Trunk restoration is a combination of wood working, metal craft and leather work, so it helps to have some experience in all three fields. The hardest part of the entire project is in the preparation of the piece. Removing the old material covering (if it has one), stripping the paper lining and removing all of the old leather accoutrements equals roughly 60% of the work that goes into it, with leather fabrication and sanding taking up the rest.

There are three approaches you can take when performing your restoration;

The first is a complete refurbish with new materials which ends with a fantastic finish, but can seriously diminish the value of your antique.

The second is a 'soft' restoration, where no new hardware is used, and only what was used in the original construction goes back into it's rebuild. This kind of project is best used on pieces of extreme value, where authenticity is important, but can seriously limit the 'curb appeal' of your trunk.

The third is a moderate restoration, where as much of the original hardware is re-used. Whenever possible, parts from the same period (and preferably manufacturer)  are installed and failing that, replaced with new hardware.

I find the third method the most effective since it retains both curb appeal, and attempts to keep the piece as original as possible, however, feel free to use whichever one suits you best.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies You're Going to Need


Utility knife - for removing old canvas cover. (have lots of extra blades since the years worth of dirt in the material act like sandpaper)
Metal Scraper - scraping off old paper, tucking edges of old material under seams
Drill and Wire Wheel - For removing rust from metal parts
Nail puller  and hammer - removing old hardware
Sharp Chisel - to straighten the points on the old nails and tacks before pulling
Pliers - for straightening nails and tacks
Sander - optional but it helps
Dust Mask and Glasses - Safety first
**Saw - if you need to build a new tray otherwise it's not necessary


60, 150, 220, 300 and grit sandpaper - lots of that to be done
7-8oz leather@ 1 1/4" leather belts- For straps, leather patches and leather handles
2X Belt Buckles, rivets, Fiebings leather dye - hardware for leatherwork.
Wood Stain/Finish - I used Minwax Polyshades which blends both stain and polyurethane but you can do them separately if you want.
Masking Tape - to mask of edges for staining
Beeswax Polish - to protect the metal from rusting again
<p>Looks great! Why did you remove the canvas? Or if it was damaged, why didn't you replace it, rather than leaving it off? Is there a benefit to removing the canvas, or is it just aesthetics?</p>
<p>The canvas was badly rotten and had to be removed. Replacing it would have complicated the project far to much as I would have needed to remove and replace the strips that enclose the trunk as well. That would mean un-clinching hundreds of tacks and there's no guarantee I could rescue the strips. It was far easier to cut the canvas away around them and not disturb their construction. Plus, I like the wood finish.</p>
Looks great! I have a couple of old steamer trunks that could use this treatment. They are larger and stand on the end to open, one side is made to hang stuff and the other is lined with drawers.
I just bought one like you are talking about and I am trying to find help in restoring it. It cost me 40. and I had no idea what was inside till I got it home. It has all the original stuff, but the fabric inside is in bad shape.
<p>There is a bunch of information on this website about antique trunks. </p><p>www.antiquetrunksandchests.com</p>
<p>thanks for the info and especially your comments...I will let you know how it turns out. Maybe a new hobby? Tom</p>
Gorgeous work. I'd love to restore one of these, but every time I see one pop up in the thrift shops where I live the price tag is always way too high for me.. even on old ratty ones. Great photos and info, thanks for taking the time to share this. It turned out beautiful!
<p>Look on craigslist</p>
You should try going to auctions you'll have better luck.
This one was a write-off that I found in the dump behind a farmers field. He figured that it was in such bad shape, that it wasn't worth keeping, which is the same reason I took it. Dump sites are often littered with old trunks if you're looking. Mostly the blue ones, but sometimes you find one that has a bit of character.
<p><em>Your comment is awaiting moderation.</em> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br></p><p>I found this restoration guide also. They have tons of information about trunk and refinishing.</p><p><a href="http://www.antiquetrunksandchests.com/how-to-restore-an-antique-trunk/" rel="nofollow">http://www.antiquetrunksandchests.com/how-to-restore-an-antique-trunk/</a></p>
<p>That came a long way. Nice work =)</p>
The technique of bending over the points of long nails is called &quot;clinching&quot;. So those nails are &quot;clinched&quot;.
Very impressive work!! <br> <br>This brings back a LOT of memories: one summer in junior high (1968--I'm a 60 yr old grandpa), I restored two rusty trunks for my mother using my trusty all-metal sears craftsman drill from Brookdale/Minneapolis, Minnesota. That poor drill conked out around 1989, but I still have those trunks! I originally found them in the wet basement of the Salvation Army on Nicollet Island/University Ave (since paved over). Thanks for sharing your work.
I have this same trunk in my garage, I believe, from 1800's? I have always been torn with getting rid of it.... Thanks for sharing this, it now gives me steps when I want to start trying to restore it, (or maybe I can get hubby to help) yours looks beautiful.
Do you know if it's possible to get copies of old travel stamps that you would find on old steamer trunks that had travelled around the world? If I can do a restoration I think I would like to add this feature.
Search Google Images. Print them, cut them out, and use white glue or spray adhesive. I did this on my old un-restored trunk. Gave it a great look. I may tackle the restoration after reading this. Thanks.
If you look on youtube, there's a vid of Adam Savage from Mythbusters building a trunk for his bladerunner gun prop where he prints and ages his own travel stamps.
absolutely beautiful, you have inspired me to get to the one I have in the shed :)
Well done!
What a beautiful trunk, now maybe a sea voyage is in the works? As an afterthought you could line the inside with cedar and use it as a moth/bug resistant sweater/blanket box.
I throw cedar shingles in with my clothing. Old habit as I live rural.
Very nice work. Do you have photos of the trunk in its original &quot;found&quot; condition?
Unfortunately no. I only started documenting the build after I started disassembling, but all the original parts are in the pics. The trunk is identical in design to the original tho, excluding the cloth cover.
Bleach has some nasty side affect to the materials over time. Vinegar will do a better job without the after effects. <br>http://www.spore-tech.com/viewCategory.asp?idCategory=78 <br> <br>http://blacktoxicmolds.com/vinegar-kill-mold.php
I'd heard that too, but the inside received a full sanding after so I wasn't too worried about it.
I would use a mixture made from tea( old tea bags work ) to stain the new wood and give it an aged look. Rusty water from nails or other bits of iron soaking in a jar can be used with the tea or by itself. I have had great success using this on my own projects. I really like what you have done though. Great job.
Another way to remove rust is to soak it in lemon juice. It's sold online in powder form as &quot;citric acid.&quot; It's nontoxic, no-work, biodegradable, and you can put your hands in it. <br>It leaves the finish dark, but you can wipe it off with a rag and water. Absolutely does not attack the intact steel. <br>
Nice job. That turned out really cool. Now to find a trunk.
Nice job! I have one of these too. I would like to restore it also. <br>Thanks for the tutorial. :) Cheers!
How much would you sell that for?
I couldn't sell it. I'd probably never get the value of the materials and labor that I put into it and anyway, there's a lot of sentiment. It was an ongoing project that I filled with my spare time that, honestly, is leaving me a bit lost looking for a new one now that it's done.
Wow that is beautiful! Remarkable restoration.
Looks very nice. Well done.
Love it! Now I'm thinking about all the trunks I have passed up at yard sales. Great job! It looks awesome!

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