Antique Trunk Refurbishing Tips

Here are a few tips about antique trunk refurbishing. These are just a few things that will make your life easier and help make your trunk look that much better. If you have not read our How to Restore an Antique Trunk Guide you may want to start there first before reading this.

Antique trunk refinishing tips & tricks

  • When you are removing the paper from the inside of your trunk you may want to use a 75%/25% mix of water (75%) and white vinegar (25%) to help break down the musty smells. Vinegar will also help break down the glue a bit faster than just plain water.


  • Pulling out the nails to replace the leather handles can be difficult. If you cannot get the nails to pull out use a pair of snips to cut the bent portion of the nail off from the inside of the trunk. A Dremel Tool with a thin cut off wheel also works very well for this.


  • Rust removal can be difficult on some antique trunk refurbishing projects depending on the severity of the rust. Sometime a wire brush will not be enough to get all the rust off. Another good method for rust removal is to use wet sand paper. Sand well then wipe rust away with a rag and repeat until the rust is gone. Prime as soon as possible.


  • When painting your trunk remember that drying times are very important. Always read the instructions that are included with the paint.


  • I highly recommended Waterlox Original Medium Sheen finish for use on all exposed wood on your antique trunk. I do not recommend any other Waterlox products than the Waterlox Original.


  • If you are leaving the inside of your trunk in bare wood you may also use Waterlox Original on the inside. Polyurethane is also another option for the inside of your old trunk.


  • You can use Polyurethane on the outside of your trunk buy it will not condition the wood like Waterlox Original will. The wood is very dry and will greatly benefit from the Tung Oil in the Waterlox Original.


  • The quality of the paint job will depend on how clean and rust free you can get your old trunk. Prep work is what makes a good paint job.


  • Stripping paint from old antique trunks can be a messy difficult job especially when working in very hot weather because the stripper evaporates at a very high rate. This can be mitigated by applying the stripper and then laying sheets of wax paper on top of the stripper that you applied to the trunk. This “seals in” the stripper in order to keep it from evaporating.


  • Do not use any type of wire brush on the wood. It can leave black streaks at best and rip away the wood at worst.


  • Make sure to clean and paint the bottom of your trunk. Often people ignore this side when refurbishing antique trunks and end up with rust stains on their carpet.


Antique trunk refurbishing can and will most likely will be a time consuming project but also be very rewarding. The best tip I can give you is to take your time and do everything right the first time.


Learn More About Trunk Restoration & Refinishing

More Trunk Restoration Information

Recommended Restoration Tools – Wonderful tools that can make a restoration much easier

Pictures of Restored Trunk – See some of the work we have done

Trunk Restoration Tips – Useful tips tp help refinish your trunk

How To Replace Trunk Handles (Video) – Easy to follow video about handle replacement

How to Clean Out The Inside Of A Trunk (Video) – How to remove paper and refinish the inside of your trunk

Learn More about Trunk Values & History

Antique Trunk Inormation

View Trunk Catalogs From The 1800’s – Real catalogs showing trunks for sale from the late 1800’s

Antique Trunk Values – Find how much trunks are really worth

FAQ About Antique Trunks – You have questions, we have answers

Restoration Services – Let us handle all your restoration needs

Hand Crafted Trunks For Sale – Check out our trunks we make by hand

9 thoughts to “Antique Trunk Refurbishing Tips”

  1. I am refinishing a trunk originally from my grandparents. I’ve read with interest all your information about working on this trunk. I do not see anywhere that you address painting the canvas portion of the trunk. It’s on the outside between the wooden slats and the hardware. Would you suggest a certain type of paint for this canvas area? Thank you

  2. I have leather straps that go from back and buckle with strap that come from the front. But they go thru leather pieces that need to be replaced. They are held down with larger nails or rivets. What are they and can they be removed and replaced similar to the smaller nails?

  3. Love your videos, but do you have a video about how to redo the ” drawers, large and small”.
    I have 2 large drawers in my 1912 trunk, I don’t know if one was added to it, but all are in the same pattern material. I won’t be able to start to redo the trunk for a few months, have to move. In the meantime maybe you can make a video about redoing the “drawers”.

    Thanks for all the valuable information you give to us novices at trunk restoration.

  4. I have a trunk that belonged to my during WWII. I have tried to remove the canvas covering by many methods, just cannot get portions of it off. I was considering covering it with embossed wallpaper. Will the wallpaper be thick enough to hide any uneven surfaces?

  5. I would like to keep the interior of the old steamer trunk since it is all intake and only has a little staining. However I would like to know how to clean it and disinfect it.

  6. I’m working on an old trunk that is probably a hand made. It’s pretty crude. It is rounded top and small. I’m trying to refinish it. Do you have places to buy replacement items if the ones on it can’t be used. Also, what type of fabric do you recommend for lining? I was thinking of quilted but can’t find a nice pattern, any info will be helpful. This is my first ever attempt at something like this.

  7. I received a trunk years ago from my mom. The outside had been somewhat refurbished but now all the black paint is chipping off. It looks a lot like the trunk you show in video #1 of trunk restoration

  8. I haven’t seen anything about how to save the pictures on the interior of the trunk. Any tips to remove the pictures and designs without ruining them?

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