project: DIY jewelry display

This is what I started with:

There it is. Also, let's just ignore the dust on the dresser, shall we?

It’s a mess. And while I am not the most organized of people, I tend to crave order (yes, I am in constant conflict with myself). So a few weeks ago, I was cleaning and reorganizing, which is something I do, and I hit the point of I CAN’T STAND THIS ANYMORE with my jewelry, so I went online to find a cool jewelry organizer. I found this on Etsy, and thought it was perfect. I almost bought it, and then I thought “Wait, I can make one of those.” It’s this other person’s idea, and I don’t begrudge her the money, but I like making stuff, pretty much so I can say “Yep, I made that.” So I went on eBay and bought an antique drawer that was once used to store letterpress blocks.

When I got it, it was disgusting. I mean, it wasn’t disgusting, but it was pretty filthy. I couldn’t touch it without turning my hands black with years of ink and grime. So my first step was to clean it. I somehow thought this wasn’t going to be a huge task, but I was wrong. There are 88 compartments in the drawer (I counted), and I had to clean each one to get rid of the dirt and dust and spiderwebs that accumulated while it was sitting untouched for decades in some dude’s garage or wherever, and the cleaning took hours (and yes, it did sometimes involve swabbing corners with a q-tip). I did not get rid of all the ink that had soaked into the wood, but what I did get was the wood grain visible through the ink stains, so, in short, it looks rad.

fairly gross
My favorite compartments in the drawer are the ones that were labeled by whoever used it for its originally-intended purpose: periods, &, parentheses, and my personal favorite: BAD LETTERS. That's where the letters that misbehave go to exile, or something.
All clean

I thought, once I had the drawer clean, that all I’d need to do is put some eye hooks into the compartments and call it a day. It’s fairly obvious (or should be) that I don’t think these things through before I jump into them, and it’s probably to my benefit that I don’t, because if I realized how much work is involved in many of the projects I take on, I’d be more likely to skip them and instead eat Pringles and watch TV. Fortunately, I am also insanely stubborn and persistent, so I don’t usually abandon projects once I start them, so what usually winds up happening is I find myself in the middle of working on something wondering WHY DID I EVER START THIS while being unable to stop because I HAVE TO GET IT DONE. I swear at myself a lot.

Anyway, before embarking on phase 2 of construction, I had to buy my materials. So I bought some very tiny eye hooks (the tiniest that are manufactured, in fact) and a box of small-ish cup hooks. I couldn’t find any that were the same color. The eye hooks were zinc-plated and the cup hooks were white. That was a problem, because I wanted my hardware to match. I also didn’t want it to look all bright and shiny and new, so I came up with a solution. I WOULD PAINT ALL THE HOOKS. Like so:

It was somewhere around this point when I realized I was completely mad, but there wasn't any turning back, because once I started painting, I had to finish painting. My projects go that way a lot of the time.

I had some black acrylic paint lying around, because of course I had some black acrylic paint lying around, so I used that to paint the hooks. It didn’t stick too terribly well, but what wound up happening is that I got a coating on the hooks, so they’re not all bright and shiny, and they have a… patina. Sure. That sounds fancy. Like so:

Patina of awesomeness, I think you'd call it.

The following morning (because yes, I was up pretty late painting all those hooks), I set to work on putting the hooks in the compartments. Now, the tiny eye hooks are 5/8″, and the compartment dividers are 1/8″, which leaves me with 4/8″ too much per hook. Also, the dividers are made of hardwood, so it’s not like I could just start screwing them in. I had to make pilot holes. But because the dividers were so narrow, I didn’t want to use a drill, because I knew it would be far too easy to drill all the way through the dividers and end up with something that looked like junk, so I did what anyone would do: I made all the pilot holes with a hammer and nail. Did I mention that there are 88 compartments in this drawer? Do you also know that many of the compartments are very tiny? And that hammering a tiny hole into hardwood when you can’t really get your hands up to the spot where you’re hammering isn’t very easy? Two compartments in, and I realized this was going to take ALL DAY.

Also, I couldn’t put the eye hooks into the holes with my hands, because my hands didn’t fit in the compartments. I don’t have enormous man hands, really, but I don’t have dainty hands either. I have really long fingers, as it happens, which makes me well-suited to playing the piano (thumb to pinky, I can reach about two octaves) but not so well-suited to fitting my fingers into a wooden compartment that’s 1.5″ wide in order to screw a tiny eye hook into a tiny hole in hardwood. My solution? Needle-nose pliers. This worked like a charm, except OH MY GOD after 35 compartments my hands ached.

I worked on this some more the following day, but didn’t get it completed. I thought about finishing up on Wednesday (my day off from work), but instead I went and bought a totally super cool bicycle (I love it) (also that was an amazing adventure) (but perhaps a story for another day), so I was busy, anyway.

Then yesterday I got up, finished putting hooks into the last 22 compartments, and went to visit my uncle. My uncle is great at woodworking, and he also happens to have a shop in his basement that’s full of tools and scraps, so I thought I might be able to get his advice about steadying the back of the tray. While the compartment dividers and the frame are made of hardwood, the back is made of crap. I mean, four sheets of plywood nailed together. They’ve warped some over the years so the back isn’t a solid piece, and as I put hooks into it, it was cracking. And the back of the drawer was… how do I put this? It was a hot-ass mess. So I thought I needed something solid to attach to the back to steady the whole piece. He didn’t have a scrap of wood that was big enough, but he did have a piece of Formica. Why? I don’t know. But he measured and sawed it for me, which was very nice, because it’s probably in the best interests of the universe if I am not allowed to use a table saw. Anyway, he also let me borrow a drill (the brand new one that wasn’t even out of the box yet) to drill pilot holes for the hooks I wanted to put along the bottom of the tray. We had the following conversation about it:

“You’re going to trust me with your brand new drill?”

“Well, if you break it, you bought it.”

“I hope you have a payment plan for that.”

So I took the tray, the Formica, and the drill, and before heading home, I stopped at my friend Sandee’s house to steal her lilacs. She said I could, so it’s not really stealing, but since it’s more fun to feel like I’m stealing lilacs (it’s an annual tradition my mother and I have, by the way, flower poaching), she said it would be okay to take them — as long as I took flowers from all three trees — while she was away for the weekend. My friends are so awesome and totally accommodating of my weird predilection for pretend thievery. The lilacs are stunning, by the way, and my whole house smells like them. It’s heavenly. I mean, my house also smells like sawdust and wood glue, but mostly of lilacs.

Once that was taken care of, I had to get back to work. I’m such a task-master. Anyway, I drilled the pilot holes for the hooks along the bottom row. I had originally intended to put a few hooks on each side, but one of the hooks actually BROKE OFF in the hole (bastard!) and then I decided I didn’t really NEED hooks on the sides. (Actually now that it’s hanging and I can see how much room it takes up on the wall, I’m glad there aren’t hooks on the sides, because I think it might’ve looked cluttered.) Then I had to glue the Formica onto the back, which meant I needed some wood glue, and it’s not like I just have wood glue sitting around my house. So I dashed to the hardware store. I got there at 3:58, and they close on Saturday at 4:00, but they still let me stay after closing to buy my stuff because they are the nicest people on earth. Went home, glued the back on, played Draw Something for awhile, then went back and tacked down the edges and added a felt back. Then I let the whole thing sit overnight with some heavy books on top of it.

This morning, I put the sawtooth hangers on the back.

Also yes, there is a doily on my dining room table. It’s a pineapple stitch and my aunt made it.

Anyway, it was a bit of a challenge to hammer those tiny little nails through felt, Formica, and hardwood, but I managed. Also, you might think that you’d be able to draw a line (in order to put the hangers on straight) on black felt with a white conte crayon (doesn’t everyone keep conte crayons around the house?), but if you think that, you’d be wrong. FYI. Also you may note that the felt is a little jagged at the edge. That is because I should never ever be allowed to cut fabric (and yet I keep thinking I am going to take up sewing). Once that was done, with my mom’s help (thanks Mom!) I measured where I wanted this thing to hang, and I hung it up.

Dudes, guess what? It’s badass.

Also, I have a lot of jewelry. I was planning on having more empty compartments so that as I bought more stuff (because of course I will buy more stuff) I would have lots of storage for some time, but, um, yeah I have a lot of jewelry. I found more that I’d stored in random places because I didn’t have any storage. Anyhow, it looks great. Want to see?

Of course you do. Here it is:

Yeah. I made that.


8 thoughts on “project: DIY jewelry display

  1. J, should you ever need more of these drawers, my grandmother owned a print shop and has a bunch in her basement in Farmington that I bet she would donate to the cause. Looks flipping awesome. Love it!


  2. That is f***ing awesome. I have two of those hanging on my wall, but I used clear plastic pushpins – did’nt really care about looking shiny and new…and mine houses more knickknacks than jewelry. If you decide to do it again (and Adelle, I’d LOVE to buy some from you if you ship to NJ!), let me know – I work for and we have all kinds of nifty tools for tiny, tight places. I had a whole conversation with you in my head while I was reading. (btw, it’s Jolene!)


  3. Beautiful bad-assness!! The only thing more amazing than this project is that I am instinctively sure that YOU made most of the jewelry I see hanging. The unheralded talent in the Universe is profound and amazing. I would have enjoyed reading the piece even if IT were the product! Fab!


  4. Awesome job! It looks really cool :-D. And at least you have the stick-to-it-ivness to actually finish it o.O. I can’t tell you how many projects I have supplies for, but are either half finished, or not even started….


  5. Holy smokes ! So much smoke that it will start causing global warming and raise the temperature of the earth by couple of degrees. But it will be offset by the coolness here.


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