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Industrial Utility Cart Makeover

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Years of spilled paint, grime and grease couldn’t stop this industrial utility cart makeover! It took some effort, but our deck now has a new bar cart!

Every so often Handan springs a project on me that seriously makes me question her sanity.

Or her motives.

Or both.

So last fall after our new deck had been built, she brought me to the basement and showed me this utility cart:

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Before we go any further into this Cart of Darkness,ย be sure to follow us on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, and click the subscribe button at the top of this pageย to sign up for our email list so you’ll never miss a post!

She then proclaimed that it would be my next project.

I squinted my eyes and and tried to take her measure.

Was she crazier than an outhouse rat, or was she trying to do me in?

Both scenarios seemed equally plausible. Whatever the reason, I was in danger. No good could come of this, leastways not for me.

I tried to maneuver my way towards the stairs, but she hemmed me in and launched into her proposal for the forgotten and forlorn utility cart…

I remembered it well, the sad and ugly thing. We bought it at a warehouse sale a few years ago. A couple of hipster brothers owned the warehouse, and it was full of assorted treasures of the past 100 years. They owned a garment company that manufactured high-end jeans, so there were some antique Singer sewing machines on offer. In quintessential hipster style, the brothers (or rather, those who work for them) make their jeans on antique sewing machines. I guess that gives the jeans some sort of old-timey street cred among the hipster sect. I looked up the jeans out of curiosity after that sale, and my eyeballs fell out onto my keyboard. Who on earth pays $300 for a pair of jeans?

Lemme answer that for you: hipsters, that’s who. It’s the perfect complement to their ironic beards, organic flannel and fair-trade weasel-poop coffee.

Thought 1: No wonder the brothers could afford a warehouse.

Thought 2: I guess we’re in the wrong business.

Still, we left the warehouse with some decent stuff. For $100, we scored an ancient bandsaw (which I eventually had to throw away, as it was too old to make decent cuts), an enormously heavy iron pulley-hook (click here to see it in action), a coffee pot that Handan used to snaz up our garden, a lonely old spindle that blossomed into a beauty, some crocks that went on to give Pottery Barn a run for their money,ย and tons of other odds and ends including (but not limited to) some sort of antique pantry door that I upcycled into a Grandin Road knockoff.

And of course, the utility cart pictured above.

Okay, looking back on it, that warehouse trip may have been the most fertile hunting ground for project material we’ve ever encountered!

Anyway, back to the utility cart. I don’t know what Handan had in mind when we bought the thing way back when, but after our deck was completed last fall, she hit upon the idea of an industrial-style outdoor bar cart.

And she thought the technicolor nightmare that stood between us was the perfect candidate for the job.

I looked at it again and recoiled in horror.

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I tried to imagine the artistic indignities this utility cart must have suffered throughout the decades.

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Who was responsible for this mess?

Unruly gangs of kindergarten kids armed with paintbrushes and booger-tipped fingers?

Acid-tripping art majors too high to actually get the paint on a canvas?

Some mad DIYer who spent too much time in his unventilated basement?

I shuddered as I reflected upon the cart’s grim history, so I decided to give it a new story.

In my new history, our well-loved utility cart belonged to Belarusian painter, Leonid Afremov, and he used it to create his color-infused masterpieces.

This was a simple project, only complicated by the disastrous condition of the original utility cart. Handan wanted the industrial cart to be black and have wooden trays.

With those parameters in mind, I set to work.

As I dismantled the utility cart, I got a closer look at the gunk that had accumulated on the lower trays. This thing was a hideous mess. I saved all the nuts and bolts, in case I wanted to try to salvage them for later reassembly.

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After disassembling the utility cart, my first order of business was getting rid of the old paint. I first tried removing it with a scraper. There were so many layers! I had my very own deposit of Fordite in my basement!

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The scraper method made a huge mess, as little paint chips exploded from the cart and flew around the room. After a short while I said, “Nuts to this! There must be an easier way!”

Then I remembered the awesome paint stripper that Handan had bought last summer. I poured the thick gel onto the top tray and smeared it around with a nitrile-gloved-hand.

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It didn’t take long for Blue Bear to start working its magic.

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This paint stripper is much less toxic than most, and you don’t have to gear up with full body armor and a respirator to use it. Gloves and safety goggles are always a good idea though.

I let the goop sit for a day, and then I scraped up what I could.

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As good as Blue Bear is, one coat was no match for the layers upon layers of paint and grime the utility cart had accumulated over the years.

In all, it took three coats to clean the top tray of the cart.

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The middle tray presented a beautiful obstacle. There was far less paint than there was on the top tray. I covered it in Blue Bear and waited.

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The next day, it looked like a work of art! I was half tempted to try to keep it that way…

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…but then I scraped it off after taking a picture.

The three trays of the utility cart took me a couple of weeks (working here and there) to clean. Once they were out of the way, I turned my attention to the supports and the wheels.

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I further disassembled the supports and wheels until I could take them apart no further. Instead of using stripper on them, I used my random orbital sander to strip the paint.

I then used the sander on the trays to strip off some areas of rust and to scuff the surface in preparation for painting.

Months passed, and the industrial utility cart sat in the basement awaiting spring. When the weather had warmed, I took it outside to paint it.

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I used Rustoleum’s Oil-Rubbed Bronze spray paint, as it has a nicer look than straight black – at least for this particular project.

Once the pieces were all painted (no pics of that process, i’m afraid), I took them into the garage, and there they sat for another month.

Look, I may be a lot of things, but a fast worker is not one of them. [Yeah, unless thereโ€™s a dry martini waiting at the finish line! hahahaha -Handan] [Clearly there wasn’t one, woman! -Greg]

Eventually, I carried the pieces back down to the basement for reassembly. I looked over the nuts and bolts I had saved. They were rusty, dirty, greasy, grimy, and entirely unpleasant, not unlike the man staring down at them.

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But they were also the perfect bolts for the job. They had the retro-industrial look I was going for, so I wanted to re-use them. Maybe with the money I’d save by not having to buy new hardware, I could afford a pair of $300 jeans and some suspenders made from hand-woven free-range Tibetan-yak-butt hair. A fella can dream…

I put the dirty nuts and bolts into a plastic water bottle.

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Filled it with apple cider vinegar…

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And let it sit for a few hours, giving it a shake every now and then.

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The acid in the vinegar dissolved most of the rust, and it cleaned up the nuts and bolts pretty good.

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They weren’t perfect – there were still a few spots of rust and paint – but they didn’t need to be since I’d be painting them after assembly.

I laid out all my components and rebuilt my industrial utility cart.

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For the top tray, I used cedar deck boards that I cut to fit. I secured them to the tray with construction adhesive.

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The cart was built but not yet finished.

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I taped off the cedar so I could give a final spray to the nuts and bolts.

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Though I love the look of raw cedar, I thought that something a little redder would look awesome with the oil-rubbed bronze. I chose Minwax’s Red Mahogany.

When the stain had dried, I sealed the cedar with Varathane Spar Urethane.

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You can see the bottom two trays in the picture above have cork on them. We have a ton of extra cork underlayment from the laundry room renovation, so I cut two pieces to fit the trays. This keeps the overall weight way down, and it allows me to swap them out if they get too dirty. Since the color of the cork clashed with the stained cedar, Handan dry-brushed the cork with the same stain. You need to be careful staining cork, it has a tendency to suck up the stain like a sponge, and you’ll end up with splotch marks, if you don’t apply it lightly and evenly.

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And with that, our industrial utility cart makeover was complete!

It makes a great bar cart for the deck. Tested and approved! I finally got that dry martini I’d been waiting for ๐Ÿ™‚

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It looks great in the afternoon sun…

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And even better when the sun goes down.

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28 Comments

  1. The cart turned out beautifully! Removing paint messes is a pain…I will look for that Blue Bear paint stripper – thanks for the tip!

  2. Whoa! Love the way the cart turned out!
    Although I love the projects you do…I have to admit that I am here for the entertainment. Greg, you are FUNNY! You can make a career as a comedian, if you ever wanted to try something new as a side gig….
    On a different note, have you considered stripping the paint with a heat gun? I think it would have made removing the paint a much easier job…

    1. Thank you, Revital! ๐Ÿ˜€ You know, it never crossed my mind to try a heat gun, though I have heard of that technique. I wish I had thought of it, lol!

  3. Lovely piece of work. I’d have been reaching for the number of a sandblasting place if I were faced with that to clean up, you have much more patience than I. It does look fabulous, love the cider vinegar trick, and as always, the way you tell the story is as much of an event as the things you do.

  4. That looks great, Greg! Handan is surprisingly creative, considering she’s an engineer. I have an engineer husband, and two kids who are, and they are more “left-brained” than “right”. I think she’s remarkably creative! (And, you – but I suspect you are more “right-brain”, aren’t you?) Anyway, a couple of questions: 1) will the top tray be all right without drainage holes, in the rain? (I wouldn’t want to have to bring it in every time it rained.) 2) Would Coca-cola have done the same thing for the nuts/bolts that cider vinegar did?
    Thanks for all the wonderful ideas for things that I doubt I’ll ever be able to build, but love to dream about!

    1. Thanks, Terra! Yeah, Handan is pretty creative for an engineer, and I’m most definitely in my right brain! ๐Ÿ˜€ 1) The tray top can drain from the corners, as the metal is split there. I may put some epoxy in between the boards, just to give it a little more protection. 2) Coke would probably work, as it does have a bit of citric acid. Basically anything acidic will clean. Vinegar is cheap, so I go with that.

  5. Hi Greg,
    The pictures are gorgeous. Did you clean and spray paint the wheels or replaced them! Oil rubbed bronze is a fave of mine. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I love your narrative! You have a wonderful writing style and I enjoyed te journey of the cart’s transformation!

  7. I don’t know how I missed this because I am a long time subscriber! Anyway, I just want you to know you outdid yourself on this one. I am a nice shade of envy green right now. G R E A T job!

  8. I know this is an old post, but as a new subscriber going through everything, I just saw it. I am in love! But, you didn’t mention the baskets, where did you get them? Did you make the liners?
    You guys are the perfect team, and I really look forward to your posts!