How to Turn an Old TV Into Something Cool

How to Turn an Old TV Into Something Cool

Photo: Debra Anderson (Shutterstock)

Nothing lasts forever. The shiny new appliance you buy today will be a broken piece of junk in a few years or decades. A few years ago a friend’s parents finally had to upgrade from their ancient tube television in a huge wooden cabinet to a smart TV—and they quite sensibly simply placed the new TV on top of the old one, using it as a TV stand and saving themselves the trouble of moving it out of the house.

That’s one solution. Other options include putting it in your basement to make it Future You’s problem, or just getting rid of it—but these are boring options. A much better and more creative idea is to transform your old cabinet TV into something else. This is easier than you might imagine, and in most cases requires just some basic DIY skills and a little bit of time. Here are some terrific ideas for transforming your old TV into something cool.

Safety note: Depending on your TV’s vintage, it might contain a cathode ray tube (CRT), and these can be kind of dangerous to handle. For one thing, they are vacuum tubes, and if they break they will explode like little glass bombs. For another, CRT televisions usually involve some surprisingly large capacitors. This means that they store a pretty hefty charge for a surprisingly long time, and if you’re not careful you can get a dangerous shock. If the TV has been in your basement for the last decade you’re probably okay, but if it’s been powered on recently you’ll need to know how to discharge it first. Don’t assume the CRT is safe to futz with or this might be the last DIY you ever D.

Turn an old TV into a cat/dog bed

Cats and dogs love sitting inside boxes and luxuriating on soft, comfortable bed. A cool, old-fashioned television inside a wood cabinet can be the ultimate plush box for a dog or cat bed. This can be as complex or as simple as you prefer—the fundamentals are pretty straightforward:

  1. Unplug the TV so you don’t accidentally electrocute yourself.
  2. Remove the back of the TV cabinet. This should be a matter of removing a few screws. The backing might be attached to the tube and electronics inside or it might be separate. If it’s attached, pull it out gently as far as you can.
  3. Investigate the electronic components and how to remove them. The TV doesn’t work, so no need to be too gentle, but as noted above, be careful removing the tube. Again, this should require just undoing a few screws and lifting the whole component out.
  4. Clean up the inside and outside. Paint or contact paper on the interior can make it look upscale, then a properly sized cat or dog bed is placed inside.
  5. Replace the back panel, or cut a new one and screw it into place.

Your furry friend can jump in and out through the opening where the screen used to be. You can dress it up further with scratch pads, toys, or other decorations if you want to, but that’s optional.

Turn an old TV into a table and/or storage space

If you don’t have a pet or just need some extra storage, an old TV cabinet can be easily transformed into a shelving unit, a side table, or a dresser. The initial steps are the same as with the pet bed project: Remove the backing panel, remove the tube and the electronics, and clean up the interior.

After that you can paint the cabinet inside and out if you want. Then install some table legs by drilling the appropriate holes in the bottom of the cabinet and attaching the legs via bolts or screws. Now it’s just a matter of installing some shelving inside using some brackets and some cut-to-size wooden shelves, replacing the back panel, and you have a cool little bookshelf or spot for your extra sweaters. Alternatively, you can fill the screen opening with a piece of art or a decorative panel and use it as a side table.

Turn an old TV into a bar

A trendy use for an old TV that no longer functions is to turn it into a cool bar for your next party. It’s essentially the same steps above for turning the old TV into a shelf storage unit, except instead of books or your overflow shoes that no longer fit in your closet you place glassware, bottles, and cocktail hour tools inside—shelves are optional, depending on how much space you have in there.

One upgrade you can consider is to swap out the table legs for casters resulting in a mobile bar cart instead of a stationary spot.

Turn an old TV into an aquarium

A slightly more complicated project for you and your beloved old TV is to transform it into a cool aquarium. This involves removing the back and guts of the TV again and getting it ready for aquatic life.

  1. Inspect the cabinet for strength. Aquariums are heavy things, and you should consider reinforcing the bottom of your TV cabinet before proceeding.
  2. Measure the interior of the cabinet and choose an aquarium that will fit inside. Ideally it should completely fill the “screen” portion of the cabinet.
  3. Measure from the top of the cabinet to the top of the aquarium. You’re going to need 2-3 inches of clearance to fit a light fixture. Without a light your aquarium is going to be pretty hard to see.
  4. Place your aquarium on top of the cabinet and trace its edges. Add a half inch or so all around, and cut this portion out. This will allow you access to the aquarium for feeding, etc, without having to remove everything.
  5. Attach hinges to the section of cabinet you’ve just cut out and then attach it to the cabinet body again so that it lifts up. You’ll need to screw a small piece of wood to the underside of the front “lip” you created when you removed the top so that the lid you’ve just fashioned doesn’t just drop into the cabinet itself, but sits flush with the edge.
  6. Place the aquarium back inside the TV cabinet and confirm that the lid you’ve created gives you the proper access.
  7. Attach a light fixture to the bottom of the lid. A flat fluorescent fixture is best—ones designed to go under kitchen cabinets will work great.
  8. You’ll want to hide the wires behind your aquarium tank, so you can either install a decorative background behind it or simply paint the back and sides of the tank.
  9. Insert your tank, run the wires out the back to a power source, and set up your aquarium. Might be advisable to fill the tank first and ensure the cabinet can handle the weight.

Turn an old TV into a planter

Don’t have room for a transformed TV inside—well, maybe you have room in the backyard, on the deck or patio. Removing the guts of an old TV and turning it into a planter is a retro-cool way of getting more green into your outdoor space. It’s not a tough project:

  1. Remove the back of the TV and the interior electronics.
  2. Drill drainage holes in the bottom of the TV—just a few will allow excess water to drain out.
  3. Consider waterproofing using a liquid rubber, Redgard, or similar product. Waterproofing the bottom of the cabinet will extend its life; otherwise the constant damp will rot out the bottom pretty quickly.
  4. Either fill with potting soil and transfer seeds or plants inside, or fill with potted plants.
  5. Enjoy!

Turn an old TV into a retro monitor

Finally, what better way to amaze and confuse your guests than to take an old TV cabinet and install a sparkling new HD flatscreen in it? Here’s how to do it:

  1. Remove back panel and interior components.
  2. Insert your new TV or monitor and see how it fits. Measure the existing opening of the cabinet to determine how much larger it will need to be to accommodate the new screen. Adjust screen opening if necessary. While this project is easiest with a cabinet that already housed an older flatscreen TV (because old tube-style TVs tended to have curved screens), you can adjust a curved screen cutout to the proper size and shape with a little judicious sawing. Alternatively, remove the front panel entirely and replace it with a custom piece of wood that will frame your new flatscreen perfectly, and add some simple trim around the edges.
  3. If your old cabinet is deep enough and your flatscreen can sit on its stand inside and come up to the proper height, you can just affix the stand to the bottom of the cabinet interior with some brackets. Otherwise you might need to adjust the TV’s height by removing the stand or raising up the bottom of the cabinet with some layers of plywood.
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