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 plumb bob to 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!

Build a hanging hook

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.

Make key ornaments

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.

Use a key as a weight

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.

Install as a drawer or cabinet pull

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.

Craft a winged key display

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, a transparent fishing line, and a hot glue gun. To create the wings, use paper or sheer white fabric. If you choose to use fabric, you'll also need 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.

Use a key as a last-minute plumb bob

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 line, used to make sure vertical surfaces are level. It can be helpful for framing walls, installing door jambs, and a range of other tasks where you want to ensure 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 one in a pinch, or have a one-off project and don't want to buy one, a key and string will work well enough!

To make it, 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. Ensure 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 item you are checking. 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 are in line with each other vertically. (For example, an overhead light and a sculpture below.)

Build your own key wind chime

Making a key wind chime is a fun DIY for the whole family to try, and the end result is a decoration you can hang on your front porch. You'll be able to find most of the materials for this project around your house: a stick, thin string, embroidery thread or paint, and some old keys. Start with decorating your stick. You can go the more textured route, wrapping different colors of embroidery thread around the branch to give it some personality. Or, if you have paint lying around, paint the stick your color or pattern of choice.

Then, take a length of string and tie it to each end of the stick to create the line for hanging. Then, cut pieces of string at varying lengths. These will be used for hanging the keys, so you might want to lay out a plan to decide how you want the keys to sit. Both old keys and new keys look lovely for this project. Next, tie them close together so they'll make some sound when the wind blows. Tie the keys onto the stick, and you have a brand new wind chime!

Create stylish key magnets

Decorative key magnets are so charming, and best of all, super easy to make. You can use old or new keys for this project; all you need are your keys, small craft magnets, and glue. A hot glue gun or Gorilla glue works well here. You can also include extra adornments if you wish, but it's not necessary. Just glue each key to a magnet and let it dry. If you want to really spotlight the look of vintage keys, you can stop there. However, if you're using new keys, add details like buttons or Scrabble pieces to make them more decorative. These little adornments give them some more personality.

Petticoat Junktion shares a tutorial on this project and includes one very helpful tip: Make sure to place the magnets far apart when waiting for the glue to dry. The last thing you want is for your magnets to attract together and possibly ruin the project before the glue has set!

Craft a sentimental shadowbox

A shadowbox makes it possible to turn small keepsakes into pieces of art. Essentially an extra deep picture frame, many are the perfect size to display keys. Start by buying a shadowbox frame. Depending on the size of the frame, you can create small to large pieces of art. Vintage keys give this project a charming, old-fashioned look that's great for farmhouse or shabby chic homes. But if vintage keys aren't your style, you can also use sentimental modern keys, such as the key to your first apartment, first car, or grandma's recipe box. If you don't have any special keys, you can create a pattern, for example, crafting flower shapes from modern keys. 

Take your shadowbox and remove the backer board. The easiest method is to use glue to attach the key to the board, wait for it to dry, and then place it back in the frame. But if you don't want to get glue on sentimental keys, another option is to use thread. Using a sewing needle and thread, poke a hole through the backer board (from back to front) where you plan to place the key. If the board is too thick, you can use a thumbtack to create a small hole. Tighten the thread to hold the key in place and tie it off in the back. Choose a similar thread color to the key to make it less noticeable. You can display your finished shadowbox on a shelf or mount it on the wall.