Stick a Fork in it, It’s Done! {Library Card Catalog Reveal}

Ok, the moment you’ve all been waiting for … er, ok maybe just the moment I’ve been waiting for, is finally here! My library card catalog cabinet is finally finished, and let me tell you, it was a beast of a project. But well worth it as far as I’m concerned, because this is a classic piece of furniture with a story behind it, and I was happy to hopefully do it justice by restoring it. For those of you who missed the original post, here’s a quick recap for you: My grandparents rescued this library cabinet from a vacant school building owned by a family friend. It had been sitting there for years, and would have probably ended up in the dumpster (I know, how awful!). The owner of the school building let them have it for free, so they took it home in pieces and little by little with the help of some family members, we schlepped it home to Atlanta from their house in Indiana. The orange-y stain was faded and the varnish had bubbled and peeled in some spots, and it desperately needed to be refinished. It was missing one drawer, and a few other drawers got broken, but I’ll show you my solution for that (ultimately, I’d love to replace the missing drawer and repair the others).

I opted not to paint it after going back and forth about it in my head. I really just wanted to stain it and keep it classic. This is a piece I plan on keeping forever and I don’t want to do anything “trendy” to it, plus I love the look of the wood. I feel like although it has been restored, it still has a vintage feel, complete with imperfections and patina on the hardware, etc. Painting it would have been pretty too, it just wasn’t the look I was going for this time. (Here are tutorials for how I stripped it and stained it.)

Ready to see it? Here she is:

Refinished Vintage Library Cabinet as Craft/Office Storage.

I opted to fill the bottom row with jars since I am missing a drawer and two are broken.

Refinished library cabinet.

Refinished library cabinet.

Refinished library cabinet.

Refinished library cabinet.

Now let’s take a walk down memory lane and look at some “Before” and “during the process” pics. I had never seen it all put together until after it was refinished. It arrived at our home in pieces, and since it was so heavy I opted to refinish it before putting it together. It’s hard to tell in photos how yucky the finish was. It looked very “veneered” and was bubbly in some spots, and had a bit of an orange tint to it.




First I stripped the entire thing  – and yes, this was a super tedious process considering all of the little drawers involved. Next, I rubbed it down with mineral oil to remove the residue. Then I sanded it, pre-conditioned it, stained it with Minwax Dark Walnut and coated it twice with polyurethane. The whole thing took me several weeks because I did it little by little, but the majority of the work took place over the past couple of weeks.

I am beyond happy to be finished with it, and I can’t wait to store all of my craft and office supplies in it. It really is a beautiful piece of furniture, and I am still pinching myself at the thought of it being totally free. Thanks (times a million) to my wonderful grandparents for snatching it up for me! It will always be a very special piece.

I even had a few bits and pieces of hardware left over, which I displayed on our desk. (The desk is a recent Craigslist find – it’s vintage Mid Century-style to go with our Madmen-esque theme happening in the office. I’ll share more on that later.)

Library card catalog cabinet hardware displayed in office.

This was a labor of love, but I’m so glad it’s finished! Have you refinished any furniture that you just couldn’t bring yourself to cover up with paint? Do you have any pieces that have sentimental value to you, or a cool story behind it? I’d love to hear about it!

I’m linking this post to:
Miss Mustard Seed


  1. Stephanie Cooper says

    Erin.. i love it! i have always wanted a catalog cabinet.. i just love going to the library and smelling the old books and opeing the catalog drawers and being hit with that unforgettable scent. it reminds me of my childhood and that is why i love it so much. Great job as always and i’m so glad that you kept it in it’s original, vintage state.

  2. Pamela Stephens says

    OMG I’m so jealous! I’ve ALWAYS wanted one of these library catalogs but NEVER have found one less than like $400 even in terrible condition.
    It’s BEAUTIFUL! Well done!


    • Erin Spain says

      Thanks Sarah, I’ll definitely let you know! This same family friend actually owns several old school buildings so if there are any left, my grandparents will let me know. Turns out he actually had already thrown one away! Can you believe that? It was like a punch in the gut when I heard that.

    • Erin Spain says

      Thanks Kelly! I’m storing my craft/office supplies in it for now. I am still doing lots of organizing so most drawers are still empty, but I’m getting there!

  3. Teresa Tullio says

    This is absolutely beautiful! We were just telling the grandkids about library doors. They wanted to know why we would use cards when you can just look books up on the intrnet? Oh well glad you decided not to paint because the color is stunning. Now I need to locate one of those! Great Job

    • Erin Spain says

      Thanks, Teresa! The internet may be a more efficient way of looking up books, but it’s certainly not as pretty! :) Lots of great memories of these cabinets in the school library when I was a child.

  4. Korrie@RedHenHome says

    This turned out beautiful! I bought an old library cabinet a year ago that is STILL waiting for me to tackle it. Like you, I don’t want to paint it, just re-stain it darker. You have given me hope that my vision will (someday) come to life!

  5. Between Blue and Yellow says

    That looks like some project! But way to go for taking the time to do it. I’m sure it was well worth the effort. It looks gorgeous. I have always wanted one of these, I live right outside ATL, where are you?

  6. michele says

    i want it!!!! put my name on it if ever you decide to part ways!

    found you via MMS’s party where i’m partying too. would love to have you as a follower.

    smiles and happy weekend.


  7. Amy Marshall says

    Oh my goodness, it’s beautiful! I have one also rescued from a school but the thought of all that work has me paralyzed with fear. I think re-staining it like you did was just perfect, paint wouldn’t have done it justice. Great job!

  8. Marty Walden says

    I have been coveting one of these card catalogs for years now, to no avail. I keep hoping I will stumble into one because they bring up such great childhood memories for me. Fabulous job!

  9. Old Crow says

    Absolutely beautiful. You truly have the gift of seeing the finished product. That doesn’t come easy as I believe it’s a gift and all who follow these sites truly have. Keep up the good work – all of you. Wish I knew how to start a blog as I have created many (I think) beautiful pieces and I love what I do.


    • Erin Spain says

      Thanks so much, Carolyn. I appreciate that! You could always set up a free blogger account at to start out with. Good luck and please stay in touch! I’d love to see some of your projects.

  10. Miss Charming says

    You did such a great job refinishing it, Erin! It looks beautiful!. So lucky your grandparents knew what a treasure it was and rescued it for you. (Card catalogs are so difficult to find now and quite pricey, too!)

  11. KLH Designs says

    Your cabinet looks absolutely fantastic! I wish I had one. BTW, there is someone one Ebay selling the drawers without the cabinet, if you’re interested in purchasing drawers for the bottom row. Here’s a link in case you’re interested…

  12. John says

    Nice job! I especially like the color stain you chose (dark walnut)–it really brought out the grain nicely. I have a question for you, since I have a set of drawers as well: what have you done to repurpose it for storing items? The drawers I have are partially open at the bottom (I am thinking of cutting pieces of masonite to fit within) and the rods that held the cards sometimes seem to be an obstacle within the drawer (though I wouldn’t ever remove them, since they are part of the hardware). Any thoughts?

    • Erin @ DIY on the Cheap says

      Thanks, John! I actually left the drawers “as is.” So far, it hasn’t been an issue. The drawers are partially open on this one too, but it holds my craft supplies nicely. I definitely didn’t want to remove the rods either, so I just work around those. The masonite would work well or small pieces of thin plywood (like the thickness of a drawer-bottom, for example) along the edges. Please let me know what you end up doing!

  13. Jane Stewart says

    This is just beautiful! I appreciate all the pictures and detailed instructions.

    Could you measure the label holder pulls and tell me the dimensions? I don’t know that I can find a cabinet, so I may resort to building myself one. The hardware I’ve found online varies greatly in dimensions. Thanks so much!

  14. Karen says

    I bought a much larger, solid maple, 72 drawer card catalog off Craigslist for only $300. (Most lesser pieces sell $1,000) No hardware missing or any damage. My biggest concern is the seemingly rock hard finish. It has an opague beige finish and I want to get it down to the bare maple and then try and match it to other mid century pieces I have in my sewing room. What stripper did you use? I don’t know what type to buy!!

    • Erin @ DIY on the Cheap says

      Wow, Karen! That sounds like an amazing find. I used CitriStrip — you may find this tutorial helpful: . I would love to see before and after pics!

  15. Janna says

    I just got one of these, and I cannot figure out how to get the rods out to remove the cards. Any advice? Gorgeous work, by the way.

    • Erin @ DIY on the Cheap says

      If I remember correctly, I think mine just unscrewed. If it’s really old, they may just be stubborn so you could try using a wrench, just be careful not to scratch them. Maybe wrap a cloth around it and then twist with a wrench? Good luck!

  16. Tana says

    I just purchased a 16 drawer card catalog, it is light maple wood. I want to stain it darker. How did you remove the hardware on the front of the drawer? Yours is beautiful. Tana

    • Tana says

      I should of read the other posts. Yes I’m one of those people! But for the life of me I can’t figure out how to remove the rods, It just turns. any help would be appreciated…

      • Erin @ DIY on the Cheap says

        Hi Tana! Hmm.. is there a nut or something on the inside of the drawer that the rod is attached to? You may have to hold that part still with a wrench while you twist the front part of the rod to loosen it. Otherwise the whole thing may just keep turning and turning. I think with mine, there is a little piece around the base of the knob part of the rod that I had to untwist and then the rod would slide out of the drawer. Some of them are tricky though since they are all pretty old. If worse comes to worse and you just can’t get it out, I would just cover the rods in painter’s tape while you refinish it. Good luck!

  17. Jane Stewart says

    A re-post as it was unanswered, and I’m still really interested. Haven’t seen one of these “in person” in years:
    This is just beautiful! I appreciate all the pictures and detailed instructions.
    Could you measure the label holder pulls and tell me the dimensions? I don’t know that I can find a cabinet, so I may resort to building myself one. The hardware I’ve found online varies greatly in dimensions. Thanks so much!


    • Erin @ DIY on the Cheap says

      Hi Jane! Sorry that I missed your previous post. The rectangular part of the handles are 1 1/2″ x 2 3/4″.

  18. Karen says

    Theres a trick. I found that there was a “button” under the front of the drawer, push that up, and slide the rod out! I’m having my husband cut all the rods off, and then slide the knob back in. Tried it already, and it works
    great. I’m on currently stripping drawer #13, only 59 to go!

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