Restoring antique cabinet drawers: Ideas and Sources, please?
March 17, 2013 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I've come into possession of an antique oak filing cabinet, and need help figuring out how to make the interior of the drawers functional. Restoration advice needed, please.

This is my awesome side-of-the-road freebie, a Yawman and Erbe filing (?) cabinet.

It's been gathering additional dust in my barn, and the time to do something about it is coming. I would like to restore this piece enough to have it in my house (not to professional standards, or even with an eye to selling it, just enough to be pretty and functional).

Would you please give me your ideas on making this drawer (one of 18; side view) useable? That is, able to hold pens and other loose objects. I'm stymied about how to do this. Dimensions inside the metal side rails are 4.25" wide; length is adjustable up to about 10.5"; height is 10", though any insert could be somewhat lower.

Do I buy plastic boxes to drop inside the drawers? Something else? Where should I look? I'd prefer not to build from scratch if I can help it. A pre-made solution is going to make this project go much, much faster. As I said -- think function, rather than period-appropriate. Your thoughts on trying to match the missing hardware (label holders) are also welcome. It's been years since I've restored furniture, so if you have any advice on miracle restoration/refinishing products that have come out recently, feel free to add those as well.

Thank you, Hive Mind!
posted by MonkeyToes to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I love the cabinet. I would go to either the Container Store or Bed, Bath and Beyond and see if there is some sort of plastic or metal container you can drop in. Upon preview of the Container Store site, how about some magazine holders like they have on the home page on the desk? Or check out these reinforced boxes.

I think your idea is a good one.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:40 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Google brass label plates or label holders. There's a ton of different sizes (and a couple style variations) out there. Get the kind that attach with screws, not nails.

Pretty piece!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:23 PM on March 17, 2013

For tall things, you could find some of these that fit. But you probably want something shorter for smaller things. Lunch boxes maybe? Or small sets of plastic drawers, though you would probably have to take out one of the rails in order to access all the drawers. Or stackable plastic tubs like these.
posted by kjs4 at 10:12 PM on March 17, 2013

Global Industrial is a good source for this sort of little bin. For example: premium stacking bins.

McMaster-Carr also has a variety of storage bins and baskets.

I am cheap, so if I were in your situation, I would scrounge around for food containers that fit reasonably neatly. Yogurt containers or large jars hold lots of things pretty well. Also those sort of pale green cardboard-y bins that blueberries come in, the cut-off tops (and bottoms) of egg cartons, and seed-starting containers can all hold a variety of objects.

Also: those drawers are just about the right size to hold small paperback books, standing up normally with the spines facing to the side. It might be kind of a kick to store your books in a filing cabinet like a card catalog.
posted by Commander Rachek at 8:43 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
Several years later, I discovered that Trivial Pursuits game boards, cut into quarters, provided the perfectly-sized sides for the drawers. Two sections of game board and a little bit of Gorilla Tape per drawer and I FINALLY have something functional as well as beautiful!
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:11 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

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