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This Should Work: A vintage pantry comes home

Have you ever bought a house with its contents?
This Should Work with Bruce MacNab

Have you ever bought a house with its contents? I did. And my house included five sheds packed with everything from tools to televisions.

One shed item caught my eye – a pantry cabinet that looked to be from the 1800s. This cabinet was in the kitchen at one time. But instead of storing jars of pickles it was now stocked with car parts, used motor oil, a squirrel’s nest, and a chainsaw.

It had been made about a foot smaller in both height and width. Whoever re-sized the pantry must have used the chainsaw because it was a rough job.

When it came time to redo my kitchen I decided to incorporate the pantry. The first step was to get rid of the junk and evict the squirrel. Once it was empty it seemed worse than ever. It had oil stains, gouges and spots of rotten wood.

PHOTO TSW 38 PantryThis 1800s pantry was returned tot he kitchen afters years spent in a filthy shed. Photo by Bruce MacNab.

The upper shelf section was no longer attached to the lower cabinet like a classic country pantry. I decided to separate the pantry into two cabinets, a base and an upper wall cabinet.

In the backyard I hosed it down to get rid of the dust, soot, spider webs, mouse poop, and hundreds of bug carcasses. It was still dirty so I scrubbed it with a brush and hot soapy water. 

The rotten spots had to be cut out and patched with pieces of pine. Afterwards I orbital-sanded the entire pantry, washed it again, and sealed everything with acrylic primer.

The two drawers were the old style that slide on wooden rails. Do you remember these drawers? If you pulled them too far they crashed down on your feet. That’s why I re-sized the drawers and installed modern drawer slides.

At one time the pantry had two equal doors but now one door was twice the width of its neighbor. To balance the doors, I cut the wide door in half. This created three doors roughly the same size. I replaced the rusty old door hinges with reproduction hinges.

The wooden top of the hutch was too rough for a kitchen. Someday I’ll make a new one but for now I added a pre-formed countertop. I took some of the pantry’s original paint to the hardware store and they matched the same colours from a century ago.

Nowadays, kitchen cabinets are computer-designed to be symmetrical and sensible. But my old pantry has different-sized drawers with facing-strips ranging from one inch to five inches. This quirky pantry would never be allowed to leave a modern cabinet shop. Maybe that’s why people like it so much.

Bruce MacNab, a Red Seal carpenter, has taught carpentry courses for NSCC and the Guysborough County Adult Learning Association. Visit him online at