Upcycled Cast Iron Apothecary Cabinet From a Treadle Machine
When a client commissioned me to repurpose a treadle sewing machine drawer set, I knew I had to do something special. I thought it would be inventive to find a way to use the cast iron structure as the framework for the cabinets, and this upcycled cast iron apothecary cabinet was born! As an added bonus, I managed to use almost all of the rest of the original treadle in other upcycled furniture that I made. Waste not, want not. If you’d like to see just how I did it, scroll down and follow my step-by-step guide.
This project uses just a few materials and a whole bunch of tools, so if you don’t have these tools in your arsenal, ask a friend to borrow theirs.
Treadle sewing machine drawers
3M blue tape
Table saw sled
80 tooth finish blade
Mini metal lathe, 7 x 12-inch
Right angle grinder
10” disc sander
High speed steel drill bits
Milwaukee 2897-22 M18 Fuel 2-tool combo kit
DEWALT step drill bit set
Silver sharpie (this shows up best on the black cast iron)
Kreg pocket hole jig
The first thing I needed to do was countersink the outside of the cast iron bracket. Originally the shelves were mounted on the other side of the brackets, but because I wanted to mount them on the other side, I needed to create screw holes on the other side.
The drawers only came up about ¾ of the way on the cast iron brackets, so I needed to shorten them a bit. I inserted all the drawers and checked with a level to see where exactly I wanted to cut the cast iron.
In the end, I cut just above the word “DOMESTIC” that was in the cast iron. This worked out well as I wanted to use that part in another project. I did a rough cut first with an angle grinder, knowing that later I would have to do a more precise cut.
I put the shelves back on to find the right spot to cut the top so that it would line up perfectly. I wanted the top to sit nicely without leaving too much room between it and the drawer below it, but also leaving enough room for the drawer to slide in and out comfortably.
Once I had determined the proper height, I measured it on each bracket and marked it with a silver sharpie. Silver sharpies show up beautifully on anything that is black.
Then I simply took the brackets over to the disc grinder and ground up to the silver line, making sure that they all were even.
I ground off a bit of the black paint so that I could weld tabs onto the brackets to support the top of the cabinet. I just used a few square nuts that I had.
I cleaned the tabs up a bit with a disc grinder to make sure that they would take the weld properly.
Then I welded them onto the brackets. At first I tacked them on, but later came back and put a larger weld on them to make sure that they welded properly to the cast iron.
Once they were attached, I cleaned them up a bit again to get rid of any sharp edges that might rub against the shelves.
I needed to reinforce the bottom of the cabinet to ensure that the two sides wouldn’t start spreading apart. I started by drilling two holes in each of the bottom shelves that held the drawers.
I needed to run a few countersinks so that the screws would sit flush and wouldn’t stop the wooden drawer from sliding out smoothly.
Using a wood scrap from the treadle machine, I cut a notch to make room for the ribs on the shelfs.
Then I installed them using original screws from the treadle machine. I try to do this whenever possible, just because something is old doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with it.
The client wanted me to use the original wooden tabletop of the treadle machine, and in order to do so I had to be a little creative. There were four nice looking corners on the wood, so I decided to just use those. In order to do this I had to cut the piece of wood into a few pieces to isolate the corners.
Then I used a biscuit joiner to connect them. This is a nice way to make the pieces fit snugly.
I also used pockethole screws on the bottom to make sure that they were extra secure.
I added a light coat of sealant to the top and it was time to assemble!
I lay the top I had created on top of the cabinet to check that the overhang was even on each side.
Then I marked where I wanted to install the screws with a pencil.
In order to install the screws with ease, I flipped the cabinet over and screwed them in by hand. Don’t use any power tools as the force may crack the wood.
I didn’t want the cast iron to scratch the floor it would be on so I added adjustable feet to each leg of the cabinet. This was also beneficial as one of the feet was slightly longer than the other one, and I was able to correct this by playing around with the length of the feet a bit.
I put all the drawers back in and I was done! This project turned out great and I hope the client will love it too! How have you repurposed old pieces of furniture? Let me know in the comments down below!
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GeorgiaBulldogsFan on May 10, 2023
I have just found this project this morning. I absolutely love it! I have several treadle machine bases that I use in different ways in my house. I’m in the process of revamping my sewing/craft room and this would make a great addition to that room. So glad I found this project today. Terrific job.
Make Build Modify on May 10, 2023
Thank you, that's great to hear!
Gorgeous! Could I buy one from you?
HI, I have the drawers and made the legs into a table. Love the drawer idea though, any ideas on where to find a frameword such as you used? A reproduction would be fine as well. Thanks!