Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Re-Purposed Home: DIY Railroad Spike Cabinet Pulls

My husband and I recently built our home (its mostly done..."done enough," anyway) and have re-purposed several items from around the ranch and surrounding area to incorporate into our design.  I will be sharing these different projects in a series called, "The Re-Purposed Home".  If they aren't helpful at all to you, then I hope they will be entertaining!

 Once our cabinets were installed, we realized that we wanted some rustic hardware/pulls for them, if possible, to fit the decor of our cabin.  Being who I am I wanted to  re-purpose items and make them functional and I like items that reflect who we are and where we are.   I grew up a stone's throw from the original transcontinental railroad grade, but years before I came along they'd cut some time off the trip across the country and moved the actual train tracks miles away.  The old railroad grade still exists, and in fact, like many of our "neighbors" out here, we use it as our access road and sometimes forget it was the old railroad track until the occasional road grader causes a rusty, "antique" spike to find its way into a car tire.  With all this railroad history I thought it might be fitting to use railroad spikes for handles or pulls for our cabinets. I thought it was a pretty original idea until I got online and found some railroad spike knobs selling for about $8/knob.  Okay, so my idea wasn't that original but I was enamored by it at this point. 
Still...$8/knob was a bit out of our budget (truthfully, we'd spent our budget on the cabinets).  So I figured, how hard can it be? We decided to  make our own and we absolutely love them.  Just in case you wanted to make your own as well, here's how we did it.  (If you didn't want to make your own, but still would like some more affordable railroad spike pulls/knobs or hooks, I am attempting to create a link here.)

1st my little girl and I put on our biggest pocketed coats and went walking along the right-of-way near the tracks. NOT ON THE TRACKS. I don't know if its the same all over the country but around here, when they put in new spikes, they put the old spikes in nice, convenient piles along the right of way next to the tracks. We never even had to get on the train tracks to collect our spikes.  We loaded up our pockets 'til the fabric of our coat pockets complained, as did my little girl, and headed for the car.  

2nd, since we were almost to town anyway, we stopped at the hardware store to get supplies.  I used a couple metal cutting discs for my grinder (my favorite tool) a box of self-boring screws, a couple of drill bits for drilling metal (just about the diameter of the core of the self-boring screws) and some clear spray lacquer. 

3rd, I got home, put on my dollar store sunglasses for safety goggles and got to cutting.  I measured the first few spikes and made pencil marks where to cut, until I got a feel for it. If you have a vice to put the spikes in when you are cutting that would be best.  I was too lazy and just went outside to my back step and held the spike under my foot with the head of the spike hanging off.  I was surprised at how well and how quickly the disc on my grinder cut through the railroad spike.  Keep an eye out on your disc for wear though-if the edge looks ragged, hurry and replace the disc before chunks of it lodge somewhere unpleasant in your body.  (If you aren't familiar with using a grinder definitely don't put your hand, foot or leg anywhere near it until you are sure you can control it and operate it proficiently.)

4th, drill 'em.  I looked at the length of my screws and the depth of my cabinet and did my best to drill as little as possible (about a 1/2") into these buggers.  This part took the longest and was the most unpleasant so after doing a bunch myself, I enlisted my husband's help.  Once again we were too lazy to walk outside and over to the rusty old building that houses the vice so we sat on the kitchen floor, put a scrap of wood between the spike head and the floorboards and held the spike with one hand while drilling with the other. Took a few hours and a few drill bits.  When drilling metal, I've had the most success drilling at a slow speed instead of fast (lay off the trigger) while applying pressure but not "tons" of pressure. Otherwise, you break and dull drill bits at amazing speed.  

5th I wanted these metal spikes lacquered up so they shined, were easy to clean and didn't continue to rust so i took them outside and gave them all several coats of clear lacquer using my spray can.  I love that stuff because its easy and quick-drying. Like I said, I'm lazy.

6th We installed these bad boys by marking the spot for the knob on the front and back of the door or drawer. I had my cabinet guys help me because I was new to this project and didn't want to destroy our new cabinets.  They listened to me patiently and  were optimistic about my idea. (Thanks guys!) While it did take some muscle to hold the knob in place while the screw bored its way in, we were done within an hour or so with all 30 knobs on all my cupboards and drawers.  We have absolutely loved them! 

We are now doing our mudroom cabinets and if I can get my little baby boy to actually take a nap without me holding him, I might get these spikes finished and on the cabinets for our family in time for Christmas.  Keep your fingers crossed!


  1. Love these! This may be my next upgrade, have collected many spikes and are just starting to use them in the house. Our first project was curtain rods. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That's great! I'd love to see a pic of your curtain rods!