Instructables

Restoring A Vintage Steamer Trunk

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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.
 
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Reichenstein74 months ago

That came a long way. Nice work =)

seamster11 months ago
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!
You should try going to auctions you'll have better luck.
antagonizer (author)  seamster11 months ago
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.
MrBillG5910 months ago
The technique of bending over the points of long nails is called "clinching". So those nails are "clinched".
Dave5555510 months ago
Very impressive work!!

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.
pmarrazzo110 months ago
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.
antagonizer (author)  SashaConstantine10 months ago
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.
doodle96110 months ago
absolutely beautiful, you have inspired me to get to the one I have in the shed :)
fazgard10 months ago
Well done!
tinker00010 months ago
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.
antagonizer (author)  tinker00010 months ago
I throw cedar shingles in with my clothing. Old habit as I live rural.
TXUN10 months ago
Very nice work. Do you have photos of the trunk in its original "found" condition?
antagonizer (author)  TXUN10 months ago
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.
Veewee11110 months ago
Bleach has some nasty side affect to the materials over time. Vinegar will do a better job without the after effects.
http://www.spore-tech.com/viewCategory.asp?idCategory=78

http://blacktoxicmolds.com/vinegar-kill-mold.php
antagonizer (author)  Veewee11110 months ago
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 "citric acid." It's nontoxic, no-work, biodegradable, and you can put your hands in it.
It leaves the finish dark, but you can wipe it off with a rag and water. Absolutely does not attack the intact steel.
acasey122310 months ago
Nice job. That turned out really cool. Now to find a trunk.
elljay.q11 months ago
Nice job! I have one of these too. I would like to restore it also.
Thanks for the tutorial. :) Cheers!
Ekzile11 months ago
How much would you sell that for?
antagonizer (author)  Ekzile11 months ago
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.
nnygamer11 months ago
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.
makijim11 months ago
Wow that is beautiful! Remarkable restoration.
explosivemaker11 months ago
Looks very nice. Well done.
Mr. Noack11 months ago
Love it! Now I'm thinking about all the trunks I have passed up at yard sales. Great job! It looks awesome!