Restoring Steamer Trunks

We've all seen the old steamer trunks of ages gone by, but now that you have one of these treasured gems, how do you restore them to their prior beauty & charm? 

Let's talk first about the two main areas of concern, first the outside of the trunk, then the inside:This trunk had previously been painted completely & totally black.  I stripped the wood & metal to restore it to this treasured beauty!

The outside is in need of restoration, if the:
1. The finish on the wood straps is worn away, 
2. The wood is visibly dirty, dry or cracking,
3. The paint or finish on the metal exterior casing is loose or worn. 

My suggestions for doing the outside of the trunk are:
1. Mask off the metal parts of the trunk with masking tape & newspaper to completely cover all the exposed metal.

2. Following my previous articles, strip, stain & apply finish to the wood strips.

3. After the wood strips are completely finished, unmask the tape & newspaper
covering the metal parts.

4. Completely mask the wood strips totally covering them with masking tape.

5. Steel wool the metal to remove any loose paint, finish or dirt. Clean/wash the metal to remove any remaining dirt or grease that may have built up. 

Finishing the metal surface:
1. If the metal looks the way you want it after it is cleaned, use clear satin spray polyurethane (3 coats) to protect the metal surface.Customer specified this blue paint! Note the top is restored to original texture. Wood was stripped, natural stain, Tung Oil finish!

2. If you want to paint the surface, use several thin coats of a good metal spray paint (Rustoleam). For added protection, use 2 coats of clear satin spray polyurethane to protect the paint. Several thin coats are better than a few heavy coats. To paraphrase a perfect inning in baseball there should be  "no runs, drips or errors". This is why you masked off the wood to protect it    from the paint or polyurethane finish.

3. Many trunks have brass edging. If possible, use a good brass cleaner and #0 fine steel wool to polish them.

4. Many trunks also have small rivets. Pay special attention to them as they can  enhance the appearance of the trunk. You may want to consider using a small artist's brush to paint the rivets gold.

5. When trying to retain an old classic look, use flat black spray paint on parts like hinges.

6. After everything is dry, unmask the wood.

7. If you may need to replace the leather straps, hinges or other parts there are many wood workers suppliers who stock hard to find replacement items. Garage and estate sales or antique dealers are other good sources for "original looking"    trunk parts. If the wood on the trunk is in good condition, you may want to give it a light coating of Tung Oil. Rub the oil onto the wood a clean cotton cloth to give the wood added protection. 

Note the picture of the young lady on the top inside.The inside of the trunk. You need to determine how good the lining on the inside of the trunk is. If the interior lining is in good condition, LEAVE IT ALONE! The original lining adds to the value of the trunk. However, if the interior lining is falling apart or is coming loose from the interior walls, you need to remove the loose lining and replace it with something more secure. For this there are many possibilities, I will mention but a few. Whatever interior lining you decide, you will need to securely adhere it to the interior walls of the trunk. With paper lining, I'd suggest using clear white glue. 

1. Clean newspaper. Use a recent edition of you local newspaper. Using a 2 inch soft bristle paint brush, spread a thin even layer of glue on all the walls, bottom & top of the trunk interior. In a separate bowl, you may have to dilute the glue somewhat with water to create an evenly spread-able paste. Start with the bottom of the    trunk. It will be easier to work on one side at a time. Turn the trunk on its side (if possible) so that the wall you are working on is always on the bottom. This makes the gluing process easier. Place the paper over the glue smoothing out any wrinkles. A small rolling pin may be of some help. When each section is dry, proceed to the next wall. After the bottom, walls & top are finished, use several thin coats of clear satin spray polyurethane to seal the ink/print of the newspaper.

2. Wall paper. Proceed in the manner described above. Wallpaper is somewhat heavier in texture so you may need to use special wallpaper paste, or purchase the self-sticking    variety.

3. Cedar Siding. Many wood worker outlets sell Cedar siding. Starting again with the bottom, then the walls & top cut the Cedar to the proper interior dimensions of the box. You may need silicon or paneling glue to adhere the Cedar to the frame. A good cocking glue gun will come in handy here. Now you haveNeeded to add new leather strapping & handles. your own Cedar chest!

4. White linen looks very clean for the first few years of use. Over time it may rip, tear or turn yellow with age.

5. Shelf-adhesive shelving paper - Do not use! Enough said! 

There you have it, a beautifully restored trunk proud to be displayed with all your other family treasures!