Rusty File Cabinet Cactus Planter

Hello Everyone!  I’m back from a blogging hiatus with a fun, colorful project to share.  If you follow us on Instagram, you’ve already seen a sneak peak of this project.  If not, well, I can’t wait to show you our Rusty File Cabinet Cactus Planter.


I’ve been obsessed with admiring rusty metal in recent months.  I’ve seen numerous planters, sculptures, etc. at local restaurants and public places that have me swooning.  A little research led me to COR-TEN steel, which is a type of steel that rusts on the outer layers, but keeps its inner strength.  You’ve probably seen this material around:



Did I also mention that Cor-ten is also out of my pre-construction/non-existent budget?

So, per usual, I was sitting on the couch trying to figure out how to get the COR-TEN look for less and come across a filing cabinet on Craigslist for cheap.  We drive two blocks to pick it up.  The man and his wife who sold it to us were in the process of selling all of their belongings in order to travel the country in their R.V.  It has been a dream of theirs since they were newlyweds.  How fun is that?

Anyway, we brought the beast home.

DSC_0710I stripped off the first two layers of paint with chemical stripper.  It came off really easily and I was left with the army green powder coat.


I then sanded… and sanded… and sanded… and sanded… tried chemical stripper… didn’t work… more sanding… more sanding… and eventually I was left with this:


I bought pool acid (AKA Muriatic Acid), which is an inexpensive way of rusting metal quickly, and wiped it on.  I let it sit until it developed a nice rusty patina (well, still developing as we speak).  At this point, the neighbors are stopping and staring at the beast, wondering whether I had lost my mind for real this time….

Side note:  If you are going to try muriatic acid, please be careful.  This is the nastiest chemical I have ever used.  Suit up and wear a serious mask.  Also, I placed the used cloth on top of the acid containers in our shed and when I returned the next day there was light rust on some of our tools that had not been there before, so I guess those fumes can become airborne?  Anyway, please be careful. 


Once I was sure it was going to actually rust (this is after a week of the acid sitting and a rinse with the water hose), I began to work on the planter portion.

I drilled holes in the bottom of the planter with a metal bit (i.e. the back of the filing cabinet if it is sitting upright) for drainage.

The drawer holes are 12×14, so I bought four 12×12 plastic pots at the box store nearby that looked like this:


They were less than $6 a piece.  I did have to drill drainage holes in the plastic.

I set the planters in the drawer holes.  As you can see from the below picture, there were 2″ gaps where the planter didn’t completely fill the drawer space.


I cut a piece of old fence board to fill the gap and keep out moisture/critters.  This particular fence board still has BBs embedded- probably from some kid playing in the yard with his Red Rider BB Gun after watching A Christmas Story.  [“You’ll shoot your eye out… “]

I didn’t secure the wood because the weight of the full planters keeps in in place.  The planters sit at a bit of an angle which bothered me initially, but I believe will probably help with drainage.

Since we were planting cacti, I filled the bottom of the pots with gravel for drainage.  I then topped the gravel with well-draining succulent-cacti soil.  We planted two pencil cacti (read up on these before you plant them- can be toxic), two cacti we stole borrowed from the neighbor, and used larger stones that were found in the gravel bag for contrast.

We set the planter on bricks to aid with yard work and drainage, but really you could use a wood block or anything that matches your aesthetic.


Here’s the finished-for-now product!  Once it gets to a level of rusty patina that I am satisfied with, I will stop the rusting process with a product called Penetrol by the Flood brand and seal it with a clear finish such as polyurethane.  For now, we’re rusting away quite nicely!





Hope you enjoyed our rusty goodness!  Aren’t those pencil cacti the greatest?

8 thoughts on “Rusty File Cabinet Cactus Planter

  1. Hey there - I also use drainage pits to secure the soil for the planting holes in my deck !!! They were a great cheap solution - I cut the bases and now eucalyptus grows thru my deck and the root system is happily moving through the ground - I will do a post and show some pics

    • That sounds wonderful, Felicity! I’d love to see some photos! Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. You guys are so ding dang clever…once we get this house buying taken care of I WILL be calling for advice, both psychological and aesthetic. 🙂 xoxo

    • Thanks, cousin! You’ve got great taste so I doubt you’ll need any advice, but I always love to chitchat with you either way! xoxo

  3. Oh, wow, the color, shape and size of it looks fabulous next to the porch. And those candelabra are great too.
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  4. Amazing project. I’ve recently retired but have always been involved in quirky upcycling ideas. Today my wife and I bought an old 4 drawer metal filing cabinet from local scrap dealer ( north of England). We thought we had come up with an original idea for a high impact minimalist planter and then we checked out Pintrest any there are loads of examples. We love your rusty distressed look you have created - a real transformation. Very well done indeed. We have just completed a lighting scheme for the garden using blue glass bottles with the bottoms cut off. It looks amazing if I may say so. I’m also converting an old indoor leather swivel/recliner chair into a weather proof garden chair. Leather will come off and the subframe will form the new seat and back with removable cushions. Here’s hoping.
    Cheers. Alan & Brenda

    • Thanks for stopping by, Alan! Sounds like you have some wonderful projects going on and time to actually do those projects now that you’re retired! Hope you guys are having fun and I’m glad you like my rusty planter! Take Care! Erin

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