Restore your antique trunk yourself rather than have us do it
Here are some Hints and procedures on how to restore an antique trunk....
1) Have a good idea what you want your trunk to look like at the end of your restoration project. Some
good reading is our Trunk Philosophy page and the Before and after page.
2) What ever way you decide to go forward, you will have to remove some parts from your trunk to
clean, paint, buff, and replace certain areas and parts. Some tools you are sure to need for part removal
and other tasks are:
Tack Lifter Rags
End Nipper Pliers Paint Brushes
A good hammer Wire brushes
wire wheels Sandpaper
regular pliers Electric Drill
razor knife Scissors
Keep in mind when removing nails that they are "clinched" over on the inside of the trunk and can be quite
hard to get out. Lift the head of the nail and pull out with the pliers. Sometimes it is best to find the
"clinched" end and nip it off with pliers before using the tack lifter to pry the head of the trunk nail up.
Then the end nipper pliers can be used to pull the nail out. This will ensure minimal wood damage as the
nail comes out. Do not keep the nails, they will be replaced.
3) tin, rust and other bothersome things -
Flat and Embossed tin that is rusted can be refurbished in several ways: Wire wheels on an electric
drill, Sandpaper, wire brushes, etc. followed by steel wool. If the rust is only in small areas on flat tin
and corners etc. it is best to just remove the surface rust to a matte finished steel appearance with the
above mentioned tools and paint on a clear coat to protect it.
If your tin looks like it has been submerged in water for a while you might want to consider other more
drastic measures. A product that is found in Auto parts stores called EXTEND RUST TREATMENT is
useful to kill off rust and turn it into a black paint ready surface. After treating rusty tin with
EXTEND prime paint with any primer made for steel and then paint satin black.
Any flat tin that is rusted through will need to be replaced with new tin or aluminum sheet metal. Just
cut to fit and nail on. After priming and painting it will not be noticed. Embossed tin that is damaged or
rusted beyond recognition can be replaced also, however, the pattern might be hard to match.
4) wood slats -
wood slats can be stripped if painted or cleaned with furniture refinisher. In a best case scenario you
can just clean with Murphy's Oil soap , sand, and re-coat with tung oil or top coat of your choice. If you
do refinish the wood slats, use an oil stain such as Watco Danish Oil and follow with an oil based top
coat. The oil based products will add oils to the wood surface and rejuvenate the hidden patina.
5) Canvas coverings -
Canvas covered trunks originally had paint applied to make them somewhat water resistant. If you are
lucky enough to have a canvas covered trunk that has canvas still intact and repairable it can be glued
back down in any areas that are loose with common white (Elmer's) glue and weighted to clamp down
flat. After being cleaned and re-glued the canvas can be repainted or just preserved with a clear coat
such as Water base polyurethane.
In the event that the canvas is too far gone to be repaired, the trunk can be stripped of all its canvas and
new canvas applied using the old canvas pieces as patterns for the new. This will require more removal
of items that are on top of the canvas, ( slats, tin, metal corner clamps, etc.) Apply with Elmer's glue
and after dry seal with a water based polyurethane to make the surface more soil resistant. New canvas
can also be painted a color of your choice.
6 ) Finishing Embossed tin and leather -
Embossed tin was originally painted in two colors. When restoring a trunk there are several ways to
refinish the patterned tin.
1) Sandpaper or wire brush (or use paint remover) the tin down to bare metal and clear coat
with Tung oil, shellac, or any oil based sealer.
2) Sandpaper or wire brush the tin and paint with a gloss or satin black paint. After the
paint is dry carefully sand the paint off of the raised areas of the embossing to reveal the bare metal.
Last, clear coat the tin to add protection from rusting.
3) Repaint in two colors to reproduce the original look of the embossing. First remove any
rust or loose paint from the tin. Prime with a good primer. Select an OIL Based paint and paint the
embossed tin all over. This color will be the color of the raised areas of the embossing. Allow at least
36 hrs to dry.
Select a color of Water based paint for the recessed areas. Before starting to paint have a container
of water, kitchen cleaning sponge, and a roll of paper towels ready. Working with a small area quickly
paint the water based color over the oil based color making sure to get the recessed areas covered
completely. Wrap a paper towel around the wet and wrung out sponge. Gently wipe over the embossed
tin that you just painted and remove the color from only the raised areas. Use a light touch and wipe
the water base color off until the raised areas are completely clean and the recessed areas are still
covered . I f you do not like the way the panel turns out, use water to remove the paint and start over.
Once you have the proper look to the embossed tin, let the paint dry for 24 hrs.
A product called Oop's Latex paint remover or Goof Off can be used then to remove any troublesome
areas and add final touches. Wrap a paper towel around your finger and dampen with the Oop's liquid
and rub lightly to sharpen up the detail between the 2 colors.
4) Leather covered trunks are easy to restore if the leather is not too dried out and crumbly. Use a
Saddle soap and soft cloth to clean the leather and Neetsfoot oil to restore the suppleness and add
color back to the leather. Any loose areas can be re-glued with white glue or hide glue and weighted
down to clamp tight until the glue sets. Small areas of missing leather are best left alone as it will
always look Patched if you try to add new leather to a 100 year old trunk.
7) Renailing the trunk-
The trunk should have all the existing nails tightened to make the trunk box more solid and not wobbly.
To do this you will need a good hammer, and a steel heel to hold inside the trunk where the nail came
through the wood. Hammer the trunk nail from the outside and hold the steel heel against the wood on
the inside. It helps to have a helper hold things for you at times. Any nails that are replaced have to be
hammered in this way also so that the nail curls over on the inside of the trunk and is tightly holding the
handles, tin, etc. on the outside. While you are re-nailing you might as well install the new leather
handles, ornamentation, handle loops, removed corners, locks, hinges,bottom studs, etc. A steel auto
body work dolly will work really well for use as the heel to hold inside the trunk and hammer
8) Installing new leather handles- Usually the foot print of the old handles and caps will be visible
on the side of the trunk to use as a guide. Drill or punch 2 small holes in each end of the handle. These
holes will be where nails will go through to attach the handle to the trunk. Bend the handle into a
curved shape with the ends flat against the trunk. When sure of the correct placement nail the handle
on through the holes previously drilled. The nails should go through to the inside of the trunk at least
1/4" . Nail both handles on this way. Place a handle cap over each handle end and nail on with 3 nails
each. Handle caps are decorative only, they do not hold the handle on.
Handle loops with a pin are used with slotted handles and work similar. These pieces of hardware hold
the handle on with a pin in the hardware and handles are not nailed on.
9) Musty mothball odors, holes, gaps, etc.-
Musty odors inside a trunk are easily removed when the lining paper is removed, and the inside washed
down with a solution of detergent and water or ammonia and water. After the inside is dry, if any odor
remains set the opened trunk in the sun for a few days, after it is completely dry, seal the inside wood
with shellac or similar sealer.
Gaps in the wood are caused by the wood drying out and absorbing moisture many times over the last
100 yrs. The wood case has come into equilibrium with the cycle and the restraints of the outside tin,
etc. Be very careful if you try to close the gaps with glue and clamps to prevent undue stress on the
case. Holes from loosened knots and other causes can be patched with wood fillers and other
compounds. On occasion an area of the wood will have to be replaced completely. Saw out square and
glue in a repair the same thickness as the existing wood.
10) Relining the inside
Relining of a trunk will add a clean surface to the inside and finish off the trunk for use as a blanket
chest, etc. Any number of materials can be used to reline but plain paper, decorative paper, wallpaper,
fabric, and cedar paneling are the usual choices.
First scrape the old paper out with a paint scraper. It helps to wet the old paper down with a spray
bottle and vinegar/water. Next if there are any gaps running the length of the trunk, glue down a
1-1/2" strip of thin fabric material over them. Linen fabric works well for this.
If you choose wallpaper, save yourself a lot of bother and try not to use solid vinyl paper. It is difficult
to work with and because of the many lap joints is difficult to get to stay glued in the corners. Try to
reline with thin vinyl coated wallpaper or plain paper wallpaper instead.
The procedure is: cut each piece to fit with 1/2" extra at the corners and reline the ends - first, front
and back - second, and bottom/top - last. Make sure the wood on the inside of the trunk is sealed and
use white glue to paste it in.
Plain paper is my choice for relining. I use unprinted china wrapping paper and age (antique) the paper after
it drys with a tea stain. Use the same procedure as with wallpaper. A hot air blower is necessary to dry
and shrink the paper to wrinkle free condition.
You may also re-line a trunk with cloth material. When lining in cloth be sure to glue the cloth to a
poster board backer first before gluing into the trunk. Cut the poster board to size for each surface
before gluing on the cloth, then glue the poster board/cloth assembly into the trunk. Use 3M spray
contact glue for this.
If you are good at wood working and don't mind the added weight of cedar try lining the trunk with cedar
paneling. You can find cedar paneling at almost any Home Improvement store in a bundle. It is the same
material used to line your clothes closet. Keep in mind that if your trunk has a tray and you reline
completely in cedar, the tray will not fit any longer because the cedar will make the trunk smaller on
the inside. Find a good woodworker to reduce the size of the tray so that it fits inside your trunk again.
Any trays should be relined completely with plain paper or fabric along with the inside of the trunk.
Remember to have fun and not to rush, give things time to dry completely before moving on to the next
phase and if you just can't seem to get it finished, we are always here to help or complete your
Shenandoah Antique Restoration Email: email@example.com
Shenandoah Antique Restoration
Helpful hints and trunk tricks of the trade
End nipper pliers
Order our New 110 page catalog
and price list.
Complete listing of: furniture,
Hoosier cabinet, Trunk, Telephone,
Chair caning, Wood parts and
Veneer, & Oil lamp Hardware.
Refinishing aids, supplies, and
Over 2,000 items
$7.00 each or Free with a $75.00
order (when requested)
Steel heel dolly