Repurposing A Supply Cabinet

We saw this metal shelving unit sitting in a dealer's booth at the Austin Antique Mall months before we actually bought it. It was filled with knick knacks and had a table pushed in front of it, and we weren't even certain that it was for sale at first. Judging from the construction and color, we believe it was a storage cabinet of some sort in a military machine shop. After seeing that it was just collecting dust, we made an offer and it was accepted.

Tip: If you see an item you like at a vintage shop but don't want to pay full price, make note of it. If it's still sitting in the vendor's booth after months, chances are good that they're ready to discount the price to clear space for new inventory. Be sure to mention that you know it's been sitting unsold for awhile.

At seven feet tall and with heavy gauge steel construction, this cabinet was a trick to move. Roger and I are relatively strong guys, but...yeesh. Before moving it into the house, we set it in the carport. Our goal was to remove a large portion of the tiny dividers, as well as several shelves, in order to create space for larger items. I also had to figure out how to stabilize the unit. It was fairly top-heavy, and I didn't want to move it into the house only to end up with a squished cat, dog, or Roger.

I quickly discovered that each divider was affixed in five separate places, and that the bolts and nuts had rusted together. It was a trick squeezing my hand into these pockets, let alone fitting in tools and operating them without being able to see what I was doing. I found a couple of helpful gadgets - an offset screwdriver and a compact ratchet - but the process of removing dozens of rusted-over bolts and a hundred pounds of steel took hours. I'm lucky that I was up-to-date on my tetanus vaccination, because I would have ended up with lockjaw for sure.

After spending eight hours removing all of the panels (and letting my neighbors know that I did, in fact, know each and every curse word), Roger spent another couple of hours cleaning off the dirt and loose rust, and then coating the surfaces with Briwax clear furniture wax.

Using a furniture wax like Briwax on a metal surface helps protect and seal it. Best of all, it stops the aging process, so paint that has flaked off won't continue to do so and the existing rust will not spread. Aged metal objects brought into a house can create a mess; this is a way to add these character-packed pieces to your home without the dust and debris. Be sure to use clear wax!

To secure the unit to the wall in our bedroom, I first mounted two sections of 1"x4" pine to the wall. I screwed into the wall studs with screws designed for kitchen cabinets. After that, I made a simple base for the unit out of a sheet of lumber wrapped in grey flannel to prevent the rough metal edges from digging into the wood floors. The back of the cabinet had a grid of predrilled holes, so I used those to run screws into the wall-mounted lumber.


  • Vintage military equipment cabinet - Austin Antique Mall
  • Vintage cameras - family, miscellaneous flea markets
  • Vintage postcards - Uncommon Objects
  • Glass bottles - miscellaneous flea markets
  • Moose antlers and insects - miscellaneous flea markets
  • Radio - Tivoli Model One
  • Specialty screwdrivers and low-profile ratchet set - The Home Depot
  • Clear furniture wax - Briwax

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