Custom DIY Recipe Box Dividers

Lets see now.... for my last project I gave a makeover to a pine box made in school by a child named “ME”, up-cycling it into a useful recipe box.

It was a sweet redo using a sweet sugar stencil from the Old Sign Stencil collection. You can see the recipe box details here, and the sugar stencil here.

But a recipe box needs dividers so a gal doesn't get confused and concoct something like strawberry meatball poke cake sauce, and when I couldn't find the right sized dividers, with labels that said exactly what I wanted, I made my own. 

Because I have a pretty swell new recipe box, and recipe storage issues.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

Click here to see the above design - part of the Shipping Crate Stencil

The issues started years ago when I updated a long collected recipe stash and bought a recipe binder. The binder reminded me of the kind I had in school, with three rings, and had the typical notebook style tabs on the side where the recipe would be slipped in - instead of homework - plus some pocket folders for the clippings or newspaper recipes that didn't fit in the recipe slot. Sounded like it should work great. 

That whole first binder was rather big and fell apart, just like the one when I was in junior high school that I wrote boys names in đź’•hearts on the outside cover (Alan F. if you're reading this you were so cute in 8th grade you made it into a heart on the front and the back cover of my notebook). 

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

So after the first binder went to schmidt I bought another binder style and stuck the folder parts from the old one in the new binder. Unfortunately the new binder wasn't any more helpful at organizing me, in fact it was worse because I messed with its original system by adding file pockets from the old one.

That was back before the internet had every recipe you could ever want at your fingertip. But the internet doesn't have my mothers recipes written in her own handwriting, so I wasn't about to go completely digital, I just needed to figure out what would work for my style of recipe collecting.

I do have a bunch of Pinterest recipe boards that I love and refer to often, but when I want to make an old family favorite I prefer to do it the old fashioned way, by thumbing through the recipe box to see what catches my eye, or really, what captures my stomach at that moment.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

I came to the conclusion it was me, not the recipe binders - I just didn't like the binder organization style, it did not work for me, at least not for recipe storage.

I didn't like flipping through the pages. I didn't like the category headings and I never put the recipes back in the thing where they belonged. There was more than one time I found my moms banana bread recipe in the casserole section. 

I also didn't need a separate section for all my meats. My fish and chicken get along quite nicely on my plate so there was no reason to keep them apart in my recipe file.

What would continually happen is that when I needed to fetch a recipe, I had to first look under the category, then if it's not there had to look in the folder pockets where I had willy-nilly stuck them. Many times the recipe I was looking for wasn't even in the recipe binder, and could be any number of places I might set it in my kitchen to avoid filing it, which included a small 40 year old recipe box. I still have that tiny old metal box popular in the 80's, and it housed mostly unused recipes, but for some reason unknown to mankind, I would still stick the recipes I did use, back in the box that I didn't.
Recipe Box DIY Dividers
In theory the binder sounded like a good idea. And in theory more tabs to organize the recipes seemed like a good idea. And in theory pocket folders should help with loose recipes. Maybe for you, but not for me, possibly it's some sort of mysterious left brain right brain type thing, so I went back to the olden style - a wood box storage system with only what I need and want.

Only what I wanted and needed meant I also purged all the recipes I would never make, most collected years before the internet.  I use my Pinterest boards now to store all the new recipes I might make someday. I didn't get rid of any recipe that was handwritten by friends and family, or the favorites with my own notations. 
Next I sorted the recipes out by what *I* would hunt for, not what other people might hunt for in their recipe files. Any recipes that were from a newspaper that I wanted to keep I transferred to my new recipe cards so every card fit neatly between the new dividers.
Recipe Box DIY Dividers

The dividers I was making had to be sturdier than the card stock ones they were replacing. 
Sure the old ones were in use for over 30 years, but they looked like helll after the first couple years with the tabs all bent over. Card stock was just not tough enough for years of thumbing through recipes.

I decided I would use chipboard for the dividers. The chipboard came in a 4x6 size and chipboard could be painted to match the recipe box. The dividers were nice and sturdy and the perfect weight.
Recipe Box DIY Dividers

The box from my new toilet seat was used as a drop cloth for painting the dividers, classy huh? 
Kohler, only the best for my toilet, although I think they could remove the phrase "The bold look of Kohler" from a plain white wood toilet seat box. Nothing bold about it. I'll just consider it re-cycling cardboard.
The photo above is the Old Sign Stencils Shipping Crate Design. I mixed and matched parts from several stencils on the recipe dividers, including the Grain Sack Stripe stencils which are very versatile.

One coat of Fusion Mineral Paint in Ash to match the recipe box was painted on most of the dividers, both sides, and Putty was used for the stenciled designs. 

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

I liked the original color of the chipboard so I left a few plain, and gathered a variety of my stencils and just used parts of them to stencil on the dividers, no rhyme or reason.

After everything was dry I lightly sanded them, and gave the painted chipboard a coat of Homestead House wax because I like the way wax brings out the sheen of the paint.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

The whole reason for going to all this trouble was so I could make tabs that simplified my organizing. Like the one above for non -edible items, like playdough and homemade plant food, and an article I have saved for 30 years from the back of a Better Homes and Gardens magazine about the secret ingredient in everything always coming from a mysterious spice container. Can you guess what that secret ingredient is?

Recipe Box DIY Dividers
Sure it sounds great to have a section for fish, chicken, beef, casseroles, entrees, or listed by category of food like Mexican, Thai, or whatever. But the truth for me is that having all those cute little titles and options is what caused my unorganized mess to begin with.

I needed but ONE heading for all those and it shall be called Main Course: casseroles, beef, chicken, fish. So if it is made with chicken it's in there, if it's put in a casserole, it's under that heading.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

Sweets was a different situation however. I did need separate headings, apparently I've got lots of treat recipes. 
Need my chocolate caramel recipe for Valentines Day? I know just where to find it now, under candies.
Recipe Box DIY Dividers

My pies like to be distinguished from my cakes, and my cheesecakes are epic and need their own space as well. Plus the amount of recipes I have for treats makes up the majority of my collected recipes, so there were too many for one divider.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers 
I am also going to make one more divider and print off my favorite internet recipes from my pins of Poke Cake desserts. I tend to make those more than others, and have a few favorites I make time and time again, so really they should have their own tab. Going to that Poke Cake tab in my recipe box that sits right on the counter will be easier than locating my phone, going to my Pinterest boards, scrolling to my desserts category and finding my favorite strawberry poke cake recipe.
Recipe Box DIY Dividers

To make the tabs I printed out a blank template and customized the tabs with the headings I wanted, 16 total pieces of chipboard with tabs.

Main Course - casseroles, beef, chicken, fish, Beverage, Appetizers -dips & dressings, Bread, Cake & Frosting, Cookies & Bars, Candies, Cheesecake Desserts, Pies Crusts & toppings, Salads -fruit veggie, jello, Sauces, Side Dish, Soups, Snacks, Instapot, non-edible misc..

Recipe Box DIY Dividers

 For the Cupcake Stencil click here, it's part of the Bakery Stencil

The tabs were attached to the chipboard with E600 glue and held in place to dry with clothes pins. I also covered the tabs with package tape so if I have gooey fingers from whatever I'm making, the tabs can be wiped off. The tape isn't pretty, but it works. At first I thought I wanted tabs with round corners, but I changed my mind after the first couple.

Recipe Box

The box itself has room for the extra blank recipe cards and a pen, and I suppose if I get lazy I can stick a recipe that's been cut out from a magazine on the side too, but my hope is that I will only put recipes in there that are tried and true, not just saved because they look good. My Pinterest boards are for that.

Recipe Box DIY Dividers
Daughter #2 with the help of a younger brother, has started putting together one of those printable family recipe books. There was a covert operation around Christmas where my son determined what recipes should go in the book, pulled them out and took phone photos and sent them to his sister. That explained why my banana bread recipe was actually filed under bread, I knew I didn't do that in the old ring binder.
The book will be a keepsake that will be wonderful for all six of my kids to have that will include all the recipes from both their grandmothers and those recipes of mine that kept them fed all those years. One grandmother is well known for her excellent main courses, and one for her desserts. Maybe I will be remembered for both.
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  1. How fun and wonderful Bliss! I adore Donna's stencils too. Years ago I tossed a host of miscellaneous recipes I saved but none were handwritten lovelies from family. I think I enjoyed collecting the recipes more than making them. :) Be well! Christina

  2. Such a great project, Bliss! I need to completely re-do my recipe file, too! This turned out beautifully!

  3. coolest project!!!

  4. Super gorgeous addition to an already epic recipe box design!

    Featuring your cards on this weekend's DIY Salvaged Junk Projects 565. Thanks for linking them up!

  5. I love the box. That is super cool. As I was reading through your post I wondered if there were many folks that use recipe boxes anymore. I just tend to run to Pinterest when I want something but with that said, I have made some things and can't remember which recipe I used. Maybe I need to concentrate of a box of my own. Thank you for sharing. Awesome job.

  6. First, I love that recipe box, especially the clever fork handle! Girl, I've got THE binder and what a gong show it is. I totally hear you about looking for your phone to search for a recipe on Pinterest. At my age, the screen is so dang small that I can't read the recipe so then the search for my dam reading glasses ensues. I need a good old fashioned recipe box. Love how you used Funky Junk stencils to create those awesome dividers.

  7. Ken and I both have our mother's old recipe box. Not nearly as fancy as yours. Now I know what to look for when thrifting. I'm inspired to make one. Love this project! Yet another great gift idea for my son and his fiance.


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