Rusty File Cabinet Cactus Planter


We've been looking for a way to add a little rustic to our house on a budget. When we came across an inexpensive file cabinet on Craigslist, we knew just what to do! We'll tell you how we achieved this rusty patina!
We bought this old file cabinet from Craigslist
We removed multiple paint layers with chemical stripper, then sanded off the powder coat.
We wiped the raw metal with muriatic acid (pool acid). Please be careful and suit up if you use this stuff!
After a week of sitting with the acid, we had this nice rusty patina. We drilled drainage holes in the bottom of the planter with a metal drill bit. We then bought 12x12 square plastic planters and set them in the 12x14 drawer holes.
Since there was a 2" gap, we added a thin piece of fence board. The planters sit at an angle, but the angle actually aids with drainage.
Since we were planting cacti, we filled the planters partially with gravel and then filled the remainder with cactus-succulent soil that drains well.
We placed the planter on two bricks to aid with drainage and lawn work. We're happy with how it turned out! Once it reaches the perfect rusty patina, we will be stopping the rust with Penetrol by Flood and sealing with a clear polyurethane. As of now, we're still rusting away!

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

2 questions
  • Helena
    on Feb 23, 2016

    Is the acid/sanding only to remove the old paint and achieve the patina on the cabinet or can a Rustoleum paint be used? I'm concerned about the acid getting on/in the ground or the garden. I love this idea because it looks like the drawers are a perfect fit with the pot holders- no measuring or cutting.

    • Joy Bennett
      Joy Bennett
      on Feb 23, 2016

      I was thinking the same thing. I love the look of the rust patina, but a bright happy pop of color with Rustoleum paint would go better in my yard. Great up cycle idea you guys!!!!

    • Carolyn Noyer
      Carolyn Noyer
      on Jul 15, 2016

      I bought 2 two drawer file cabinets I was planning on painting and using for end tables by my bed. After seeing this, I'm not so sure now, great save gal

    • Diena Cameron
      Diena Cameron
      on Jul 16, 2016

      So will this eventually be a turquoise color or still be the rust color when you put the "stop rust" on it ? Definitely a great up-cycle ! If i could tear away our old, falling apart, oak, 2 drawer, file cabinet from my hubby, this is what I will do. Thanks !

  • Beth Bargas Waller
    Beth Bargas Waller
    on Aug 25, 2017

    I can't seem to find the 12x12 planters. Any suggestions where to source these? Thx.

Join the conversation

3 of 153 comments
  • Pat Berryhill
    Pat Berryhill
    on Feb 23, 2016

    Absolute genius idea! We have a little two drawer filing cabinet at home I was going to take to the curb. Now I know what to do with it - make a planter!

    • Resa
      on Feb 23, 2016

      @Pat Berryhill You can also use the cabinet for garage storage. Paint cabinet. Attach wheels to the 4 corners of what was the backside of the cabinet. Use wood blocks inside cabinet at each wheel site so the wheel screws have something strong to grab onto. This is now the bottom of your rolling storage cabinet. You can store baseball bats, hockey sticks, golf clubs or use as garden tool storage by inserting tools handle first.

  • Cynthia
    on Sep 10, 2016

    I couldn't stop looking at your cute house! Love the paint job!

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