How Do You Restore a Vintage Steamer Trunk?

By removing the old paper from the inside of the trunk, sanding it down and using a quality paint, an old steamer trunk can be restored in only a few days. The process requires supplies such as sandpaper, a wire brush and paint.

The most important part of restoring a vintage steamer trunk is patience. Sanding, painting and allowing the surface to dry take time and cannot be rushed.

  1. Remove the paper
  2. Remove the paper from the inside of the trunk using a scraper. Spray water to dampen the paper for easy removal. Detach the lid if necessary to get to all of the paper.

  3. Sand the inside
  4. Using 100-grit sandpaper, sand the inside of the trunk. Once smooth, follow up with 150-grit sandpaper and work up to 220-grit until the surface is completely smooth.

  5. Remove the handles
  6. If the trunk has leather handles, remove them. Also remove any leather end caps, taking care not to damage the wood.

  7. Clean the metal
  8. Using a wire brush, carefully clean any metal found on the chest. If necessary, use steel wool or a wire brush attachment on a drill to clean tough spots. If rust is present, use water when sanding the metal.

  9. Remove canvas, paper or cloth
  10. Carefully remove any canvas, paper or cloth from the outside of the trunk. Use a razor or utility knife to remove these materials.

  11. Wash the wood
  12. Using a solution of liquid dish soap and water, clean the wood surfaces of the trunk, taking care not to soak the wood. Allow it to dry completely.

  13. Sand the wood
  14. Using 150-grit sandpaper, begin sanding the outside wood. Work up to a 220-grit sandpaper and sand it until smooth.

  15. Paint the metal
  16. If desired, paint the metal on the outside of the chest. Completely mask off the wood and use a spray paint designed for use on metal. After allowing plenty of time for the paint to dry, paint the metal again with a clear coat and allow that to dry.

  17. Finish the wood
  18. Finish the exposed wood with the stain of choice. Follow up with a polyurethane sealer. Allow plenty of time for it to dry.

  19. Attach the leather handles
  20. Reattach the leather handles or purchase new handles to go on the trunk.