How to Restore Old Steamer Trunks

Written by lane cummings
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"Steamer trunks" is a name often misused, chosen to refer to all trunks from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. In reality, an actual steamer trunk is half the height of a flat-top trunk. Travellers brought them into their cabins during steamship voyages, because this trunk could fit under their bunks.

Collecting and restoring old trunks is growing in popularity. Luckily, it's not necessary to pay a professional trunk restorer to do the work for you.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 1/2 cup bleach
  • 1/2 cup soap
  • 1 gallon warm water
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Shelf paper or wall paper
  • Wall paper paste
  • Small brush
  • Rust remover
  • Rag
  • Nail punch
  • Hammer
  • Replacement metal pieces
  • Nails
  • Wood glue
  • Replacement wood slats

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  1. 1

    Open the boot and pull off any of the inside liner paper. This old paper has probably long lost its adhesive quality and the line paper is beginning to peel or fall off.

  2. 2

    Mix half a cup of bleach and half a cup of soap into a gallon of warm water in a bucket. Dip a sponge in this solution and scrub the inside of the trunk, gently but firmly, removing any mould, mildew or odours. Repeat if necessary. Leave the trunk outside in direct sunlight to let it dry.

  3. 3

    Trim patterned shelf paper or wallpaper to fit the dimensions of the inside of the trunk. While you could paint the inside of the trunk, it originally was lined with patterned paper.

  4. 4

    Apply the shelf or wall paper to the inside of the trunk. Shelf paper is easier to attach, because it has a self-adhesive backing. Wallpaper, however, will require wallpaper paste applied with a medium brush.

  5. 5

    Inspect the trunk for rusting metal cornerpieces, hinges and locks. Scrub them with a rust remover and a rag. Be prepared that some may need to be replaced completely if they don't respond adequately to the rust remover or are broken.

  6. 6

    Gently tap loose the nails on any broken hinges, locks,or cornerpieces with a nail punch and hammer. As a nail pops loose, pull it out completely with a pair of pliers. Nail in replacement pieces the same size.

  7. 7

    Inspect the wood slats on the outside of the trunk for structural damage. You might need to glue some loose slats back in place with wood glue. Some slats may need to be replaced completely if they are broken or missing. If possible, take one of the wood slats to a wood supplier when you buy a replacement slat. Workers can cut a new piece the same size and shape as the original. Nail it into place.

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