Turning an Antique Printer’s Drawer into a Shelf of Tiny Wonders

My son is a rock hound, as am I, and we have lots and lots of rocks we have gathered over the years.  They are in boxes and bins, piled in trays and bowls, and generally all over the place.  I wanted a small curio type shelf to display some of his rocks and fossils, but I wasn’t having much luck finding a shelf with lots of smallish compartments.  I put it out on my FB page what I wanted, and my friend Tony (see my page The Twelve Tonys) suggested I look for an old printer’s drawer.

Back in the old days, in order to print newspapers or flyers, the type would have to be set up by hand.  Wooden or metal pieces that composed words would be arranged (backwards) to make up a page, which would be put into a press.  Ink would be spread over the type, paper laid on top, and then an impression was made on the paper.  Sounds tedious, and is yet another reason to be glad you live in the digital age.

Printer's drawer.typesetting

Not many people still print this way, and as a result there are, floating about the world, many abandoned printer’s drawers.  I got on Craigslist and found this one in my area, which I purchased.  It was dusty and dirty, and it took a few days to get it cleaned up.

Printer's drawer.1

When it was done I went to Ace and got some hefty hardware used for hanging mirrors to attach it to the walls, and I borrowed my neighbor’s stud finder to make sure I was drilling into wood and not plaster.  This drawer is solid wood with brass strips on the front of each compartment, and it is not light.  Spent some time trying to make sure it would hang level (it’s pretty close!) and then we got to have lots of fun filling it up.

Many of our rocks were too big to put in, as the compartments are not very deep (about an inch).  But we have lots and lots of little treasures that we have saved over the years, and we have managed to fill up most of the slots.

Shelf of wonders.full

There are 13 cats (including a shrine to my first grey cat, Enzo), a Harry Potter box (Crookshanks, Scabbers, wands, and a golden snitch), little metal dreidels, shells, rocks, fossils, bok choy boys, pencil toppers, coins, glass beads, sea glass, incredibly small origami cranes that Emma folded, 3 rat skulls, a little bronze Buddha, go stones, and teeny tiny fruits and vegetables.  I could go on and on.  If you are a friend or neighbor, next time you are over come see our tiny treasures for yourself.  If you aren’t local, be sure to double click on the image, to get a nice close up look at our shelf of wonders.


Filed under Arts/Crafts/Photography

7 responses to “Turning an Antique Printer’s Drawer into a Shelf of Tiny Wonders

  1. Bubba and Zaida


    Your Printer’s Drawer is incredible. We looked in every nook and loved seeing all of the collection. You and Sam must have had a great time putting this together. What a great idea! It also photographed perfectly. Congratulations!

  2. Tony

    The project came out great. The drawers were usually part of a large chest and built to hold all the weight of the typeset. One letter may not weigh much, but the whole page adds up quickly. The drawer is probably white oak which cleans up to give that beautiful glow you achieved.
    You could probably get the rocks to fit if you broke them up with a sledge hammer. 🙂

  3. I don’t want to make my beautiful son cry, so I think I will skip the sledgehammer! Thanks for the original suggestion to look for a printer’s drawer.

  4. Celia Abrams

    The printer’s drawer looks amazing!! Like you, I have so many rocks and shells. Each reminds me of a different event and place. Ceil

  5. Celia Abrams

    …and I did get the nice close look. Thank you.

  6. C

    You know that dust and dirt almost certainly contained lead, right? Printers type was made of lead. (I know this article is old… I ended up here because I bought a type drawer recently, tested it for lead, and it came up very very positive. But anyone else interested in making something like this should be aware.)

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