Legacy Trunks refinishing procedures and photos

The following photos and descriptions are examples of some of our procedures we use, and challenges we face, during Trunk refinishing. There are photos of different trunks, to show some of the various techniques. We are always excited about our next Trunk refinishing / restoration project.  Considering the condition we received them in, and the work process we go through with the trunk, the final transformation is always rewarding and exciting. Now don't get me wrong, this is not easy work and not a simple process. We realize that sometimes people will find an Antique Trunk which they would like to refinish themselves. We love working on ours, and the trunks we refinish for clients. While we have some beautifully refinished Trunks for sale, we are glad to help you with some information to help you work on your own trunk.

Click on the photos to enlarge image

These photos show how many of our trunks come to us and how we refinish / restore them.
This Flat Top style Trunk dates to the later 1800's and was originally canvas covered and material lined. Lower on this page, You will see some of the techniques we use while refinishing our trunks like this Trunk to a Wonderful new look.


Restoration Photos and 'How We Refinish Our Trunks''
Click on the photos to enlarge image

Interior of Flat Top trunk first cleaning Interior of Dome Top trunk first cleaning Glue, paint, and other various coverings  offer a real challenge.

The first step to many trunks is to clean, and do a basic strip the interior of and paper, cloth, vinyl, canvas, or what ever material it has been covered, or re-covered with, in it's long life.

Spraying paper on interior wood
with warm water soap solution
Scraping water soaked paper in layers Stripping glue, previous varnishes, and
paint is difficult and time consuming

Sometimes, removing the interior paper involves using only warm soapy water. Other materials however,  like fabric, canvas, leather, or layers of paper involve using more aggressive solvents. Professional paint strippers,  adhesive removers, paint thinners, lacquer thinners, etc. In bad cases, we have had to use a heat gun.
All these involve elbow grease' and a good scraper.

Prying nail curl out of wood Nail curl exposed Nipping nail curl off

Nail removal is necessary for most trunks. In order to remove, refinish, or replace parts, nails have to be removed. There are several steps to nail removal which does the least amount of damage to the Trunk.

Handles before Nipping off nail head Punching nail shaft through

Replacing Handles is a common requirement. Handle covers, and handles must be removed, and new leather handles, are replaced with the refinished handle covers.

Hammering the new nail in place Holding 'Dolly' while hammering nail Handles after
Replacing nails properly involves a special technique utilizing specialized tools. 'Turning the Nail' properly is a requirement in replacing nails. Nails are special nails, and come in several sizes, and metals.

Before Paint is removed Applying paint stripper Applying paint stripper
Wire wheeling rust off parts After Paint stripper, washing metal with various solvents to remove excess paint After several times paint stripping
and washing with solvent then wire brushing with multiple types of brushes
Stripping multiple layers of old paint from the metal is often a challenge. Stripping solvents, sanding, and wire brushing are often needed to get to the primary metal base. We generally do not strip all the way to metal since we like some of the original character of the aged metal surface. Sometimes exposing the metal and resurfacing it to a new smooth finish is desired. This is a personal preference based on the trunk.

Many trunks have bad sections of
sheet metal which have to be removed
A new section is cut out of new,
or as we prefer, salvage sheet metal.
The replacement piece is fitted into
place, corners folded, and nailed.

Many trunks have damage to their exterior sheet metal, or tin. You can buy sheet metal and replace it. We try to salvage trunks and use the salvage tin since it is aged,, and matches the rest of the trunks a little closer.

We often see trunk repairs which we have to repair properly.
We often need to repair /  replace wood, and metal . Reproduction parts are also often needed. The 1st repair below took approx. 6 hours to remove the old damage, cut out the damaged wood, cut a replacement (we used the unused tray rail wood from the same trunk in this case) secure and fill the wood replacement, and replace new metal.

Trunk before repair work, The Cigar tin from the photo below center was used to cover the hole when we got this one. Trunk after the repairs made and now to be refinished. See the photos below to see how we made this repair.

Original Handle ends made from recycled
 tin cans in the late 1800's
Tin repair from old Cigar tin can Once the repair metal is removed, the damage is exposed

After the damage is removed, the
damaged wood is replaced
The replacement is secured in place, and glued and filled to be solid and secure. The missing tin is replaced with new metal, and is ready for refinishing .

Metal repair/ refinishing, and replacement is often needed when refinishing an Antique Trunk with damaged, rusted, or missing parts.



Damaged edges are is a common issue,
and not an easy repair.
The old metal, nails, and hardware has to be removed without damage to the  body Metal  replaced w/ metal from a  salvage trunk, re-nailed,  hardware reinstalled

  Metal Medallion Bent and damaged Metal Medallion repaired / refinished

Some Antique Trunks are covered in leather. Generally we remove the Leather to expose the wood, but
Very Rarely, when we can, we will clean it, and refinish the imprinted patterns.

Leather covered trunk
 before leather removal
Leather covered trunk
 before leather removal
Leather covered trunk
 after leather removal

Leather covered trunk after leather removal and scraping / cleaning Leather covered trunk after leather removal and scraping / cleaning Leather covered trunk after leather removal and scraping / cleaning

Before cleaning and restoration Original condition with one corner
cleaned and partially restored/refinished
After cleaning, repainting,
and refiinishing

Canvas can often be stained and discolored. in some cases, the canvas finish and color can be restored

Steamer Trunk canvas before cleaning and restoration Steamer Trunk canvas after cleaning and restoration

Sanding is the primary function in preparing a trunk for refinishing. Wood, and metal surfaces both require good preparation before finish work can begin. We generally do 2-3 steps. (1) Initial stripping of surface materials or coverings, (2)First sanding with aggressive type sand paper, (3) finish sanding with progressively finer grades of paper.

First sanding Second sanding  / finish sanding Block hand sanding

Interior wood cleaned and sanded Exterior wood cleaned and sanded Exterior metal cleaned * note* often some original finish remains

Once the exterior wood and metal is cleaned and prepared, then you can really see what you are working with. Decisions on the type and decor of the finish to use can now be made. Once again, preparation of the surfaces before finish work is critical. Don't cut corners here, as it makes all the difference.

Staining wood surfaces Varnish / Tung oil application Varnish / Tung oil application
Staining and Varnishing are the 'icing on the cake'. We generally use high quality oil based stains, and often mix our own colors to get the desired effect we are looking for. Color blending is often necessary as different portions of the aged wood will take the stain differently, and you want an overall matching color. When it comes to the final finish, we choose to use a high quality Tung Oil, Varnish, or furniture grade beeswax finish. Generally with varnish or Tung oil finishes, we apply 3-4 coats with fine sanding between coats to build up a nice finish. On trunks which we are looking for a more aged look, we will often stain, and then beeswax several coats to achieve a nice smooth finish.

Hand painting
Applying Paint to exterior wood or canvas Applying Paint to exterior metal (brush) Applying Paint to exterior metal (spray)
Trunk taped off for metal painting Trunk taped off for metal painting Removing the paper - 'The Peel'
Painting the exterior of an antique trunk, chest, or woodenware box, is not what we generally like to do. However, sometimes the project requires this. In the case of wood, or canvas which has been previously painted, it will often require painstaking time and effort, not to mention possible major sanding, to get to the bare wood. This can mean changing the original lines of the wood. In these cases, we have to decide if the potential selling price of the trunk  justifies the extensive time and effort. For us, it generally does not. For you, if your trunk is sentimental, it might be. Just be careful not to do more damage than good. In the case of wood painting, we choose to do multiple layers of high quality paint. We start with a primer coat, and add layers as needed with sanding in between. The finish is not' Furniture company grade' but it is very nice, and keeping with a trunk of it's age. In the case of metal, we generally spray all the metal we can with a high quality metal rust inhibitor type paint. Now some people say spraying is not good, but my car, appliances, metal furniture, etc, have sprayed finishes, and they are done that way since it results in a better finish . We  hand paint the majority of the decorative metal elements as they are intricate, and need small precise work.

custom decorative painting applying faux finish
Rubbing gold / silver accents Customizing paint finish Applying faux finish
Decorative painting and accent touches are very desirable, and require an artist touch. These often make all the difference.