2s to cover the whole 22" x 36" top, so I decided to throw in a few 2x2 pieces. I could have opted to lay my 1x2s the other direction, so that the overall depth of the top would have been 3/4" but I really like the look of a hefty butcher block and the 1 1/2" depth. The 2x2 solution worked well and I'm very pleased with how it came out.
I started by laying out my pieces to verify that I liked the way all the pieces would be positioned, pulled out staples and removed a few pesky stickers. Then I collected every wood clamp we own and got started gluing and clamping.
It's important in this process to make sure your top doesn't start cupping; I clamped straight scrap boards on the top and bottom of the piece to keep the boards from popping out of alignment when they're being squeezed together by the bar clamps.
If you plan to use a butcher block top to prepare food on, make sure you are using untreated wood and a food safe wood glue. If you'll be putting your butcher block through heavy chopping use, construct it from hardwoods. I won't use this for daily chopping, and I embrace dings and other imperfections as character, so I used pine (plus it's what I had on hand).
After leaving it clamped to dry for 24 hours I removed the clamps and that's when the real work began. I sanded, sanded, sanded and then sanded some more. I used my sanding time to reflect on how I should have wiped off all that excess glue when I first clamped the piece together rather than slacking and letting it dry on. If I had a thickness planer this step would have been way easier and given me a more perfect final result; instead I used my orbital sander, started with 60 grit sandpaper, then 80 grit, followed by 120 and finally 220. It was some work for sure, but totally worth it in the end! I don't mind that it's not a factory perfect top, for me, the imperfections add to the end goal.
I used my circular saw and a piece of wood as a straight edge to trim the sides.
I rounded the edges with the orbital sander since I wanted the piece to look old. If you wanted a perfect, polished new look, a router would be the better choice here. But I want it to look like it has had a life before so the uneven rounded corners work for me.
I had lots of sanding time to ponder this top and I became concerned that it looked too much like new, fresh wood and would look off with the reclaimed wood vibe elsewhere on the cart. So I decided to oxidize the butcher block top. Since the solution is just vinegar and steel wool I wasn't concerned about food safety issues.
After applying the oxidizing solution I let the top sit for a day to let the color and tone really develop. Then, I very lightly sanded back a couple areas that looked too dark or splotchy; I used 400 grit sandpaper for this. I wiped off all the sanding residue with a damp rag.
I needed to seal this top, and used a food safe oil blend made for butcher blocks. You can use food grade mineral oil for this, but I've had a bottle of Block Oil sitting in a cabinet for the past year, so this was the perfect application! I soaked a clean rag with the oil, applied and wiped with a clean, dry rag after 10 minutes. I repeated for a total of 3 coats.
Finally it was time to position the top on the cart! The lip around the edge of the steel cart coupled with the heft of the top itself holds it in position perfectly.
Step 6: Stuff the Cart Full and Begin to Use It!!
I store all kinds of kitchen stuff in this cart. I love it because...
- It's pretty enough to reside in our living room immediately adjacent to the tiny kitchen and function as a sideboard
- It's on a great set of casters and can be easily wheeled around to where I need it
- It's got a power strip on the side that I use to plug in my mixer, slow cooker, blender, etc.
- It gives me much needed extra counter space
- The steel construction is so sturdy, I have no concerns about loading this thing up
All in all, it's one of the most used pieces in our home. This was one of the easiest, biggest impact projects I've taken on. It fulfills multiple purposes, and the end result is as pretty as it is useful!
The moral of this story is that as technology evolves and the sleek little devices we enjoy today replace overhead projectors, bulky TVs and VCRs across our schools, a whole treasure trove of old super sturdy steel AV carts will be looking for new lives!! Before passing up one of these beauties, consider what a simple wood top, maybe a couple drawers and a shelf could turn it into.
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this ible, please consider voting for me in the "Trash to Treasure" challenge and the Metal contest!