Upcycle a Metal File Cabinet into a DIY Planter | Easy and Budget-Friendly Outdoor Planter

This post may contain affiliate links.

If you enjoy this post, please share! I appreciate it so much!

I love transforming anything old and tossed aside into something new and beautiful. It’s good for the environment to make sure less waste ends up in landfills, and it saves me money too! These DIY planters that I made are from two upcycled file cabinets I bought off Facebook Marketplace. The perfect example of a fun DIY transformation. 

Getting Started

I got these file cabinets a while back. There were two of them, and I decided I wanted to use them for DIY planters for my backyard patio. I encountered my first obstacle in this project early on… I could not get the drawers out! There were no clips inside or underneath the drawers and nothing to push or pull on.

Honestly, I wasn’t super concerned about damaging the drawers because I didn’t need to save them. There were fasteners holding the drawers onto the sliders, but they weren’t screws. 

So, I got in there with my hammer and used the claw to pop the fasteners out on both sides, and the drawer finally came out. This worked for all of the drawers on that cabinet. The second cabinet had regular sliders so those drawers just came out properly and I didn’t have to use force!  

Making a Plan for my DIY planters

Once the drawers were out, it was time to come up with a plan! Of course, I wanted to put my own spin on things.

Laid on their sides, these cabinets are on the shorter side and I wanted to add some height. I also love the look of wood and black metal together. So, I decided to add some wood detail using cedar boards which are beautiful and naturally insect repellant which works great for outdoors!

Let’s start turning these file cabinets into outdoor planters 

First, I needed to figure out how to close up the open ends of the cabinets. Not all cabinets are open on the end that typically sits on the floor but mine were. I had considered using the bottom of one of the drawers but the sizing wasn’t quite right.

Next, I considered using acrylic cut to size and painted black, but this was costly. I ended up finding metal sheets in the ductwork section of my local Home Depot. They were infinitely cheaper than acrylic! I was able to cut them to size with scissors (my box cutter didn’t work for this). 

Then I used Liquid Nails by Fuze It to attach the metal sheets to the ends of the file cabinets. This is an interior/exterior product so I knew it would work great and leave no holes or marks where I fastened the metal to the cabinet, unlike traditional nails or screws. 

I put the Liquid Nails all around the entire edge (just enough, not too much!), and then set the metal down in place. I used the bags of soil that were sitting and patiently waiting for this to be done to weigh it down so it set properly. 

Making It Pretty

The next morning I lightly sanded the entire surface area of both file cabinets using sandpaper. I then used my Liquid Sandpaper to be certain the metal was ready to take paint.  

Then, I put the first coat of black spray paint on! I used Rustoleum Rust Stop interior/exterior spray paint, since I know this can be sprayed directly onto metal. Not all spray paints are made for exterior use, so choose your products carefully. 

I chose a flat black and after the first couple coats of paint I noticed it just wasn’t giving me an even finish. I ended up grabbing this high heat (because of the metal) rust stop enamel paint and I rolled it on with a high density foam roller.

Next Step: Wood Details 

Then, it was time for the wood detailing I talked about at the beginning of this post!

Essentially, I built wooden boxes to put on the top of the cabinets. This is where I eventually put my dirt and plants.

Making the DIY Planter Boxes 

The boxes were so easy to put together.  I just used the measurements from the file cabinets as my guide, since I wanted the wood to be the exact same size as the top where they would be sitting. I mitered the edges so they would fit together nicely in the corners.  Then I put the pieces together using nails and wood glue, just to be certain nothing would come apart. 

I have some clamps that hold the wood together while I’m nailing, and if you plan to do more than one project like this I recommend you buy some for yourself.  

Pro tip: if you’re almost out of wood glue but don’t want to take the time to go to the store when you’re in the middle of things, just cut the whole end off the tube and you will find there’s still lots in there! 

Stain and Seal 

When the boxes were built, I stained and sealed them. You can choose whatever color you think looks best with the color you chose for the cabinets!

Sealing is very important to make the stain last out in the elements and with the damp soil sitting right up against the boards, so make sure you don’t skip this part. I really love to use Thompsons WaterSeal for these types of outdoor projects!

Putting It All Together 

After the stain and sealant dried, I used my Liquid Nails to attach the boxes to their file cabinet base. Just like when I used this product to put the new ends on the planters, I was careful to use just the right amount so there was no oozing or dripping down the sides. If this happens, just wipe it off before it sets and you will be ok! 

Finishing Touches

I put fake plants in these DIY planters (sorry to all you real plant lovers out there! I just can’t keep them alive), but I still drilled holes in the bottom for drainage, since I still don’t want my planters filling up with water and overflowing dirt onto my patio.  

Even though I’m putting fake plants in, I still got real dirt to make the planters look more authentic. Since I didn’t have to worry about taking care of actual plants, I just chose the cheapest dirt I could find. I think these bags cost me $2.50 each at Home Depot. Once the holes were drilled I dumped the soil in. 

I found discount faux plants at a local hobby store, but you can feel free to do whatever you want! You could even do real plants. I just stuck the stems of my plants into the soil at regular intervals.

And that’s it! I am so happy with how these DIY planters from file cabinets turned out! It was so easy to do (once I figured out how the drawers came out!), and I think it adds so much to our outdoor space. Tag me @diy.ourhome with your file cabinet planter makeovers! I would love to see them. 

Want to save this DIY Command Center idea for later? Pin it to your favorite board!

If you liked this post, you might like my DIY Raised Garden Bed Tutorial below!

Click here to read my DIY Raised Garden Bed Tutorial

In this post, I’ll share exactly how I built a DIY raised bed garden for our yard for half the cost of buying it already made! Thanks to this beautiful garden (and for the bunnies not being able to reach it) we have had a blast growing our own veggies this summer!

If you enjoy this post, please share! I appreciate it so much!