How To Restore An Antique Trunk 2018-03-02T13:21:48-07:00

Antique Trunk Restoration Information

Below you find our guide on how to restore an antique trunk for you Do It Yourself (DIY) folks out there.

This “how to restore an antique trunk guide”, it is written to be user friendly and is a bare bones basic trunk restoration . You may want to view some of my before and after pictures to give you an idea of how great your trunk could look when finished.

How to Restore an Antique Trunk

1) Remove all of the old paper from the inside of the trunk, you will need a good quality scrapper to do this. Lightly spray water or use a sponge to dampen the paper on the inside of the trunk. The glue that was used (wheat paste) is water soluble and will soften when the water is applied. Do not soak the inside of the trunk, as it will cause serious warping issues. After the water has been absorbed into the old paper use the scrapper to scrape it out. You may have to repeat this step. Make sure that you remove all of the paper from the inside. You may also want to detach the lid of your trunk to make it easier to work with.  Watch our video covering how to Remove Paper From Inside Your Trunk.

2) After the inside of the trunk is dry you want to sand the inside with 100 grit sandpaperBe very careful that nothing sharp such as nails or tacks are sticking out, they will cut you severely! I know from experience! If you want to leave the inside wood then sand again with 150 grit sandpaperand then smaller grits in succession if you want the inside to be very smooth (up to 220 grit). If you are interested in lining the inside in fabrice then check out this video tutorial. If the inside of your trunk still smells of musty then we recommend placing the trunk outdoors, exposing the inside to natural sunlight for several days. Sunlight can work miracles on odor causing bacteria. Do not waste your money on sprays and want not.

3) Remove the old leather handles and end caps (when pulling the nails out make sure you use caution as not to damage the wood.) Watch a detailed video about How To Replace Leather Trunk Handles.

4) Next you want to wire brush all of the metal, pay close attention to rust as you will want to remove all of it. Use a wire brush attachment on a power drill, a hand brush and steel wool to clean the metal and hardware pieces very well. Wet sanding the metal is also helpful when removing rust is is probably the most effective way for getting down to solid metal.

5) If there is any canvas, cloth or paper covering the outside you want to remove this by carefully using a razor knife to cut this away from  around all of the wooden slats and metal areas.

6) Next you want to wash the wood portions of the outside of your trunk with mild soap and water (I recommend Dawn brand dish liquid) . Please remember not to soak the trunk, it will ruin it. Carefully brush and wash away the dirt and grime from the outside, a tooth brush can be helpful in tight areas. Allow to dry thoroughly.

7) Sand the exposed wood and slats thoroughly, start with 150 grit sandpaper and work your way to 220 grit. If the wood is extremely rough you may want to start with 100 grit sandpaper.

8) If you want to paint the metal on the outside of your antique trunk you need to mask off all of the wood. Once the wood is masked use a quality primer, paint and clear coat. We recommend Rust-Oleum Rusty Metal Primer, Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Ultra Cover Flat black and Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Ultra Cover Flat Clear Coat. (Update 2/8/15 – I have switched to using Mar-hyde self etching primer. It is an amazing primer and is compatible with Rustoleum paints)

We also recommend one coat of primer and then at least 48 hours of drying time. One coat of flat black, then another coat 30 minutes after the first coat. Allow this to dry for 72 hours in a warm place. Next you will want to apply two coats of clear coat back to back. Allow it to dry 48 hours before handling.

Drying times are very critical and should never be shortened, only extended. Read the instructions on the can!  Your paint will take up to 60 days to fully cure but produces an exceptional finish that is very durable. Many people have issues with spray paint but if you practice and allow plenty of drying time you should have no problems. Always clean your spray tips after use and only paint when temperatures are 70 to 85 degrees and low humidity. You may want to also read our in depth guide on antique trunk painting.

9) Next you will want to remove the masking and finish the exposed wood. You can also stain the wood if you choose to. We recommend using General Finishes stain. After staining you may use a Polyurethane finish but we highly recommend using a product called Waterlox Original Sealer/Finisher . It is an amazing finish that is beautiful and very protective. You may want to check out our in depth how to guide on applying Waterlox.

Sad Iron

10) Attach new leather handles and the end caps, you must use old fashioned nails commonly called clench nails, they are soft and will bend over easily. When you are taping your nail through the wood place a block of steel (nailing heel) on the inside of the trunk to bend the nail over. Old fashioned sad irons work well for this.

If you are interested in lining your trunk with fabric then please check out ourvideo guide about lining antique trunks.

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