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Upcycling Old Wooden Tool Chest to Sewing Box

Tool chest converted to sewing box and doubling up as a stool

Tool chest converted to sewing box and doubling up as a stool

Upcycle a Wooden Chest

I had an old wooden tool chest in my workshop, which my wife’s brother inherited from his father-in-law. He gave it to me because he’s no good at DIY projects. The chest (very much like a blanket box) was pushed in under my workbench and was being used to store odd bits of spare electrical items.

However, when my wife wanted a large wooden chest as a sewing box, it seemed an ideal candidate for upcycling and repurposing.

Two years earlier, I built the conservatory I’d always promised my wife, which we then promptly filled with furniture to make it a relaxing and comfortable summer house. Then, as my wife wanted to be able to utilise the conservatory all year round, she asked if I could add some heating.

In accordance with her wishes, and to keep the conservatory nice and snug during the winter months, I plumbed a radiator into the conservatory from our central heating system. Quite an easy task as the pipes for the radiator in the living room ran under the floorboards just on the other side of the adjoining wall between the conservatory and living room.

Then the following year, a friend, who was having a good clear out prior to moving home, offered us his old solid pine wood dining table. We already have a good dining table, but my wife snapped it up anyway and promptly adopted it as her sewing table in the conservatory. To fit the table in meant, moving our sideboard from the conservatory back to the dining room.

It wasn’t long before she adapted the conservatory as her sewing room, and then shortly afterwards asked if I could make her a large sewing box on wheels, which she could store under the pine table when not in use.

When she made her request, I instantly thought of the old tool chest in my workshop which, with a good clean, some repairs, and the addition of wheels to the base and perhaps a few other minor modifications, would be just ideal for upcycling into the sewing box she wanted.

Restoring the Latch

Apart from being a bit rusty, the metal latch was fine. All it required was to unscrew the latch from the chest and give it a quick rub down with an emery cloth before painting it.

For the best finish, I decided to use metal spray paint, choosing black to match the original colour. I felt it was better than using a brush in that there was no risk in leaving brush strokes. I was able to apply the paint in thin, even coats to give a really smooth gloss finish.

To get a perfect finish, I applied three coats, allowing a couple of hours to dry between each coat.

Cleaning the Rope Handles

Each rope handle was attached to the chest by four screws on the inside of the box. Once I undid the screws and removed the ropes, I soaked them in washing powder mixed with warm water for a couple of hours. I then gave them a good scrub, and a thorough rinse in clean water, and laid them out to dry.

My Use of Teak Oil

When doing restoration work on bare wood, regardless of the type of wood and whether it's inside the home or outside in the garden, I always treat it with teak oil, which:

  • Adds natural oils back to wood to help stop it from drying out and splitting if in the home, and gives added protection from the weather if the wood's outside.
  • Enriches wood by enhancing the colour and natural look.
  • Is particularly good at bringing out the natural beauty of oak and cedar wood.

Restoration of Wooden Chest

After decades of being in garden workshops, the outside of the chest was grubby and the joints on one of the corners were a bit loose. Therefore, after removing the latch and handles:

  • To repair the loose joints on one of the corners, I prised the corner apart slightly, just enough to squeeze some wood glue into the joints.
  • I immediately held the corner tight with a bar clamp and fitted an angle bracket near the top; where the joint is at its weakest. I then added angle brackets to the other three corners for added strength.
  • After the glue had dried, I cleaned the outside of the chest by just quickly, and lightly, running a belt sander (fitted with a fine-grade sanding belt) over the surfaces of the four sides of the box. In using the sanding belt I obviously sanded along the grain, rather than across it, so as not to scratch the wood.
  • After sanding down the outside of the chest, I cleaned off all the loose sawdust with white spirt, and left it to dry.
  • Then I applied a couple of coats of Sikkens translucent wood stain; which helps to keep the natural look of the wood, while at the same time giving a durable glossy finish.
  • For the inside (which was in remarkably good condition), rather than wood staining I just rubbed generous amounts of teak oil into the wood and left that to dry.

Once all the restoration work was complete, I then reinstated the latch and handles.

Adding Wheels to Make the Chest Mobile

To make the chest mobile, so my wife can push it under the table when not in use, I found a set of furniture caster wheels (stored away in my workshop which I’d salvaged from a scrapped cabinet years ago.

As the base of the chest is only half an inch, and the pins on the caster wheels are over an inch long, I needed to add some wood to the base to make it deep enough to fit the wheels.

After finding some suitable scrap wood, cutting it to size and smoothing the corners and edges with an electric sander, I used a flat wood drill bit (just slightly smaller in diameter than the wheel pins) to make holes for the wheels pins to fit into.

I fitted the wood to the base of the chest and then pushed the caster wheels into place into the pre-drilled holes.

Making it Multifunctional

I always like to go one step further when I can. Because of the size and height of the chest, I could see the potential of it also doubling up as a handy seat.

With this in mind, I cut some foam to size, stretched some spare fabric over the top, and fixed it into place with brass upholstery tacks. The fabric I used was left over from when I revamped our cat tree for the conservatory.

When upholstering a seat, you need to:

  • Firmly fix it to one side with a few upholstery tacks (or staples if fixing it from the underside, where it’s not going to be visible).
  • Stretch the fabric over the foam, and while pulling it taught, pin it to the other side of the seat.
  • Fold or tuck in the corners (like making a bed), cutting off some surplus material if necessary, and tack or pin them neatly into place.
  • Firmly fix one end with a few tacks or staples, and
  • As with the sides, stretch the fabric over the foam, pulling it taught as you pin it to the other end, then finally
  • Staple or tack down all the edges at close intervals; if using upholstery tacks they should all be touching each other in a neat row.
Conversion from tool chest to sewing box; complete with caster wheels and padded seat

Conversion from tool chest to sewing box; complete with caster wheels and padded seat