Ideas for restoring a steamer trunk on a budget?

I acquired this great steamer trunk today with the intent of turning it into a coffee table/storage trunk for my growing collection of jadeite glassware.  However, I was so excited about finding it that I didn't inspect it as closely as I should have, and as a result, I've now got a very rusty steamer trunk on my hands - in some places the rust got so bad that it ate through the metal entirely, showing the wood beneath.  

Now, as a college student, I simply just don't have the budget to get it professionally restored, and I'm okay with that; I'm looking at it as more of a stopgap than an investment.  But, I was wondering if there was something else I could do to fix it up?  I considered stripping off the remaining tin sheeting and using a rust-stopper on the hinges, etc, priming the exposed wood, and then simply painting over the entire thing.

Any suggestions, tips, etc, are very much appreciated!

Elsinore3 years ago

For rust I have used a product called Ospho with great results. It's very popular in the car restoration community and most ACE hardware stores carry it or you can order it online. A bottle costs about $14. Apply it and it will neutralize the rust, turning it black.

However, if the tin is bad it just needs to come off. With care and patience you can remove it without causing a lot of damage using basic tools. Now you have three options - 1) replace it with similar tin, which as oldmicah indicated is not too tough. 2) replace it with something else like canvas or vinyl that you can acquire inexpensively from a fabric store, using whatever glue you can acquire in sufficient quantity, cheaply. 3) Or you leave it all off and go for the bare wood look. Depending on how your trunk is constructed this may look cool or it may look like crap.

You can do wonders for crummy looking hardware (corners, hinges, etc) with some steel wool,. sandpaper, and spray paint to get different looks, even the a 'hammered' finish look. Remember: more prep = better result.

Inside, just snag some wallpaper you like and go for it. There's lots of fancy ways to do this, but just be patient and think about how you will do the corners by leaving enough overlap with your pieces. Or, strip it all out and finish the wood interior - that can look very good.

oldmicah5 years ago
Sounds like a neat project. Could you post a picture or two of the trunk: that'll show us the type and the degree of rust.

As an FYI, I used a rust remover a while back and it left a very rough surface and produced hideous fumes... Ie read the packaging and test on something else first. Or.. Depending on how the hinges are attached, it may be easier and cheaper to remove and replace them. (advice on removing some types here: http://www.ehow.com/how_4740893_restore-antique-trunks.html)0

If you are talking about removing the tin anyway and you like the look, you may want to take a little more time to replace it. Sheet tin is not hard to work with, just use gloves and tinsnips.

Good luck and give us before and after pics if you can. (an instuctable would be nice as well:)