The Owner-Builder Network

Build an Old Filing Cabinet Smoker in 7 Effortless Steps

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by teamobn

Filing Cabinet Smoker

The start of the summer holidays is widely regarded as the unofficial kickoff to the backyard grilling season. But the calendar is becoming increasingly irrelevant as our shared love of all things grilled and smoked becomes more of a year-round obsession  – even in regions that experience cold winters!

That’s probably why there are lots of smokers and even more plans to make one. But how many are conversation starters like this one??? Old filing cabinets are easy to get hold of – often for free! So, if you’ve ever wanted to have your smoker you will surely love this idea.

The digital era has indeed taken away the need for a lot of the common items we used to have back in the ’90s. And though many people and businesses still do need filing cabinets, there has been a decrease in demand for this furniture. Just take a trip to your local thrift stores, or search up Craigslist or Gumtree and you won’t have a hard time finding a couple of these units! Maybe you’ve already got one at home storing mouldy old papers that should have been thrown out years ago!

Yes – filing cabinet paints s can contain some hazardous chemicals, but there are paint removers and spray paints for grills that you can use to make your DIY old filing cabinet smoker safe.

How to remove paints from your old filing cabinet?

  • Wash the filing cabinet with soap and water
  • Wipe all parts of the filing cabinet with a cleaning solution, then dry it with a piece of fabric.
  • Take out first the loose paints with a cutter or any removal tool, then use paint thinner for the remaining paints that are hard to remove. Remember to use a piece of fabric and gloves when using paint thinners.
  • Using a paintbrush, spread the paint remover on all parts of the filing cabinet, and leave it for five minutes to absorb (Check the paint remover instructions written on the bottle or box of the product, to ensure how many minutes before it is absorbed). If the paint looks crumpled, then it is ready to be pulled off. 
  • Again, use a cutter or any removal tool to get rid of the remaining paint. Add more paint remover if necessary.
  • Lastly, wash the filing cabinet thoroughly with a sponge, soap and water or a cleaning solution. Remove any residues. Let it dry. And now you can start making your DIY old filing cabinet smoker!
Old Filing Cabinet Smoker

What are the materials needed to make an old filing cabinet smoker?

We say this is one relatively easy DIY old filing cabinet smoker project that anybody can do. You’re not only helping reduce trash from the landfill, but you’ll also end up with some delicious meals on your dinner table! So stop filing paper and start filing a few epicurean delights :D!!!

You’ll need the following materials and tools to turn your old filing cabinet into an effective smoker.

How to Make Your Old Filing Cabinet Smoker


  • Filing Cabinet
  • Aircraft Remover (be careful and follow instructions well when using this product)
  • Specialty High Heat Ultra Spray Paint
  • Washers, Grommets, Screws, Nuts
  • Grill Grates
  • Metal Drawer Handles
  • Temperature Gauge Thermometer
  • Thick Leather Gloves
  • Rubber Gloves (make sure they can be used for working with the aircraft remover)


  • PPE (Personal Protective Equipment like gloves)
  • Hack Saw
  • Drill
  • Pliers
  • Screw Driver
  • Tin Snips
  • Hammer
  • Grommet/Punch Press
  • Miter Saw

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To make an old filing cabinet smoker, follow these steps:

  1. Preparation: Ensure the filing cabinet is thoroughly cleaned both inside and out. Remove any rust or paint using aircraft remover. Wear protective gear such as thick leather gloves and rubber gloves to handle the remover safely.
  2. Ventilation Holes: Drill ventilation holes in the bottom of the filing cabinet for airflow. These holes will help regulate the temperature inside the smoker. Place washers around each hole to prevent them from expanding over time.
  3. Painting: Apply a high heat ultra spray paint to the exterior of the filing cabinet. This will protect the metal from rust and give it a fresh look. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application and drying times.
  4. Assembly: Install grill grates inside the filing cabinet to hold the food. Use metal drawer handles to create shelves for additional cooking space. Secure them in place with screws and nuts.
  5. Temperature Gauge: Install a temperature gauge thermometer on the front of the filing cabinet to monitor the internal temperature while smoking. Drill a hole for the thermometer and secure it in place using grommets to prevent air leaks.
  6. Final Touches: Make any final adjustments or additions to customize your old filing cabinet smoker according to your preferences. You can add hooks for hanging utensils or shelves for storing extra supplies.
  7. Test Run: Before using the old filing cabinet smoker for cooking, do a test run to ensure everything is working correctly. Start a fire using wood chips or charcoal and monitor the temperature inside the smoker using the thermometer.

With these steps, you can transform an old filing cabinet into a functional and efficient smoker for delicious barbecue and smoked meats. Remember to always follow safety precautions when working with tools and chemicals.

Safety precautions are paramount when building and maintaining an old filing cabinet smoker. Here’s a comprehensive guide:

Safety Precautions:

1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Wear appropriate PPE, including thick leather gloves and rubber gloves when handling chemicals like aircraft remover and while working with tools.

2. Ventilation: Work in a well-ventilated area when using chemicals or paints. If working indoors, open windows and doors to ensure proper airflow. Whenever possible, perform tasks involving chemicals or paints outdoors to maximize airflow and reduce the concentration of fumes in the air. If working indoors, open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate and remove fumes. Position fans to further enhance air movement and ventilation.

Utilize exhaust fans or ventilation systems in enclosed spaces to help remove fumes and maintain air quality. Avoid working in confined spaces with limited ventilation, as this can lead to the buildup of hazardous fumes and increase the risk of exposure.

It’s essential to prioritize safety when working with chemicals or paints. By ensuring proper ventilation, you can minimize the risk of exposure to hazardous fumes and create a safer work environment.

3. Follow Instructions: Read and follow all instructions and safety precautions provided by the manufacturers of the products you use, such as aircraft remover and high heat spray paint.

Follow the recommended application methods and techniques specified by the manufacturer to achieve the best results and ensure product effectiveness. Adhere to guidelines for proper handling, storage, and disposal of the product to minimize risks and ensure compliance with safety regulations.

Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures in case of accidental exposure or ingestion and keep emergency contact information readily available. Keep all flammable materials away from open flames or heat sources. Do not use the smoker near combustible materials or structures.

Handle tools and equipment with care to avoid accidents or injuries. Follow proper usage guidelines for drills, saws, and other power tools. Minimize skin contact with chemicals like aircraft remover and high heat spray paint. If contact occurs, rinse immediately with water and seek medical attention if necessary.

Dispose of any leftover chemicals, paint cans, and other waste materials according to local regulations. Do not pour chemicals down drains or dispose of them in household trash.


1. Regular Cleaning: Clean the old filing cabinet smoker regularly to remove ash, grease, and food residues. This helps prevent buildup and ensures optimal performance.

2. Inspect for Damage: Periodically inspect the old filing cabinet smoker for signs of rust, corrosion, or other damage. Repair or replace any damaged parts to maintain structural integrity. Over time, the exterior paint may chip or fade due to exposure to heat and weather. Reapply high heat spray paint as needed to protect the metal from rust and corrosion.

3. Check Temperature Gauge: Calibrate and check the accuracy of the temperature gauge thermometer regularly to ensure it provides accurate readings.

Conduct routine inspections of the temperature gauge to check for any signs of damage or malfunction. Look for fogging, condensation, or physical damage that may affect its performance. Keep the temperature gauge clean to maintain its accuracy. Use a soft cloth or brush to remove any dirt, grease, or debris that may accumulate on the surface.

If the temperature gauge consistently provides inaccurate readings or shows signs of irreparable damage, consider replacing it with a new one. Choose a high-quality replacement gauge compatible with your old filing cabinet smoker.

4. Replace Grill Grates: If the grill grates become rusty or worn out, replace them with new ones to maintain food safety and prevent contamination. Regularly assess the condition of your grill grates. Look for signs of rust, corrosion, or wear, which can compromise food safety and affect the flavour of your smoked dishes.

Rusty or worn-out grill grates pose a risk of contaminating the food being cooked. To uphold food safety standards and prevent contamination, it’s imperative to replace grill grates that show signs of deterioration.

Implement preventive maintenance practices to extend the lifespan of your grill grates. Regular cleaning to remove grease and food residue, as well as applying a protective coating, can help prevent rust formation and prolong the grates’ usability.

5. Store Properly: When not in use, store the old filing cabinet smoker in a dry, covered area to protect it from the elements and extend its lifespan.

By following these safety precautions and maintenance tips, you can enjoy using your old filing cabinet smoker safely and prolong its longevity for years to come.

The Wrap Up

Transforming an old filing cabinet into a functional smoker can be a rewarding and enjoyable project. By following the seven effortless steps outlined above, you can create a versatile smoker for delicious barbecue and smoked meats right in your backyard. From preparing the filing cabinet and adding necessary components to ensuring proper ventilation and safety precautions, each step contributes to the successful construction of your smoker.

With the right tools, materials, and attention to detail, you can breathe new life into an old piece of furniture while expanding your culinary skills and enhancing your outdoor cooking experience. Whether you’re a seasoned barbecue enthusiast or a novice backyard chef, building an old filing cabinet smoker offers a creative and budget-friendly way to enjoy flavorful smoked dishes with family and friends.

So, gather your supplies, and embark on this effortless journey to smoking perfection.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What exactly is an old filing cabinet smoker?

An old filing cabinet smoker is a DIY project that involves repurposing an old metal filing cabinet into a functional smoker for outdoor cooking. It is a sustainable alternative to purchasing a new appliance. It reduces the demand for new materials and extends the lifespan of an existing item, contributing to environmental conservation efforts.

Beyond its practical benefits, the old filing cabinet smoker enhances outdoor cooking experiences. Whether it’s hosting backyard BBQs or enjoying quiet evenings grilling under the stars, this DIY project adds a new dimension to outdoor culinary adventures.

2. How does a filing cabinet smoker work?

The old filing cabinet smoker works similarly to traditional smokers. Wood chips or chunks are burned to produce smoke, which flavours and cooks the food placed inside the smoker. The temperature and airflow are controlled to create the desired smoking conditions. This ensures that the food cooks evenly and absorbs the desired amount of smoke flavor.

3. Why use a filing cabinet to build a smoker?

Filing cabinets are typically made of sturdy metal, which makes them durable and suitable for outdoor use. This ensures that the smoker can withstand the elements and last for years to come. Filing cabinets often have multiple drawers, providing ample space for smoking food. These drawers can be repurposed as shelves within the smoker, allowing for efficient use of space.

4. Is it safe to use an old filing cabinet smoker?

Filing cabinets are often sturdy and typically have drawers that can be repurposed for shelves, providing ample space for smoking food. When used properly, an old filing cabinet smoker can be safe for cooking food. Though It’s important to follow safety guidelines, ensure proper ventilation, and use high-quality materials to minimize risks.

Ensure that the old filing cabinet smoker is placed in a well-ventilated area to prevent the buildup of smoke and carbon monoxide. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of emergencies, and never leave the smoker unattended while it’s in use.

Regularly clean and maintain the smoker to prevent the buildup of grease and debris, which can pose a fire hazard.

5. Can I use any type of filing cabinet for this project?

While any metal filing cabinet can technically be used, it’s best to choose one in good condition without any residual chemicals or contaminants. Additionally, ensure it’s sturdy enough to withstand the heat of smoking.

6. How much does it cost to build a filing cabinet smoker?

The cost can vary depending on factors such as the price of materials, tools needed, and any additional features or modifications. However, repurposing an old filing cabinet can be a cost-effective way to create a smoker compared to buying a new one.

In many cases, DIY projects like this one offer significant cost savings, especially when considering the high price of quality smokers on the market.

Repurposing items you already have or can acquire inexpensively, such as an old filing cabinet, can further reduce costs. Additionally, DIY projects often allow for customization and creativity, giving you more value for your money.

7. How long does it take to build a filing cabinet smoker?

The time required can vary depending on your skill level, available tools, and the complexity of the design. Generally, it may take a few hours to a full day to complete an old filing cabinet smoker project.

Adequate preparation and planning can help streamline the project and reduce the overall time required. This includes gathering materials and tools, carefully measuring and marking components, and planning the layout and assembly process.

The assembly process itself may take several hours to complete, especially if you encounter any challenges or complications along the way.

8. Can you customize your old filing cabinet smoker?

Yes, one of the benefits of DIY projects is the ability to customize according to your preferences. You can add features, modify designs, or choose specific materials to tailor the smoker to your needs. DIY projects allow for creativity and personalization. You can choose the design elements, colours, and finishes that match your aesthetic preferences and complement your outdoor space. This ensures that your old filing cabinet smoker not only functions well but also looks great in your backyard or patio.

DIY allows you to select materials that align with your priorities, whether it’s durability, sustainability, or cost-effectiveness. You can choose high-quality materials that will stand the test of time or opt for eco-friendly options that minimize environmental impact.


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