How to Restore an Old Trunk or Chest

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Trunks and chests are old traveling accompaniments. These are great for packing a lot of items, but they are also very heavy and difficult to move. Now, people use suitcases much more suited for easier handling while traveling. Use old trunks and chests as furniture in your home. Find these at yard sales and flea markets at bargain prices. Refinish these old treasures and make them look almost new and place them in your home wherever you need a coffee table or extra storage space.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic zipper bag
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Dremel tool with wire brush attachment
  • Scrub brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Rags
  • Measuring tape
  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Remove all leather strips and hardware. Keep anything reusable in a plastic zipper bag. Use pliers to remove any staples. Use wire cutters to cut off any nails or staples bent over on the reverse side.

  • Restore slightly rusted metals by polishing with a Dremel tool using the wire brush attachment.

  • Brush the entire surface of the trunk with a scrub brush to remove all loose debris and some embedded dirt.

  • Sand the entire wooden surface of the trunk with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe off the sanded surfaces with a damp rag to remove all the loose sawdust.

  • Apply stain to the wood portions of the trunk or chest with a rag dipped in stain. Follow the grain of the wood. Allow the stain to dry completely before continuing.

  • Measure the inside of the trunk. Cut some lightweight cotton fabric, such as calico, to the measurements for all four sides of the trunk, plus 2 inches. Cut one more piece for the bottom of the trunk.

  • Pin one of the fabric sides to the front fabric piece of the trunk with right sides together. Sew a straight line to form one corner seam. Repeat with the back fabric and the other fabric side pieces.

  • Pin the bottom piece of fabric to the side pieces. Pin with right sides together, matching up all the corners. Stitch the two pieces together to form the lining for the trunk.

  • Fit the fabric covering inside the trunk. Fold down the top edges of the fabric to eliminate the raw edges. Use a staple gun to hold the fabric in place. Space out the staples evenly for a professionally finished look.

  • Replace any hardware to the outside to finish the restoration of the trunk or chest.

Tips & Warnings

  • You may want to have a professional restore your trunk or chest if you know it is an antique. He can replace all the old hardware with almost matching replica pieces. Also, these directions are for wooden trunks or chests. There are much different processes to restore canvas- or leather-covered trunks.

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