How to Restore a Vintage Steamer Trunk

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DIY Restoring a Vintage Brass Trunk

I’d been searching for a trunk to set at the foot of the bed in my guest room and couldn’t believe it when I found this brass-plated beauty! After a weekend of sanding and sealing the interior and giving the outside a good oiling, it really shines as a unique storage piece!

Wallpaper Lining in an Old, Vintage Chest

Most vintage trunks have musty wallpaper lining the inside. The biggest part of this job was scraping and sanding off the wallpaper. Because I didn’t know what kind of adhesive was used, I wore a mask while removing any of the paper. I’ve seen some DIYs recommend wetting the paper with a spray bottle of water and then using a razor blade scraper, but my trunk’s lining didn’t come off that easily.

I ended up scraping and pulling off what I could and then using a mouse sander and sanding block to remove the rest. After removing every last bit of paper lining, I wiped the entire trunk down with a damp cloth to pick up any remaining sawdust.

Sanding and Removing Wallpaper from a Vintage Trunk

Cleaning and Restoring a Brass-Plated Trunk

I tried a few different items to clean the exterior – after some research I found that my trunk was brass-plated tin, meaning that Brasso was not a good idea (although I used a little bit of Brasso on the hardware with little results). After trying soap and water, I found that mineral oil actually got a good deal of dirt off of the trunk and helped shine it up a little bit.

What to do with the interior is up to debate – some DIYs I found recommended sealing the interior with polyurethane and some DIYs swore against poly and suggested tung oil. I ended up going to polyurethane because I actually wanted to store things in the trunk so I didn’t like the idea of potentially getting excess oil on anything.

Sealed and Restored Brass-Plated Trunk
Polished Brass-Plated Trunk


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