Jun 24, 2023
Creative Ways To Repurpose Old Keys
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If you have a junk drawer (and let's face it, most of us do), you probably have some old keys jangling around. There's no need to keep them relegated to the depths of your cupboards — repurpose old keys into something new instead! With a few tools and some project inspiration, you can turn your old keys into a range of items, from a practical hanging rack or a plumb bob to a decorative chandelier or a Christmas tree ornament.
There are a few reasons why you might have some keys without a purpose; you might have a mix of keys from long-lost locks and old door knobs, or some ornate vintage finds from a flea market that you were hoping to use for a future project. The projects on this list can be made with a range of key styles, so you can find a DIY for modern and for ornate vintage options. If you still end up with too many keys after trying out a few of these projects, make sure to recycle them instead of throwing them out. Since most keys are made of metal, they can be melted down to create new metal. Check with your local waste service for the best place to recycle your keys, but before making that call, unlock the potential of old keys with these upcycling projects!
This ambitious metal flower project is an artistic way to repurpose old keys. When displayed in a vase, it's sure to fetch you some compliments! It's a striking project that takes a little more elbow grease than some of the others on this list. This one is best crafted with welding tools, but if you're not comfortable with welding, glue can be used in a pinch. Just make sure to use a glue that's effective on metal, and keep in mind that the bond may not be as strong as a welded joint.
To create the stalk of this key flower, choose your intended flower length and double that measurement. Cut a piece of sturdy but malleable wire to length and twist it around itself to form the stalk. Attach the stalk to a small metal disc using your welding tools or glue. Select your keys for each flower, choosing keys that are around the same length. Measure them out along the disc so you know how many to use — you can either attach them by the tip or the bow. To create a more flower-like shape, bend the keys slightly, curving toward the direction of the front of your finished flower. Then, attach the keys to the metal disc by welding them or gluing them in place. For extra oomph, craft multiple flowers and display them in a vase, like in this inspiration photo.
You can use old keys to make a wall-mounted hanging hook, perfect for hanging, well, more keys! This hanging hook will be sturdy enough to hold light items like keys, jewelry, and small accessories such as hats, umbrellas, and scarves. It's the perfect addition to a front entryway or bedroom wall to keep your most-used items within easy reach. You can use any type of key for this project, as long as you can bend it into a hook shape. Use pliers to bend each key. It might be even easier to use two pliers; one to hold the key, and another to actually bend it.
Next, prepare the wood base by cutting it to size and staining or painting it to your desired color. This project is a great place to get a little creative if you want to add a custom colorful accessory to one of your walls. Once dried, mount the key hooks to the plank of wood using screws. Then, attach the finished hanging hook to the wall using mounting brackets.
Take a plain chandelier to the next level by adorning it with keys. The finished project is so distinctive, with a charming industrial feel. You'll want to make sure you use the right materials. Chandelier-safe materials include metals like aluminum, steel, copper, and brass. Since keys are made of metal, they're safe to use as well.
Old and new keys both work for this project, depending on your ideal finished look. To attach the keys to the chandelier, you'll need metal hobby wire, chandelier chain, jump rings (depending on your desired design), pliers, and wire cutters. If you just want to hang keys off of bits of the chandelier, like in this photo example, hobby wire or large jump rings will do the trick. Just loop the wire or rings through the hole on the key and attach it to the chandelier using pliers. If you want to create dangly pieces, cut chandelier chain to your desired length and attach it to the chandelier and key using pliers. You can craft creative draped pieces using this method. Plus, if you follow a tutorial like this one from Running With Sisters, you can add small locks, beads, gears, and other metal bits and bobs to create a gorgeous steampunk chandelier.
A Christmas tree always feels more personal when it's decorated with your own hand-made ornaments. The more creative, the better, and ornaments made of old keys are both unique-looking and so easy to make. The simplest version of this project just involves taking your favorite keys and looping a ribbon or string through the handle — easy as that! You can choose keys with a special meaning, like your first apartment key or the key to a love lock. Or you can use this DIY to display your vintage flea market finds. To add more color and personality, you can decorate your keys. To start, make sure the key is clean so your chosen paint can adhere as well as possible. At Home in Love recommends painting keys first with a metal primer, then acrylic paint, and using a finishing glaze like Diamond Glaze or Mod Podge. Another option is to use nail polish to add color and sparkle to your keys.
You don't just need to use key ornaments at Christmas, or even indoors for that matter. Key ornaments can also make an eclectic outdoor tree decoration year-round. Old-fashioned keys are a great choice for this type of project since the patina they develop outdoors can add even more charm to this shabby-chic decor idea.
Old keys aren't just great for decorative projects; they can have practical uses as well. Keys aren't heavy, but they can function as the perfect light weight for some applications. Some examples include using them as a curtain weight (indoors, outdoors, or tucked into a shower curtain), a weight for curtain cupboard doors, or as a tablecloth weight.
For any of these projects, just glue or sew a key to each bottom corner of the curtain or tablecloth, on the back side so it's less conspicuous. This video tutorial from Specific Love Creations outlines how to attach a key to a curtain in more detail. The key should provide just enough heft to let the curtain or tablecloth hang down smoothly, but without making it too heavy to maneuver easily. If you attach multiple keys together (either using glue or just by looping a string through the keys' holes), you can create a heavier weight that works as a paperweight or balloon holder.
Larger old-fashioned keys are the perfect size and shape to make custom drawer pulls. Antique keys have a vintage aesthetic that looks oh-so-charming, especially when mounted on wooden drawers or cabinets. You can use matching keys on each drawer or opt for a varied assortment of old keys for a more eclectic look. Depending on your preferred look, you can mount the keys vertically or horizontally.
To get started on this project, use a strong, clear-drying adhesive like super glue or E-6000 to attach a two-inch flathead screw (or two) to each key. If you're replacing old pulls, check if your drawers or cabinets have one or two holes, and how far apart the holes are for the latter. Match the screws on the keys to the hole placement on your drawers. Once the screws are attached to the key, attach a ⅝-inch metal spacer to the screws. If you want to paint the keys, cover the exposed part of the screw using tape or by stabbing it into a piece of foam. Use spray paint to color the key and spacer to your desired finish. Once dry, install your new drawer or cabinet pulls, using a nut to secure them from the back side. This tutorial from HGTV breaks down these steps in more detail.
A metal key holder, made of none other than keys, is such a cool industrial-inspired addition to your front entryway. This project is best suited for those with metalworking know-how. To make a key holder similar to the one in this photo, start with a metal frame and attach hooks to the bottom edge. Create a pattern out of your chosen keys that fits within the frame, with some overlap on each side. Each key should have at least two points touching another key. Weld together this decorative piece, joining each key where it touches another key. Then, weld it to the back of the metal frame.
If you aren't comfortable with welding, you can create a similar key holder using a piece of wood and epoxy resin. Since it's made of wood, the finished product will have more of a cozy rather than industrial look, but it will be equally functional. Start with a one-inch thick plank of wood, measured and cut to your desired size and shape. Paint or stain the wood to your preferred finish. Arrange your keys in a pattern on the front of the wood surface and glue them in place using super glue. Use a heavy-duty duct tape, like T-Rex tape, to create a raised border around the perimeter of the base (this creates the mold which you will pour the resin into). Prepare and pour in the resin: This video from Wood Brain by Lindsay Zuelich describes the epoxy resin process in more detail. Once the epoxy is cured, remove the tape and sand any rough edges as needed. Screw cup hooks along the bottom edge of the wood base to provide a spot to hang your keys.
Harry Potter fans can likely guess the inspiration behind this next DIY — it's based on the winged keys used to guard the Philosopher's Stone. To capture the look, you'll want to use old-fashioned keys for this project. You'll also need a glass cloche with a base, transparent fishing line, and a hot glue gun. To create the wings, use paper or a fabric like silk, chiffon, lace, or any sheer fabric that is somewhat translucent to make realistic-looking wings. If you choose to use fabric, you'll also need to use a fabric stiffener so the wings can keep their shape. You can buy a product like Mod Podge Fabric or make your own by using a 1:1 mixture of water and PVA glue and painting it onto your fabric (Elmer's craft glue is a good choice).
Cut your chosen paper or fabric to the shape of wings and attach them to the keys using a dot of hot glue. Tie a length of fishing line to the key handle. Choose A different length for each key so they look like they're floating in the cloche. Attach the other end of the fishing line to the top of the glass cloche using hot glue. To make it true to the books and movie, wrinkle up one of the key's wings to make it look like it was hastily grabbed.
To make a DIY plumb bob, all you need is a key and a length of string. A plumb bob's purpose is simple but important: it's essentially a weight attached to a string, used to make sure vertical surfaces are level. It can be useful for framing walls, installing door jambs, and a range of other tasks where you want to make sure something is perfectly vertical. For major projects, you might want to buy a real plumb bob, which is perfectly balanced and has a tapered end for easier use. But if you need a plumb bob in a pinch, or if you have a one-off project and don't want to buy one, a key and string will work well enough!
To make a plumb bob, just attach a length of string (long enough to measure from point A to point B on your project) and tie it to the key handle. Make sure the key hangs square under the string with the tip pointing downward. That's all, your plumb bob is now ready! To use, hang the plumb bob aligned with the top of and parallel to the surface you are checking is plumb. Let gravity draw the key down until its tip makes contact with the point below. The point where the key makes contact and stops moving is where the vertical line is level from the point at the top of the string. This DIY plumb bob is useful for projects like making sure two decor pieces (like an overhead light and a sculpture below) are in line with each other vertically.
Creating a metal bowl from keys is a bit of an ambitious DIY — you'll definitely need to know how to weld for this one! But if you have the skills under your belt, you can make a range of objects with a pile of old keys just by bending them to shape and welding them together. This video tutorial from Ben's Worx walks you through creating welded projects from metal keys.
Old-fashioned or modern keys can work for this project, as long as you're able to bend them. Start by mapping out the bottom layer of your bowl. If you want an even bowl like in this photo example, you'll want to use keys of the same size and make your pattern as symmetrical as possible. If you don't mind an uneven edge (it will have more character this way), then you can use keys of different sizes and create the pattern as you go. After the bottom layer is welded together, start on the curved section of the bowl, bending each key into shape and welding it into place before adding the next key. Continue until the bowl reaches your desired height.
Having a bottle opener on your keychain means you can bring it anywhere, ready to open a cold one at a moment's notice. A bottle opener made from a key will be the perfect fit, and it won't be too clunky either. This project is easier with a modern key and you'll also need a permanent marker, vise grip, Dremel (with a cutting disk and sanding wheel), and safety goggles. It's helpful to use a real bottle opener so you have a reference for the bottle opener shape. Draw the bottle opener outline on the bow section and the flat side of the key. Make sure to leave a bit of space around the hole in the bow so you'll still be able to loop it onto your keychain.
Place the key tightly in the vise. Make sure you have your safety goggles on (don't skip this step!) and use the Dremel to carefully cut out the bottle opener outline. Use the sanding wheel to smooth out rough edges. Now, test it on your bottle! For a more in-depth tutorial, follow the steps in this Instructables article. You can also use an old key for this project. It takes a bit more work, but it's worth it if you love that antique key look! This video from Switch & Lever will show you how.