Trunk Repair and Restoration

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 The advice offered here is free. If you have a special item once own by Thomas Jefferson or the like, then seek a professional on values and refinishing. The advice here is knowledge picked up over the years by me which I have found useful. Museum restoration is a science and we offer no advice in these areas. Much of the advice offered here isn't suitable for "priceless antiques". The offering of this advice is to assist you

Repairing a Trunk and general antique information: I've found the biggest obstacle is the fear that I might do something wrong. I used to be scared to touch any antique in fear that I might ruin it...Hey it's possible you might but the reward of having a successful repair can out weigh those losses. So BE BRAVE. I'm not an expert by any means so the information presented on this is a general knowledge only meant to assist you in repairing your trunk. Your success will depend on you and how hard you want to work.

If I buy an antique' I tend not to want to over work it but other people have a need to have a more refined look, it's up to you. Let's say your trunk has rusted hardware. A simple way to give it a more finished look would be to clean the rust up a bit but not removing it completely then spray those rusty parts with a clear semi-gloss spray such as DEFT. This product can be purchased at most hardware stores. You may want to experiment first to see if you like this look. In addition your local paint stores might have a better product to accomplish the same task. Rust with a semi-gloss clear over it gives it a rich brown look while retaining the look of an antique. Someone told me once it was a mistake to treat a cast iron antique waffle iron with a semi-gloss clear. They reasoned you couldn't use it after spraying. I bought it to look at, not to use. If I want to make waffles, I'll use a new waffle iron...not build a fire and use the antique one. Yes, you can put cooking oil on cast iron to give it a nice look, of course it will leave an oil stain wherever you put it. Enough said. It's hard to imagine what this semi-gloss does for an old piece but believe me the difference it amazing. To get the idea take old rusty part like a bolt and spray it with a semigloss clear. This method is used by many an antique dealer to give their piece that "Home Ready" look as opposed to "Grandma's Ratty Old Trunk in the Attic" look.

Refinishing the exterior of the trunk depends on how much you really want to do. Here are a couple of examples: If it has cloth on the outside that in bad shape, you might remove it and refinish the wood underneath....difficult but not impossible. On the other hand the trunk might have a metal covering on the outside. In this case you may spray it with that semi-gloss I talked about and let it be. Another option would be to remove and replace the metal completely. This can be very difficult as you will likely have to remove most if not all the hardware. You would have to give some serious thought before attempting removal. Another way to handle this might be to patch a hole with some tin and repaint it along with the rest of the metal. These are general guidelines so use common sense when arriving at the solution. I happen to think a patch adds character to a piece in some cases. Worn look can be treated as an asset to the trunks character. It is better not to have a repair that shines. That is to say that it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. I once knew a dealer who bought a kitchen cabinet piece and she ask me what I thought. Of course I didn't hold back...the work surface of the piece had been replaced. This wasn't a bad thing except that the new wood wasn't distressed. I asked her... If the piece is old then whys isn't the top showing signs of wear? If the person that replace the top would have used wood from say an old table top the the wood might have matched the age of the cabinet. The same is true for trunks. when ever you replace something, try to give it a finish befitting the trunks character, either by distressing the replacement piece or bring the old pieces up to a more finished look to match the replacement. Whatever the exterior is made of, just treat it as the material demands. Example: Leather might need some product to refurbish leather. If in Doubt, ask someone who knows about the material used on the piece you have. I don't get too specific in my advice because all pieces have differences and may need a different approach. Just use your common sense.

Removing Hardware: Most hardware is attached with nails that are bent over on the inside of the trunk. This is likely the reason most trunks have a covering of paper or material on the hides the nails and rivets. In order to remove a trunk handle you may have to peel back the material on the inside of the trunk then unbend the nail and drive it out to release the hardware. You may break some old nails in the process as the are old so replacement may be necessary. When removing the material covering to expose the nails I try not to do to much damage unless I plan on replace the inside material. It's your choice as to how finished you want your trunk to be. Why did they bend the nails over? keeps the hardware from being pulled off accidentally. In the case of handles, it keeps them from being pulled off when carrying a loaded trunk. Rivets are also used in some cases so they will need to be drilled out to remove the hardware and replaced.

Tightening Old Hardware Before refinishing trunk be sure to tighten any loose hardware. This can be done by holding a solid object such as a thick piece of metal inside the trunk then hammering the trunk nails from the outside. The idea is to sandwich the nail between a solid object and a hammer. This will bend the nails a little further thus tightening it.

Odor, Mildew, Mold etc. Inside the Trunk. Removal of material lining such as paper or cloth may be necessary. This may be difficult. After removal disinfect or clean with a product like Murphy's Soap. Let dry...Slow drying in the sun is good for killing mold and mildew but warping can occur. I prefer to let dry in the shade then full sun when it is nearly dry. Sand and vacuum it out. Give it a couple of coats of water based urethane. At this point you can reline the trunk or leave it as is...your choice.

Leather Trunk Handles: When attaching leather trunk handles. Handle should be laid flat against trunk and cap should be shoved snugly against each end. After attached, handle lays flat when not in use and will slide out to make room for your hand. This only works with the slotted handles. Unslotted handles should be attached allowing for room because they are fixed in position. These same rules apply to loops with pins...loops should be fitted pushing them from each side towards the middle so that the pins allow the handle to be while the handle remains flat against surface of trunk. It sounds complicated but really isn't. Most trunk hardware attaches with trunk nails which are bent over on the inside then covered with a wall paper material for beauty. Rivets are sometimes used also. The reason nails are bent over inside is to prevent handles and other hardware from simply being pulled off. In trying to remove old hardware, say it's a leather handle, you may find it necessary to go inside trunk and scrape off some of the paper to expose bent over nail which can be unbent and removed. This process may cause some nails to break so they would need replacement. These instructions generally apply to most trunks and trunk hardware. Handles with Mushroom Ends should use handle loops without a pin. It is preferable that the width and height measurement of the loop be close in size to the narrow part of the handle. Handle loops with pins should only be used with handles that are the non-mushroom type.

Trunk Hardware: Most trunk hardware is made of steel which has an electroplated brass finish. This finish can't be darkenened with our antiquing solution. It can be distressed. This can be accomplished by roughing the surface of the hardware. For instance, take the hardware and scrape it on some abrasive surface or take a dremel tool and pierce the brass plating with a sanding attachment. After this is done the hardware can be allowed to rust naturally. You can darken those areas where the steel is exposed with our solution. If you look a the original trunk hardware, it is likely that over the years it was scraped on sidewalks and the like. Then over the years it rusted. The distressing I mentioned will mimic that look but it won't be a perfect match. Again this may not be the look you want. If you desire a cleaner look then replace most if not all the hardware.

Some General Antique Tips & Buying Tips: The simple deft spray trick has turned many a $20.00 piece of junk into a $150.00 antique and with a relatively small amount of work. I don't mean that it was really junk but it looks like junk. I learned this from another dealer years ago. We were buying antiques from a "picker"....(a person who buys and resells antiques usually without the benefit of a shop.) Anyway the other dealer told me to buy this ratty looking sled which she said could be fixed up. I passed on the sled so she bought it. The next day I went to her shop and she had really cool sled. Guess what? It was the same sled and I paid her double her money. All she did was Deft spray the rusty parts and briwax the wood parts. I know it took her all of 30 minutes to achieve this look. I've never been the same since. Now I see passed the dirt and rust....and see the potential. We get so used to buying from retail stores that we've become blind. Another experience I had was a metal sculpture in the shape of cattails. It was at a flea market and looked positively pitiful. The cattails were all laying out to the side. I bought it for $12.00 ...took it to my shop...bent the cattails back to a vertical position and sold it for $225.00. The scupture was worth every bit of $225.00 and more. It was just that people passed it by because of it's pitiful look, something that was cured in all of 60 seconds. I've had the opposite experience..bought something for $225.00 and found it worth only $ happens.

Antique shop are full of things that didn't sell. If you go someplace to buy an antique and the price tag has turned yellow. That piece has been sitting a while...soooo... ask how much they might be willing to sell for. Yellow tags can be a sign of: Too High a Price, Something is wrong with the piece or it has been buried where no one can see it. Some dealers won't budge on price even if it has been there too long. They paid too much and want their mony back. In reality they should sell it at a loss so their money can go back to work, earning more. Some people never learn. Another thing which can affect the price you pay for an antique is your reaction. Don't get to excited. The person selling to you will recognize your enthusiasm and not give you a break. Don't make an offer, ask what they will take, this gives you a strting point. Besides they may actually go lower than you think. A lot of things can cause a dealer to sell for less...they need money for rent, sales tax, etc. Once they give you their price then you can accept or make a lower offer. If you do this be ready to buy. There is nothing worse than a customer that offers to buy and then walks without buying.

Your own appearance can affect price. Example: You go to a flea market wearing expensive jewelry. Some sellers who see this will take advantage and not discount as much. You don't have to look "homeless", just average. Some sellers have no scrupals, beware of them. I always treated my customers with respect and honesty but not all dealers are honest. Dishonesty is a one way, dead end can only do it once. If I'm cheated, that persons gets no more of my business.

If you have questions, just e-mail me. Link for e-mail is on the home page.