Greetings, friends! Over the years, I’ve told you that my grandparents raised me. Two of Grandma’s nine siblings lived in the same town as us, and they and their spouses were much like my grandparents since my actual grandparents were technically my parents.
When Uncle Paul died in 1989, my uncle inherited his sea chest, a tangible memory of his years in the Coast Guard. Fast forward a few decades. Last year, my Sweet Cousin Kathy found Uncle Paul’s sea chest and knew I’d want it. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when she dropped it off. (If you know me and how I love projects, you know what I mean.) Unfortunately, I couldn’t wait to dive in, so I started cleaning it before I remembered that I should’ve taken “before pictures” first. I grabbed the camera and decided I’d just document the progress as I went along.
As you can see, the trunk had been badly neglected for
years decades. I had to get a hammer to pry it open because one of the latches was bent and had caused part of the metal strap to bend inside of itself. This, in turn, broke off a big chunk of the side to break off where it closed. The whole thing had apparently been spray painted and you could see where some drips had dried. And the veneer of the lid had obviously broken away, then somebody attempted to “repair” it by using about 79 staples. (Don’t ever do that!)
I’d never restored a trunk before, so I turned to my good friends, YouTube and Google, for assistance. These both offered big help. I attempted to find a photo of an identical trunk on eBay, Etsy, and Google, but my search was unsuccessful. I’d hoped to restore it to its original glory, but since I was unable to determined what that was, I decided to stick with keeping it black.
When I finally got inside the trunk, the musty smell almost knocked me off my feet. Research told me that when something smells, it’s most often paper holding moisture. So, I removed the wallpaper liner and set a plate of DRY freshly ground coffee beans inside. I found this hack on an antique restoration website on Google, and by golly, it worked! It was much better than just baking soda, and I added this to my list of solutions to keep for the future. (You’re welcome.)
Next, I sanded and stained the inside with a light cherry stain to preserve the original look of the wood. I then added a satin-finish polyurethane to ensure no more moisture would seep in. (If it was not is such bad condition, I would’ve kept the wood stained but naked.)
Each of the 6 faces of the trunk had approximately 70 rivets that were badly rusted. I dremmeled them down to the original stainless-steel finish then polished them with my Dremmel’s buffing attachment.
The lid was the most challenging part of the project. Not only was the missing and stapled veneer a major problem, but it was warped so badly underneath that sanding would not take care of the problem. I conditioned the old wood then cut away the damaged veneer.
At first, I tired filling in the void with wood putty. This may have worked fine if it were a newer piece of wood, but this 70+ year old wood was really dried out, so it absorbed the moisture from the putty and warped badly! In fact, it looked like a mini roller coaster track as it was drying. The next day, as I pondered what to do, I moved the trunk, and the putty fell off! (That was easy!) I left it alone to dry for another day, and the wavy wood went flat again. (Phew!)
That’s when I discovered my new best friend, BONDO! It worked great on the top, and since I was painting it anyway and not staining it, this was no problem. In fact, YouTube showed me how to make a mold out of wax paper-covered furring strips, and I used Bondo to repair the side that had been damaged. (And since then, I’ve used it to repair a friend’s front door as well as her bathtub.)
Each corner surface had a leather strip that was riveted on. The leather was so hard, it felt like plastic. In fact, until I started researching trunks, I thought it was some sort of plastic-like material. The only reason I knew it wasn’t actually plastic was the age of it. At any rate, I conditioned the leather numerous times, and that actually softened it a lot. Also, the hardware was badly rusted, so I sanded off the rust, oiled the moving parts, then painted them with antique gold oil-based gilding paint.
The original leather handles were both broken off and dried out, and the metal tabs that held them on were badly dented. That unfortunately meant that I wouldn’t be able to retain the original hardware and handles. But another internet search led me to Brettuns Village, an amazing trunk restoration store, and I purchased similar pieces as well as the mini railroad spike type of nails that are actually used to hold them on. (Did you know trunks don’t actually use screws, not even in the hinges?)
Next, I came to the name plaque. It was made out of copper or brass that was dingy and had started to patina. I buffed it to its own natural shine then added a thin coat of polishing wax with the Dremmel, and voila! All that natural beauty was just screaming to get out.
Finally, I masked, primered, and painted the exterior wooden parts black, then I used a glossy polyurethane on the outside. I figured this poor thing had been neglected for so long, it deserved to be the center of attention for a while. I originally intended this to stay in my spare room, but I loved the way it looked so much when I was done, I kept it in the living room, and people often ask me where I bought it. I think I’ll check this project off as a success. What do you think?
Let’s talk: Do you like restoration projects? Have you ever used Bondo? Did you know that trunks don’t use screws? Did you know coffee was great for removing odors?