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A few months ago I picked up a beautiful, solid pine coffee table from the side of the road. I had every intention of upcycling the coffee table by stripping the dated orangey-brown stain and refinishing it in a more neutral colour.
The best laid plans and all that.
When I began stripping back the original finish, I realised that the varnish was on thick. I’m talking “belt sander with 40 grit sandpaper can’t get it off” thick.
As I was pretty busy at the time, I decided to put the coffee table in the “too hard” basket. I began shifting this massive, heavy coffee table over to my ‘corner of shame’ (a spot in my shed reserved for my countless unfinished DIY projects) when my clumsy nature reared its head.
I dropped this heavy coffee table directly on to my big toenail.
While not wearing any shoes.
Why wasn’t I wearing any shoes? Because I am an idiot.
I’ll spare you most of the gory details. Suffice to say, I lost so much blood that my shed, and the path from my shed to my back door, honestly looked like a crime scene.
Wear your steel-capped boots, guys.
So, after hobbling around injured for a few weeks and realising that stripping the original varnish was going to take more effort than I could muster, I decided against upcycling the coffee table. But I then looked at one of the drawers and had an idea: I was going to turn a drawer into shelving.
This got me excited for three reasons. Firstly, it didn’t seem like it would be that hard to upcycle a drawer into shelving. Secondly, it meant that my laundry room could finally have some storage. And finally, upcycling a drawer into a shelf meant that my coffee table “adventures” hadn’t been a total waste.
So I got to work, turned my drawer into shelving, and documented the process so you can too!
How to turn a drawer into shelving
To upcycle a drawer into shelving, you will need:
- A piece of timber, cut to the width of your drawer. This piece of timber will form your middle shelf.
- An orbital sander + sanding discs in 40 grit and 120 grit
- A drill+ four 50mm (approx 2 inch) screws
- A rag
- Regular sandpaper in 120 grit
- Two wood stains. I used Cabot’s Interior Water-Based Stain in Walnut & British Paints Water-Based Stain in Black (Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in Special Walnut and Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in Espresso seem to be very similar colours)
- A paintbrush
- Polyurethane varnish
Step 1: Strip the original finish from your drawer
This is what my drawer looked like originally. To remove the orangey-brown stain, I used an orbital sander and 40 grit sandpaper to sand the drawer until the original finish was removed. If you’re looking for a good all-round orbital sander, I personally use and recommend the Ryobi range. They’re affordable and durable.
Sanding to remove finishes can be tedious and time-consuming, especially when they’re on thick. I recommend listening to some awesome music while you do this. This helps ensure you don’t die from boredom before you manage to upcycle your drawer into shelving.
Once I had removed the original finish, I then used my orbital sander to lightly sand the drawer using 120 grit sandpaper
Step 2: Add a second shelf to the drawer
To add a second shelf to your upcycled shelving, flip your drawer on its side. Slot in your piece of pre-measured wood, like so.
Check that your shelf is in straight using a spirit level or a spirit level app.
Once you’re sure your shelf is straight, drive two screws into the side of your drawer. I used 50mm (approximately 2 inch) screws. Provided you choose a screw that’s long enough to both penetrate the side of the drawer and ‘bite into’ the shelf wood, the exact length doesn’t matter.
Flip your drawer over and repeat on the other side.
When you’ve finished, you’ll have something looking like this:
Now you’ve finished all of the construction required to turn a drawer into shelving!
Step 3: Stain your upcycled shelves
Once you’ve assembled your shelving unit, it’s time to give it a cosmetic makeover. You can stain or paint your shelves in an way you want. Choose something that makes you smile!
I’ll show you how I achieved my particular stain in case you want to emulate it.
To begin, I applied a messy coat of Cabot’s Interior Water-Based Stain in Walnut (Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in Special Walnut is a good colour alternative for American readers). I wiped excess stain off with a rag within 30 seconds of application as I didn’t want the stain to be too pigmented or dark.
Once the first layer of stain was dry, I used a rag to apply British Paints Water-Based Stain in Black (Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in Espresso seems to be a similar colour). I wiped the stain on random spots with the rag, then immediately wiped it off.
After the second layer of stain was dry, I used 120 grit sandpaper to sand the stain off in a few places. I like imperfect stains because they add character to pieces!
Step 4: Seal your upcycled shelves
Once your stain or paint is dry, it’s a good idea to seal your shelves using a protective top coat. This helps protect your DIY project against general wear and tear. I just used a simple polyurethane varnish on my shelves.
And with that, you’re now the proud owner of one upcycled drawer turned shelving unit.
You can attach your upcycled shelving unit to the wall in any number of ways. I personally used some right-angle brackets and, let me tell you, I am so excited to finally have some storage in my laundry. With the knees of an 90 year old, bending down to get the washing powder from under the sink every time I needed to do a load was getting incredibly tedious.
I really love how detailed the stain turned out. It has such character!
I feel as though the shelves go quite nicely with the 10 minute DIY no-sew cafe curtains I made for the laundry.