What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)


Monday, February 19, 2007

Refinishing Old Trunks

Refinishing old or antique trunks is a great way to gain additional storage and add extra character to rooms. With any luck you can find these at auction or yard sales and re-sale furniture stores but I would recommend not buying at an antique shop. An antique trunk, usually camel back, should be bought for the antique value and while antiques can and should be used, they should not be modified. What you want is an old trunk covered with canvas, hopefully at a bargain price and with the canvas not in good shape for the following.

Most trunks will be canvas covered with wood strips and metal trim for support. These were the precusors of luggage so were designed for heavy and durable usage. The latches will be metal and quite often there will be very small metal rollers on the bottom for ease of moving. They usually are lined with some type of paper inside but quite often that has been painted over. There should be a tray that may or may not be on hinges spanning the top of the inside, often divided for smaller items. Sometimes you may find one with a key but that is unlikely.

Refinished Trunk

I have refinished two trunks, one with the canvas repainted keeping everything as close to original as possible and this trunk. The finished trunk now sits in our bedroom. It is used for blanket storage. Prior to that we used it for a coffee table and blanket storage in our family room. This is a larger trunk than the first one I did. Unfortunately, I do not have before pictures of the trunk readily handy and while there may be a picture in with the many photos, I doubt it. First rule, always take before and after photos of everything to do like this!

This trunk was covered with black canvas in rather poor condition. There was rusting on the metal and the wood slats were missing pretty much any finish. It was missing the tray, handles and smelled strongly of mothballs. The inside paper had been painted metallic grey but other than that the trunk was sturdy. But I picked it up for $25 anyway figuring it would make a lovely blanket box. So that is something to look for but not always a deterrent for buying especially when being used for storage.

The first thing I did was remove the canvas. In order to do this properly, you need a very sharp utility knife and carefully score around each canvas panel. Lift up the canvas and discard. Underneath you will find beautiful wood that even unfinished your eye will marvel at. Using a medium grain sandpaper, sand all of the wood and any rust on the metal parts. Do not try to fix every flaw as you want the character of the trunk to remain. Follow that with a sanding using fine grain sandpaper then use a tack cloth to remove any dust. Apply three to four coats of either high gloss or satin polyurethane, sanding in between.

Why polyurethane? While this piece was meant as a show piece it was also meant to be in daily use. While other finishes are possible, polyurethane would give it the durability for this as well as being almost kid proof. I chose a satin because I think it looks best on older pieces. I did not use any stain just the polyurethane. Once that had dried it was time to move onto refinishing the trim.


Handle Detail

The trim is metal so I chose a rust paint and because of the detail used artists brushes to apply it. While the trunk would not be in a garage or other problematic higher moisture area, we live in a higher humidity location so did not want any problems with rusting. Painting the trim was not as tedious as it would appear but it did require a steady hand.

As previously mentioned, the trunk was missing the handles. I simply bought two strips of belting material and used an epoxy glue to secure. It is important to note that these are for decoration only when done this way. I have also seen refinished trunks using pieces of rope for the handles but I think for this particular trunk the leather is more authentic.

Warning! Do not use an old trunk for a toy box or let children play with it. The metal could sever a finger or worse if the lid shut unexpectedly. If you have smaller children keep the lid latched at all times!

Well hopefully that gives you few ideas.

Garden Gnome
© 2007


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