An Update on the Antique Hardware Cabinet.

I saw a cabinet, I loved that cabinet, I didn’t buy that cabinet.  And then one year later I did.  Here’s how I’m making an antique hardware cabinet that’s too big work in a space that’s too small.

There aren’t a lot of things I hand off to other people to do for me.  It’s usually faster, easier and cheaper for me to do it myself.  Except laser eye surgery.  I let someone else do that.  It’s been 20 years and I’m still kind of disgruntled about it.

When I first saw (with my laser vision) this cabinet at an antique store I loved it but ignored it because it was about 12″ too long for the space I had in my kitchen.

You know you really like something when you can’t stop thinking about it.  For a year.  So when I saw the cabinet again this summer I realized I was probably never going to forget about it and I’d better just buy it. If only to free up some space in my brain for thinking about other things, like what to make for dinner.

I took a good look at at the cabinet and realized if I cut a small middle section out if it, the cabinet would be the exact right length.

I thought of doing it myself but I’d have to buy a router and a few other tools to do the job right, plus where … I mean seriously … WHERE did I think I was going to get the time to do this? Before or after having a time saving feeding tube inserted?

After spending a week thinking about it, I waved a dingy white tea towel in surrender and called “my guy”.

My guy is an antique furniture restorer who can turn anything into anything.

Half of the battle when hiring someone to do a job you can’t or don’t want to do is finding the right person.  That person should generally not be drunk when you meet them.  It was after finding the wrong person to fix my fence over a decade ago that I plunged deep into the world of DIY.

After interviewing a stampede of fence fixing guys I settled on one of the two guys who showed up.  I picked the one who was sober. At 10 a.m.  And he still made a complete mess of my fence.

I used this antique restorer years ago when I had 2 antique single beds that I wanted to be turned into a Queen sized bed. It turned out seamless.  No one would EVER know my bed used to be 2 beds.

So I had my antique hardware cabinet delivered straight to my guy and I was there ready and waiting when it arrived. I hadn’t seen the cabinet for a few weeks so I was eager to get reacquainted with my love.

That’s when I started taking a good look at things.  I took one of the drawers out and looked inside to discover a square of discolouration and 4 screw holes.  Hmm.  Interesting.

I asked both the antique dealer who delivered it and the guy restoring it and they both said LOCKS!  Apparently each and every one of these drawers used to have locks on them.

Sure enough, after looking at some of the other longer drawers in the piece, there was a lock. A single drawer was left with a lock.

The rest of the 60 or so drawers had the locks removed and cheap knobs installed over the holes. I knew the knobs were awful, but I didn’t know there was such a big hole underneath them.

This was going to slightly limit my knob choices when it comes time to replace them.

Then I started thinking – it might be nice to have it restored to its original condition with cylinder locks.

Which got me to thinking even more.  Why would a hardware store lock EVERY single drawer they had? It didn’t make sense.  Screws, nuts, nails … are those the sort of things you would lock up?  I didn’t think so, but this cabinet is probably from around 1900 so maybe  nails were a lot more valuable then.  Who knows, maybe they were special nails made from the bones of gunslingers or something.

The other possibility is something my uncle mentioned.

He said he remembers seeing a cabinet similar to this as a young boy in a pharmacy and it was an apothecary cabinet.  Now.  If all these drawers were filled with medicine from the 1900s like cocaine, heroin, morphine … you know, the regular old painkillers of the day, then it would make sense to have locks on all the drawers.


I really do like the idea of restoring the cabinet to how it originally would have looked.  Of course putting locks on all the drawers means they’re going to be a bit of a pain to get into.  Not necessarily a bad thing if you store potato chips, crack pipes or chocolate covered almonds in them.

You see, with cylinder locks you don’t have knobs, you just  have the lock.  You stick the key in, turn the lock and use the key as a knob to pull the drawer out.  Kind of a pain when you just want to grab a roll of masking tape or bottle of oregano.

But.  Original.

But. A pain in the bum.

But. Really cool.

But. Almost impossible to replicate.  Places like D. Lawless and House of Antique Hardware have really good replica knobs, pulls and other stuff but no one seems to have outstanding antique cylinder locks with a gentle burnished look and authentic matching keys.  Go figure.

My cabinet is in line to be worked on but won’t be started until around the middle of September. I’ll tack a couple of weeks on just in case, which means I’ll possibly get my cabinet home by the beginning of October.

I have between now and then to decide on my knob/lock situation.  I realize knobs are the more practical choice, but so is shaving your head as opposed to dealing with washing and drying it.

Or wearing glasses instead of getting laser eye surgery.

Or eliminating chewing by inserting a feeding tube.

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  1. ~gloria says:

    My computer freezes if I try to scroll back up and read the beginning of your post, and can’t remember if you said that it had been a hardware cabinet or not. But to find out if it had been an apothecary cabinet, try smelling the drawers (yikes, there’s a joke there if you want it, no charge), you should still be able to smell some of the stronger odors of the various medicines.

  2. Robyn says: has cute label holder drawer pulls that might help you find things at a glance. I would envision myself going through all the drawers everytime I wanted to find something. Although, original is always appropriate so locks would be cool too!

  3. Danee Bramhall says:

    I don’t think it’s from an old post office because that would need to be backless with a hinged door on the front of each box, grew up in a small town that had old old post office boxes which they’d load from the behind and we’d each take our keys for the boxes. The drawers say to me an apothicary cabinate. Finding matching keys and locks might be cost prohibitive (and crazy-making in the worst kind of way). I first thought what about a leather pull with a wooden dowel (kind of like the buttons on old kids coats?) Simple and attractive! Then I came up with a doozy of an idea, since it’s in your kitchen or will be in 6 weeks or so, what about making pulls out of old spoons?

  4. Ei Con says:

    Googling ‘antique apothecary knobs’ came up with several pics of these square porceline ones. They’re pricey of course and don’t have the right words on them that you’ll need for identifying chocolate and cat treats. but I betcha you could MAKE them, with teeny words like “Whisk. Lick” or ” Cad. Bury” .

  5. Tammy Cochran says:

    I know you will magically stumble (with much preparation) onto the exact right thing to use for knobs. I agree labels would be too busy, but maybe having just one row of locked drawers would add an extra touch of mystique to that fabulous piece. Does it make me sound like I’m too caught up in details if I mention I would just keep a numbered list of what each drawer is for as a help when I wasn’t in the mood to look through every single drawer to figure out where I stored that feeding tube?

  6. Miriam mc Nally says:

    That is gas,,,,I thought, when I read your last post about the cabinet, that it looked very much like an antique pharmacy cabinet!!!!
    Will be very interested to see the finished product, and what you do with the piece that is cut out of it.
    I wish I had a guy like yours. I’ve a fabulous piano that my parents restored, beautiful inlay, but doesn’t play well. I’d love the goat it made into a glass cabinet.

    • Lez says:

      Hi Miriam. I have OCD & just keep scrolling back to your comment, as I realise the last line is a typo, but can’t work out what it is meant to say!

      Karen, have you ever watched “Border Control”? Take a few drawers to the airport & ask them to do the “Drug swab” thing! It picks up the tiniest amount of residue, even at that age! It will save you having to”Sniff your drawers”! LOL!

      Or hire a “drug sniffing” Bloodhound for a day!

  7. Hi Karen! I live on a sailboat (it keeps me from buying too many antiques!) and we have hole pulls for many of our cabinets. They need not be plain holes though. You can do something like put in a wood or metal ring in to make it look finished. They even make internal latches, which you open with your inserted finger, but I’m sure you won’t need those in your drawers. A marine hardware supplier might have something of interest. Best of luck making a decision and I can’t wait to see the result!

  8. Nicole Neal says:

    I think the lock holes look like good pull holes. Stick your finger in and pull.

  9. Heather says:

    Love your cabinet, and reading everyone’s ideas for the drawers. How about something from Lee Valley? I like the campaign-style pulls, because they’re flush with the flush with the wood.,43566,43567&ap=1

  10. Heidi Lee says:

    Just wanted to let you know that my summer squash plant is still alive due to you. It was too late for my zucchini, but after digging out two disgusting borer larvae, and covering the stalk with soil, I am still harvesting. Thank you from Massachusetts.

    • Karen says:

      Hey Heidi. You’re welcome! I think I’m the only one up at my garden whose squash vines are still monstrous. ~ karen

  11. Rose Kruvand says:

    I also would go for leaving the holes open. If they’re too small for a finger you can add leather or buttons later. I wouldn’t want a bunch of keys sticking our in a narrow space.

  12. Shelagh says:

    I’m sure you are on too of this because you are that good… but just in case….

    You have a numbering system on drawer fronts and you are going to make the piece smaller. So, a number of drawers have to come out….but for that numbering sequence to work some of the drawers will have to slide in and out of different slots.

    You have figured all this out though, right? And tried the drawers in their soon to be new spots?

    As to pulls, knobs, holes, locks….do what makes you happy…you will be looking at it everyday

  13. Roxanne Lucchesi says:

    Carol is correct: “once you have removed a section of the piece, it is no longer original”. As a compromise, why not just use vintage faux key knob pulls on the drawers, something like:

    especially the Richelieu Hardware 35728163 Mock Key in Oxidized Brass


    • Karen says:

      I love the pulls, but they’re probably too fancy for such a rustic piece of furniture. Wish I had something else to use them on. ~ karen!

  14. Lynn says:

    Love your cabinet you will ultimately figure out your handles I am sure. It’s like anyone who has had a kitchen Reno done can tell you an as you know your self , the options are endless in what kind of hardware you want to use.
    I myself would probably do either one of these a) leather pulls b) or make the holes bigger so I could just put a finger through to open or c) find corks that would work. As it’s in the kitchen I think I would go with enlarging the hole . Just speaking with experience with little drawers in a kitchen environment. I only wish I had a picture of the little drawers to show, knobs drove me nuts, seemed like they we’re always coming loose. But here is a picture of leather pulls I found.

  15. martina says:

    Is this basically what you’re looking for?
    If so it would cost you a small fortune to replace every lock! It would be cool though…

  16. AJones says:

    I may be in the minority, but I wouldn’t go for labels… and it does not lose it’s authenticity by being shortened imho. I can’t wait to see what you decide to do! She is gorgeous!

  17. Laura Bee says:

    So many possibilities. Since they are numbered, I would have a small white board with a list of what is in each one. Keep it tucked away somewhere. Can’t wait to see it in your home and be insanely jealous.

  18. Alison says:

    Karen, what is the diameter and depth of the locks you need? How many? There is a VERY excellent vintage hardware store near me, and I wander around in there all the time. I can keep an eye out for locks.

  19. Danni McLaughlin says:

    My two cents? Fake a locks at the hardware store with bibs and bobs, metal cylinders and washers, then stick very small old keys (mixed bag or identical) into the barrel and glue/resin them so that the key is still the handle. It’s one solid piece. Locking stuff in the kitchen would be annoying by and large. You’ll find a couple real deal locks, for your rubies and eye of newt. But the rest will Look good and still be easy to use. Spray the new hardware or age it with chemicals. You know all the tricks!

    • Karen says:

      Not a bad idea! ~ karen

    • Maggie says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. You could go check out your local locksmith. I grew up in the business and we always kept a box of cut keys that had been brought back that did not work that we planned to recycle. They could easily be cut down to insert into a dowel or something along those lines.

  20. SUSAN says:


  21. Eileen says:

    Lots of fabulous ideas. I liked the idea of just using the holes as finger pulls and of course, you’ll need labels. Or just go nuts trying to find something.

  22. NinaMargo says:

    They’re lovely little holes, and since I like to seek simple little solutions, here’s one. Why not (in a zen-like way) celebrate their holey-ness? Keep them the way they are, minus the brass knobs of course. And keep a pretty hook hanging nearby next to your beautiful rolling pins to open the drawer of your choice? Maybe you’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? Karen, please don’t be mad at me?! Just thinking outside the drawer ;)

  23. Tim says:

    You could put the locks in and assuming they are magnetic use any knob you like with a rare earth magnet on the back. Leave the lock unlocked, pop the magnetic knob on the drawer to be opened and as lon as the magnet was strong enough you can pull it opened. You’d have to fabricate the magnet/knob combo but it might just work….

  24. Driller says:

    Perhaps this was a set of Post Office boxes? That would explain the locks and numbers. An apothecary using numbered boxes seems a little unlikely, but then I don’t know the history behind those…

  25. Noëlle says:

    Oh my that’s a stunning piece! I have drooled over many an Apothecary’s cabinet over the years. Colour me green.

  26. Mary W says:

    Oh Boy! A mystery – can’t wait until October?

  27. Andrea says:

    Since you probably can’t find locks for all the drawers anyway why not do locks for some and knobs for most. I like the idea someone else suggested of library’s plates. With all those drawers it’s easy to forget what’s in each one

  28. Liz K says:

    I dunno… I’d avoid extra locks in the kitchen. Are you really going to want to be futzing with keys when you’ve got food detritus on your hands from baking/canning/etc.?

    What a beautiful piece, though! I would luuuuuuurve having all those little drawers. 😍

  29. ED says:

    No one has asked yet – how will you utilize the ‘leftovers’? I see something clever in their future.

  30. Wendy says:

    Have you ever been to Legacy in Cobourg? Huge selection of antique hardware, some of the most beautiful locking mechanisms I have ever seen. Definitely worth a trip.

  31. Carol says:

    Don’t wish to insert negativity into this lively discussion but, imho, once you have removed a section of the piece, it is no longer original, obviously. To me, this would also remove the urge to make it “authentic” by adding locks. I love Kailee’s suggestion to add finger pulls with labels. Ya need labels, Karen, or you’ll go bananas! It’s like having a purse with too many sections. Gorgeous piece! Happy for you that it was still waiting for you!

    • Karen says:

      Hey! It really will be too busy with pulls and numbers, so it’s a no to the labelled pulls Im afraid. Resizing it will indeed make it not original but once it’s fixed it’ll still look completely original. So just the size will have changed not any of the look. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. ~ karen!

  32. Sandy Sherman says:

    Hi Karen,

    I think these may be old post office boxes. If so, you may be able to find old locks on google or somewhere (or really ancient post office they are modernizing LOL)

    Can’t wait to see what you discover.!

  33. Susan says:

    I think the real question here is, how did you walk away from this piece the first time? It’s fabulous!!! The library pulls would probably be my pick-ones with labels would be useful but would they be too busy with the numbers. A row of keyed drawers would be convenient to lock up chocolate covered whatevers and would look nice tied with a thin piece of vintage ribbon or twine. I’m a sucker for nice knobs though and have been known to buy a piece of furniture just for the hardware. Lee Valley used to have an excellent hardware catalog.
    A long time ago, I walked away from an old one piece wall of built-ins from a pantry with its original bluish-green paint, gently worn. I didn’t actually walk away as much as got thrown out after trying to bribe the shop owner and then try to impersonate the actual buyer whose name was on the sold tag. Though it was too big for my smallish home, and I have no idea how I would have gotten it home, I still think about that pantry, and I still wish I could have bought it.

  34. Beth W says:

    Why not put locks on the top row an then knobs on the bottom three rows? That way you also only have to find about 12 locks instead of 48?

  35. Suzette says:

    There is actually a tiny drugstore in Peterborough ON that has a section set up as a mini museum and they have one with the locks!

  36. Lynda says:

    No locks, it has to at least be usable. It’ll still be beautiful and how great that you rescued it and gave it a new purpose. There’s something to be said about that.

  37. whitequeen96 says:

    Here’s another vote for library pulls. Practical, but charming.

  38. Maria says:

    If you could find acceptable locks, you could leave a key in each one (unlocked) to be the pull. It would be in original condition but also easy access.

    • jlp says:

      Or have them all keyed the same, and ‘store’ the key in one of the locks. Easy to grab and use to open the drawer you’ll need.

      The harder problem is to remember what you put in which drawer.

      • Teri says:

        And the library pulls with labels would make it so easy to tell which drawer had the chocolate covered almonds and which drawer had the cayenne pepper. I mean they put lights in refrigerators so we can see the midnight snack so I think non-refrigerated snacks should be at least as easy to find…
        Terii on the, somewhat charred, left coast

    • Meg says:

      yes! ! this. I just commented on another comment, this very thing! I like the cut of your jib, Maria!

  39. Edie Marie says:

    Well Karen, I would chose a knob for easy access to the potato chips and/or chocolate! Sometimes practicality is a good thing. Especially if in the middle of the night when you get up with an urgent craving for those incredible bonbons you picked up at the expensive chocolate shoppe this weekend! They’re calling you. Where IS the key??!!

    Blessings, Edie Marie

  40. Sue says:

    I think all locks would be annoying and cumbersome but that SOME locks would be awesome. I’d either put in one whole horizontal row with locks (bottom or middle so easy to reach) or two vertical rows spaced an even number of rows apart and maybe come up with something like you used to see on library card catalogs or filing cabinets to fill in the rest and otherwise add knobs.

  41. Cali Georgia says:

    The library pulls would be excellent to complement such a great idea for the restoration of a beautiful cabinet

  42. Gayle M says:

    never fail to entertain, Karen.
    Live it.

  43. Kim says:

    I’d do the locks because: SO COOL.

    can’t wait to see!

  44. Grammy says:

    I thought it was an apothecary cabinet when you first showed us, but accepted that it was for hardware because that was the story. I agree that the individual locks indicated it was for drugs and not nails.

    I agree with Andrea that library pulls would be perfect — not only an excellent look, but far more practical than locks. Just think for a minute about how long it will take you to get sick of having to use a key every time you want to get something, especially if you have to open several drawers in succession when you’re working on something.

    That is a fabulous cabinet. Whatever you choose, it’s going to be the best thing ever in your kitchen, because you have excellent taste.

    • Karen says:

      Oh yeah, I’d get sick of the locks in mere moments, lol. I just had a though that maybe I could just do locks on the lower, larger drawers. I believe there are only 5 or so of them. That might be a good compromise! ~ karen

      • Grammy says:

        Your compromise would be cool — even if only for the joy of having people ask what’s in those locked drawers. That could make for some fun conversations, especially if you don’t tell them.

  45. Fleur says:

    Maybe put worn leather loops through the holes instead of handles, may not be authentic, but does make for a good look I think.
    At first I was thinking just leave the holes as they are, then you can pull the drawers open with a finger, but then I thought, old leather, pretty ^_^

    My thoughts at 7 am on a monday XD (procrastinating at work)

    • Karen says:

      Ha! Yes I love leather handles, but it’s old and nice enough that I’d like to keep it closer to original. My mother actually mentioned having leather handles! ~ karen

  46. Kailee says:

    Do the little finger pull knobs with label plates attached. The label plates can cover the hole, and they look authentic for apothecary type cabinets. Plus then you get to label everything.

    • Karen says:

      I’d love those, but the drawers are already all numbered with original metal numbers, so having label plates might seem a bit redundant. :/ I do love them though. ~ karen!

  47. TucsonPatty says:

    Such beautiful wood. Will you keep the patina? The wear and tear? I share your pain of decision-making. My friend Helen says my solutions are worse than my problems. I would probably try to engineer plugs into the holes to fit whatever non-matching lock I could find, then change my mind and try to remove the plugs, then ask someone if they could help me do some other insane thing, then… It is really hard to be me, sometimes.
    I wish you luck on your quest for gorgeous locks.

    • Suzanne says:

      On a completely different topic, do you, Tucsonpatty, live in Tucson?
      Can I pick your brain about best area to rent a place for December, January and maybe into February? Canadian who needs to escape horrible grey dreary winter weather!
      Karen, cannot wait to see what you do with that gorgeous piece of furniture……we lived in Europe a lot and I think it was in a chemist shop also, to keep drugs in.
      Thanks in advance Tucsonpatty!

    • Karen says:

      I would never paint it. On a piece like this, the patina is basically what you’re paying for. It will stay exactly as is with the exception of the size. And the knobs, lol. ~ karen!

      • TucsonPatty says:

        Oh Lordy, I did not mean paint it. I was hoping that you wouldn’t scrub off all of the “dirt” or smooth out any scratches. I didn’t know how to ask that, gently, and not sound like a harpy. My house and kitchen cabinets were built in 1955, and when we moved in, my (now ex) MIL thought she was doing me a favor trying to scrub off the patina around the handles. I just kept screaming “STOP! STOP!” And she wouldn’t. I’m still (23+ years later) trying to match up the colors to the rest of the cabinets. I love all the imperfections of your cabinet, but didn’t know how deep the remodeling would be. Glad to hear the finish won’t be touched!

        • Karen says:

          LOL. No, I won’t be touching it, other than to maybe give it a wax/oil to moisturize the wood a bit. ~ karen!

  48. Andrea says:

    Instead of cutting it, you could turn it sideways and install the drawers in that orientation… if they are as square as they appear in the photo…
    I say no locks… original is charming but ugly and not really functional in this case… library pulls would look awesome!

    • Karen says:

      Oh I don’t think the locks would be ugly at all! Just a bit inconvenient. And, the cabinet is actually a cabinet. So there’s the top that has all the little drawers and then the base that has several bigger drawers and a shelf and legs. Installing it sideways wouldn’t work because of that. :) ` karen!

      • Meg says:

        I love the lock idea. Re: the key problem, you could get as many keys cut as you wanted. They could each have a key if you really wanted, and they could just be “open” all the time, and act as drawer pulls? Maybe…less…inconvenient?

    • Peggy says:

      Antique library pulls would look perfect. And I bet easier to find at less $$$.

  49. Barb says:

    Super interesting! I thought maybe you were going to say that it came from a bank. I cannot wait to hear what you decide and see the finished product! I’m lazy so I know I would pick knobs. I think? Maybe not?

  50. Olga says:

    Do you have a post about your bed? I’m interested to see before and after pictures. If you don’t mind sharing how much restoring and modifying something like that will cost?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Olga. I’m afraid I can’t even remember how much it cost! And since it was 18 or so years ago the price wouldn’t be comparable now anyway. But most craftspeople like this charge around $80 an hour. That probably doesn’t help but that’s all I’ve got for you I’m afraid, lol. I had the bed done long before I had my blog. :) You can find pictures of my bed throughout the blog in various posts. ~ karen!

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