How To Paint an Old Antique Trunk

We want to provide a guide on how to paint an antique trunk for you Do It Yourself (DIY) folks out there. I highly suggest that you first shoot us an email at with a picture of your old trunk in order to make sure that you do not have a rare or valuable trunk that would have its value diminished if painted. It is possible to accomplish a professional paint job in your garage or outdoors.

[fblike style=”standard” showfaces=”false” width=”450″ verb=”like” font=”arial”]

How To Paint an Old Antique Trunk

Surface Preparation is key to a quality paint job. The metal surface on your old trunk must be properly prepared to accept the new coat of  primer, paint and clear coat. You must also be very patient when working with spray paints. Ample drying times and cure times must always be followed or extended depending on condition.

Surface Preparation

Step 1) If there is any old paint on your antique trunk it must be removed by chemical stripping. If this needs to be done you will need to read my guide on paint stripping from an antique trunk first.

Step 2) The sheet metal on your old trunk will need to cleaned mechanically. By mechanical I mean through abrasion. If the tin is in good enough shape I suggest using a fine wire wheel that can attach to a power drill. If the tin is not in good shape I then suggest that you only use a hand wire brush. Do NOT use a knotted type of wire wheel. It will eat through the soft material easily and destroy it.

Picture of a knotted wire wheel that shout NOT be used to prepare the surface of an old trunk
Fine Wire Wheel (use this type)
picture of a knotted wire wheel that should NOT be used to clean an antique trunk
Knotted Type Of Wire Wheel
picture of a wire brush for cleaning old trunks that have tin in poor condition.
Hand Wire Brush For Metal in Poor Condition

Using the wire wheel to clean all the metal on your trunk will help remove rust, oxidation and dirt. Take your time and remove as much of the original finish as possible. Use caution when when working around the wooden slats or other wood portions. If the wire wheel touches the wood it will “chew” it up and ruin it. An occasional light bump or touch wont cause extensive damage but if you are worried about it you can mask off wood portions close to the metal you will be cleaning. Masking tape will provide a little extra protection.

Step 3) You will want to go over the entire trunk again with a hand wire brush. Make sure you get hard to reach areas well that you missed with the wire wheel. They also sell wire brushes that are about the size of a toothbrush. These can be very useful for tight areas.

Step 4) Use a rag or old cloth to remove and loose dirt and rust dust on your old trunk. picture of wet sandpaper that is used for sanding the old antique trunk in order to paint.

Step 5) The next step will be to wet sand the metal. The best way to accomplish this is to sand with wet sandpaper designed for metal. Cut a 4×4 inch square of sandpaper and spray the the metal with water and mild dish soap (Dawn brand works best). Start sanding the metal with 220 grit metal sandpaper. As dirt, old finish and grime builds up on the surface wipe it away with a rag and respray with soapy water. You should also dip your sandpaper into a clear bucket of water to help clean off the sandpaper. Repeat this process as necessary until you have completely sanded all of the metal down on your trunk.

Step 6)  Repeat step 5 with 320 grit and 600 grit metal/wet sandpaper. This step should not be skipped. It will help loosen any remaining finish but also help smooth out the scratches from left from the 220 grit sandpaper.


Step 7) After sanding is completed you will need to thoroughly clean all metal surfaces. Use damp rags to clean away any remaining dirt and grime. Let your antique trunk dry completely before moving on to step 8.

.Step 8) Mask off all wood and parts that you do not want paint on. I suggest using blue painters tape. This can be a very time consuming process but must be done. Make sure that you wipe or vacuum off any dust that may have accumulated on your antique trunk while masking.

Step 9) Use a clean rag dampened with Mineral Spirits to clean the metal on your old trunk again. This will provide a clean, oil free surface for the primer to stick to. After cleaning with mineral spirits you can use a vacuum to clean of any remaining lint from the metal on your old trunk.

Painting Your Old Antique Trunk

Step 10) The first coat of is ready to be applied now. I highly suggest using Rustoleum Rusty Metal Primer Spray Paint. Shake the can well for several minutes and follow the instructions on the can. I have found the best results occur at low humidity when the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees.  Use a  light sweeping side to side motion to prime the entire trunk. You do not need a heavy coat. Let this coat dry for 30 minutes and then touch up any spots you have missed.  Let the primer dry for at least 48 hours if not 72. Do not touch the antique trunk, move it or handle it.

Step 10) Vacuum or dust off the primer coat. Use Rustoleum Painters Touch Ultra Cover Flat Black to paint your trunk in the same manner as you did the primer. Let dry for 30 minutes then apply another coat light coat of flat black. Allow this to dry for at least 48 to 72 hours.

Step 11) Clean off any dust that has accumulated on the trunk with a lint free rag or with a vacuum. Look for defects within the paint like dust nibs, dirt particles and bubbles or runs. You may be able to remove them with your nail or finger. Runs will have to be sanded out and repainted. If you do any light touch ups allow it to dry for at least 48 hours.

Step 12) Clean off  any dust on your antique trunk with a rag or vacuum. Apply Rustoleum Painters Touch Ultra Clear Coat Flat in heavy coats spaced 30 to 45 minutes apart. When the clear coat appears dry it is time to apply the second coat. Allow the clear coat to dry for 48 hours before handling.

Handle in 48 hours. Allow 30 to 60 days for the paint to fully cure and harden.

[fblike style=”standard” showfaces=”false” width=”450″ verb=”like” font=”arial”]

Learn More About Trunk Restoration & Refinishing

More Trunk Restoration Information

How To Restore an Antique Trunk – A Do It Yourself Guide

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


One thought to “How To Paint an Old Antique Trunk”

  1. 2-2.3-17

    I was watching your videos 1 and 2 on restoring a trunk. But could not find the videos on restoring the out side of the trunk. I have the same trunk that you have in the videos 1 and 2. The trunk that I have has been painted two different times so the whole out side needs to be restored, all the metal and all the wood. Can you tell me how to refinish the metal, and if the wood slats come off to be refinish. Are there any other rivets other than in the hinges.
    Thanks for any help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *