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Cleaning and Restoring an Old Trunk

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Whether it's an heirloom or an antique store find, an old trunk can be a wonder addition to your home for both storage and decoration. This is a page about cleaning and restoring an old trunk.
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Do you have an old trunk somewhere up in your attic, gathering dust because years ago some imbecile flipped the lid up hard and bent the hinges outwards? All you need to repair it is some braided high-test fishing line (the heavier stuff) and a staple gun.

Cut two pieces of the fishing line (about two feet per side, depending on the size of your trunk) and staple one end to the inner side of the lid, near the front. Leave about an inch sticking out from the other side of the staple, then fold it over and staple both the long end and the inch-long end, about a quarter-inch from the other staple. Repeat this on the other side.

Now, do the same thing on the inside ends of the trunk, also near the front, about an inch from the front walls, just like the top end.

Now your previously forgotten trunk will work fine, regardless of how decrepit the hinges are. If they are still attached, (even by a hair), your trunk will now function properly, provided you have done it right.

P.S. Try to get the lengths and positions the same on both ends of the trunk or your fix won't work too well.

By Paul from Walnutport, PA

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Questions

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I have just purchased this lovely old trunk. I really don't know that much about it, but want to get it cleaned up. Can anybody help me please?

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I do want to do the inside too, but it's the outside I'm more concerned about. I think it's wicker underneath, not sure
Many thanks.

Answers

June 16, 20150 found this helpful

I collect these, Jane, and love them for not only room accents but also functionality (one for Christmas decorations, one for gift wrap and bags, one for board games ... you get my drift). They've come from various places and sources, one from an uncle who thought it pretty cool to add a coat of paint.

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It doesn't look bad, but I prefer the authenticity of those which were merely cleaned up. They are genuine antiques and by restoring you may be diminishing the value. So ... my advice? Clean it up as best you can, find out more about its origin and enjoy it as a conversation starter in your home.

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June 16, 20150 found this helpful

If you do anything to it, you will destroy it's value as an antique. Just use a soft cloth and elbow grease...no cleaning products.

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June 17, 20150 found this helpful

Hi, sorry I think you have the wrong idea of what I meant 'restoring'. I want to keep the originality there as much as possible. I just want to know the best products to give it a little life again as it's pretty filthy.
I've found out a little more, Of wicker with heavy black tar cloth covering and leather and brass fittings. So what should I use to bring the cloth and leather up? Any ideas?;-)

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June 22, 20150 found this helpful

Keep your old trunk as it is as much as you can tolerate. I would only dust it. Look for ways to lightly "clean" old wood or whatever material you think it is made from.

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I believe you can find your answer on Pinterest.com. If you do a lot of cleaning, you will devalue it. You sorta have to learn to like the dirt, I think. lol

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May 15, 20190 found this helpful

Hi. I may be late to the party, but I thought I'd add my two cents(4 years late). There is a spray cleaner by Indigo Wild called Zum Clean Counter Cleaner. It is an all natural cleaner made with essential oils. I have used this cleaner to remove the dirt & grime from oil & acrylic paintings with great success. It is gentle & the essential oils help clean canvas & leather without drying it out. I have even used it on my leather purses & boots. I pretty much use it to clean everything, including my floors. If you haven't found what you were looking for to clean up the surfaces of your trunk, this may be what you need.

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I have a trunk with bubble corner hardware on every corner. Every bubble is dented, but solidly still attached. Should I just clean them up or replace with new hardware.

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It's a canvas trunk that's in pretty good shape, but has a broken lock and handles.

Answers

May 9, 20190 found this helpful

I would compare prices of damaged trunks versus trunks in better condition, and the cost to get it in good condition. That will make the decision whether or not to repair clearer.

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May 9, 20190 found this helpful

If it is a trunk with huge sentimental value and you are planning to use and love it, then I would fix it up. If you are thinking of fixing to resell, it would take a lot of research to find the true market value for sales and then figure out if a repair would increase or decrease the value. That is a whole other can of worms.

Post back with more info!!

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May 10, 20190 found this helpful

I would replace the lock and handles.As for the corners just clean them up.It will give it a little character.

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June 25, 2017

I found a old wardrobe trunk and would like to restore it. Unfortunately it is missing the drawers. Does any one know the best places to find replacement drawers?

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June 26, 20170 found this helpful

You could try thrift stores. If it is old, it may not be manufactured anymore.

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You could also try to find someone to make a drawer.

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March 30, 2011

How do I repair an old trunk? I want to try to save the canvas in between the slots.

By stew from NY

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July 16, 2010

How can you clean a steamer trunk?

By Janice from Carlisle, IN

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Archives

ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

March 30, 2011

Restoring an Old Trunk

I bought an old chest, but don't know anything about it. I would like to restore it. It's quite damaged. Does anybody know what kind of chest it is, or where I should start?

By jane garbutt from England Yorkshire

Answers:

Restoring an Old Trunk

To retain the value of old trunks, it is probably best not to do anything to it except dust it. But if you want to restore it yourself, here are some tips on restoring trunks from a trunk restorer.

http://www.shenandoahrestoration.com/Hints.html (05/18/2009)

By Joy

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May 12, 2009

Restoring an Old Trunk
I have an old trunk that was used by my grandparents when they came to the States from Newfoundland. The dimensions are approx. 32 in. wide x 20 in. deep x 22 in. high. All of the edges are metal, and there are metal straps and leather handles. It is covered in a material that is torn in places.

How can I tell if it is leather or canvas? Should the fabric be removed to expose the wood beneath it? I saw a similar trunk today that had been decoupaged with labels and sealed with polyurethane. What should I do?

Josie from Fairfax, VA

Answers:

Restoring An Old Trunk

I would leave the trunk as is! So often, people will "restore" an object, and it makes the object look almost new or makes it look like a reproduction piece. Often times, restoration takes away the character of the piece. Clean the trunk, by gently wiping over it. I would glue whatever is loose back on, and proudly display the trunk. Be sure to write the history of the trunk on a piece of paper and put the history in the trunk. (05/03/2008)

By Sharon

Restoring An Old Trunk

Josie, I just saw this piece you wrote. I hope you haven't done anything yet. I just asked my friend the other night about my mom's trunk, if I should refinish it. Her reply stopped me dead in my tracks. She said she wouldn't think of re-doing any family treasure simply for the fact their hand prints are all over it. Made me re-think all my treasures. Just a different view point. (05/03/2008)

By Keeper

Restoring An Old Trunk

I bought a George Burroughs and sons Milwaukee trunk for $5. I know that the founder died of heart problems in 1910 or so, and that he started in 1875. I want to find out how to clean it, I am pretty sure it is made of textured wood, and how to repair the rusted metal. The handles are leather and I am positive that one was replaced. So, how do I tell how old it is and how to restore it so I can keep it in my room and use it? (05/30/2008)

By M&M

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April 29, 2008

I am looking for tips/ideas on restoring the interior of a 100+ year old trunk that I got from my grandmother. It is the kind that ladies used to use to travel with, and my great-grandmother's sister used it to go to college.

The original paper on the inside was at some time covered very poorly with wallpaper (glued on). What would be the best way to remove this wallpaper without ripping off much more of the original interior?

Also, any ideas on removing the musty smell?

Thanks...

Answers:

Restore Old Trunk

If you haven't given up yet or haven't already finished your trunk, following are some links which might help.

Tips & Tricks from The Trunk Shop

Perhaps you could get a copy of Antique Trunks, Refinish, Repair, Restore By Paul Pat Morse and Linda Edelstein from your library. Antique Trunks, Refinish, Repair, Restore is the definitive how-to book on refinishing any type of antique trunk. It includes over 140 well illustrated pages of tips and techniques put together by the master craftsmen of The Trunk Shop, based in New Hampshire. It includes sections on removing exterior and interior linings, wood and metal repair, safety, finishing, and painting.

And, if you need any parts for restoring your trunk, you might want to check out Van Dyke's Restorers. Van Dyke's Restorers

Have fun restoring your treasure,
Kathy (10/26/2004)

By Kathleen Bennett

Restoring An Old Trunk

It's easy! You need two things to remove paper from your trunk, you can use a paint scraper or a putty knife and a spray bottle with water. First spray the inside and let the water dampen paper for a few minutes (3 min) or so, I like to start from the bottom and work my way up. Then you scrap the paper off ,it should come off easily, the only thing that you are going to see after you remove the paper is glue, you have to also spray a little more on the glue a again scrap off.

Try not to let the trunk stay wet for too long after you remove paper, because if you let the water dry in the trunk it could warp the wood. And it is difficult to straighten back. After you remove paper and glue,dry with a cloth the whole inside and try to vacuum with a wet and dry vacuum cleaner. Once the paper is off, the smell is also less. To remove mildew I use Murphy's oil. I get a coffee can and fill 1/8 of Murphy's oil in the can and then fill with water and then get a sponge and clean the inside. that gets rid off the smell and mildew. That's It (12/07/2005)

By Raul - Floral Park N.Y

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