July 5, 2013

Stripping Away The Years of Paint from Our Vintage Army Locker

We hope everyone is having a nice long weekend and might have gotten a chance to see a few fireworks? Yesterday we enjoyed getting to spend some time around the grill (and smoker!) with family. This weekend we're excited to continue working on our latest larger scale project — one we've officially dubbed the "Alley Locker Console."

You might remember it from back in September when we scored it for $10 bucks at an alley sale down the street.

While it's been sitting over the past several (nine!) months, we knew we wanted to transform it into a new piece of furniture that would serve as functional storage and we love the idea of actually turning it on it's side to create a long console table — where the door could be opened as a drawer. We just weren't sure which area of the house we needed a console for the most — we considered it for the entryway, behind our couch and in the kitchen.

After measuring the locker and various areas of the house we were considering it for, we've finally decided we want it to go in the kitchen where we have a big blank wall, perfect for additional storage. We'd been on the hunt for a fitting piece of furniture for this space and once we got our thinking caps going we figured it would be fun to try to make what we'd been imagining ourselves. It could go terribly wrong, but at least we'll have fun trying.

We'll detail out a post soon with inspiration photos for the type of console we have in mind, but first, I've been hard at work just trying to clean up the locker and get it to a state where we can actually work with it for an indoor piece of furniture. So, the first part of this process has been stripping it down back to basics and I thought it would be fun to detail this process amidst the larger console project we have in mind for the locker.

The locker had been painted with a thick coating of black paint when we picked it up at the sale and we both wanted to try to strip it down to it's original state. To strip the metal locker of paint, I first laid it out horizontally and gave it a good cleaning of dirt and debris (and a few spider webs) to make sure I had a clean surface to start with:

At our local hardware store, I picked up a can of this sprayable paint stripper (Mary did not see the humor when I called and exclaimed I paid a little over 10 dollars for a stripper!):

You can also find this paint stripper online in both sprayable and brush on versions.

I followed the directions on the back of the paint stripping agent and lightly sprayed an even coat along the side of the metal locker.

Almost immediately we started to see the top black coat of paint begin to bubble up from the metal, but waited the full suggested 15 minutes before beginning to test stripping off the paint:

Using a wide putty knife, I gently began to push along the bubbling paint against the locker and was amazed to see the outer layers of paint seemingly melt away.

Each scrape yielded a big scoop of old paint, revealing the beautiful industrial layers of this metal locker.

After a few scrapes, it became clear that the original locker must have been an army locker since it was first coated in that classic army green paint. Down the line, it must have been painted in brown and later black.

The paint stripping agent seeped through to the very bottom of all these layers and in some cases I was able to scrape down, revealing the original metal base of the locker.

After an initial scrape, it was easy to go back and target spray areas that needed more removal:

At first we thought we'd want to take the locker all the way down to the base metal, but once I started scraping away the paint and it revealed all the different layers, we actually decided we liked the idea of leaving hints of each paint color here and there.

After stripping, cleaning and sanding down each side, we'd flip it over to the next and start again. Here's a shot of the first side completely stripped down, compared with the other sides still painted in black:

When it came to stripping down the front, we decided to remove the door entirely to tackle each component separately.

After the door was removed, Basil came over to inspect the storage potential the locker will have when set up as a console — we came to a gentlemen's (gentledog's?) agreement on the spot his jar of doggy treats should live once it's complete:

We ended up taping off the opening using painters tape and a cut open plastic bag to avoid getting any chemical stripping drips or sprays inside the locker:

The original army green coating was pristine on the inside of the locker, so we thought it would be best to leave it that way as a fun surprise when opening the door. Then I just sprayed and stripped the paint off the door just like the rest of the locker:

I still can't couldn't get over how all those layers just peeled right away:

To tackle the small nooks and crannies around the door and hinges, I used an old toothbrush:

The overall paint stripping portion of this project went fairly quickly and was one of those satisfying jobs that shows immediate results.

Right now, I've gotten the locker completely stripped down of excess paint in a way that still shows some of each layer — so we can see the base metal, some of the original army green paint and hints of the brown and black coats that were later added throughout the life of this locker. We love the way it's turning out.

Next up for the larger project will be adding several thin layers of polyurethane coating on the outside of the locker to help with rust prevention and give it an overall polished look and feel we're going for. Hopefully we'll be able to tackle this next stage over the weekend — we'll be sure to keep you posted with the progress!

Do you have any longterm projects you've been working on lately?

Update: We completed the locker console and love using it in our kitchen! See all the final pics in this project post.


  1. Oh using the toothbrush was a great idea!!

    1. Thanks Angie — it's been a fun one to tackle. The outer coatings are taking longer than we anticipated to dry, but a fun challenge nonetheless!

  2. I have an old metal bed frame I want to try this with - rounded bars - do you think it would work?

  3. Just bought the same locker!! Trying to decide whether to take it down to metal or do as you did...Like both ideas...

  4. Great post! I am a teacher and I have old lockers in my room. Last year I spray painted the inside in an attempt to cover obscene pictures, words, etc. I used a paint for metal, but it ended up rubbing off on my kids' stuff. Now I need to get that paint off so I don't have angry parents holding brand new backpacks with black paint on them. Would this method work for the inside of a locker as well!? Any tips or advice!?

  5. Thanks for this. I brought a big pink locker over from France and your post inspired me to, well, copy you! I'll maybe blog it when I get around to the project.

    1. Yay, we cannot wait to see what you do! Good luck.

      Tim and Mary


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