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Patrick's treasure N Trunks

I am very excited to have a guest writing this post today. The guest is my younger brother Patrick! Pat has the creative gene just like his older sister! Patrick retired from the US Navy two years ago after serving for 24 years. He made a trunk showcasing memorabilia from his Naval career for his retirement and it was simply amazing. He posted photos of his latest project yesterday on Facebook and the results were stunning! I asked him to write up a post detailing how he created this gem. Enjoy!



I became interested in redoing old trunks when I was getting ready to retire from the Navy and wanted to have a unique retirement shadow box. I really like the look of the old steamer and decorative travel trunks, especially when they are restored or refurbished and thought, “I could do that.” So with a little reading and good ole YouTube videos, I was on my way.

This latest project was for a friend and co-worker who also wanted a unique shadow box and trunk to store her Navy belongings. I found the trunk online and got it for a really good deal at $40.00. It was really dirty and the metal and embossed tin was rusty but overall, the trunk was still pretty sturdy and in good condition. It just needed some good old TLC. I figured that it was made somewhere between 1860 and 1880 based on the type of latch for the lock that was on it.

Front of trunk
Back of the trunk

Top of the trunk
Side of the trunk

In any trunk project like this, the first thing you want to do is start by cleaning the trunk to get the dirt off. A little soap and water and a little Murphy’s Oil Soap usually does the trick. You want to make sure that you do not saturate the wood when cleaning it. Most trunks have a paper liner inside and a majority of them will have the liner peeling off. In order to get the liner off, a good trick is mixing white vinegar and water in a spray bottle and lightly spray the liner and scrape it with a scraper. Be careful not to scrape too hard and damage the wood and also do not saturate the wood. Another trick I found that I like to do is using a Shark steamer and steam the paper liner loose in order to scrape it off. Once you have it all scraped off and the trunk cleaned, let it dry out in order to get any musty smells out of it.

On this trunk, I had to worry about sanding the wood and also cleaning the metal, especially the embossed tin. If the embossed tin is too worn or rusted through or has holes in it, you may want to take it off and let the wood underneath show or replace it with sheet metal or new embossed tin. A majority of the embossed tin patterns are not made any more so unless you have good embossed tin in the same pattern that was scrapped from another trunk, you probably just want to take it down to the wood or replace it with plain sheet metal or a new pattern that is available at a parts company. Speaking of parts, I like to get my parts that I need to try and keep the trunk as authentic as possible at either Brettuns Village at or through Antique-Hardware at Both are great sites for trunk replacement parts.

A lot of the times you may have to take off old parts in order to work on the trunk or some parts need to be replaced such as wood slats and leather handles. Since these old trunks were put together with cinching nails, you need a prying tool (like a small forked pry bar the size of a screwdriver) and a pair of end nippers to take parts off. Cinching nails do just that, they cinch back into the wood to hold the piece on. To take a piece off, you need to gently pry on the nail to a point where you can snip it with the end snippers to remove the nail. You have to be gentle so it does not damage the wood. Any small damaged wood can usually be fixed with wood putty.

When sanding the wood, you want to start out with a 100 or 120 grit sandpaper depending how rough the wood is and work your way up to 220 or more. Cleaning the metal, you can use a soft brass wire brush and gently work on it but do not brush too hard because you will leave marks on the metal pieces. A really fine steel wool will work also. The embossed tin areas will be harder. You can try vinegar to clean the metal. I used a light coating of Naval Jelly to get the rust off and then a very fine steel wool.

When everything was cleaned and sanded, I was ready to paint the metal pieces and stain the wood. I carefully masked off the areas to paint the black areas and the red embossed tin areas. This takes time and patience to carefully mask it off. I used heavy paper, cardboard and a good blue painter’s masking tape when masking off the areas. The painter’s tape doesn’t leave a mess and comes off nicely when you unmask the area after the paint dries.

When painting, I like to use Rustoleum spray paint products. First, I use a good Rustoleum primer. For the black areas, I use either a flat black or semi-gloss spray paint. For this project, I used semi-gloss. For the embossed tin, I used Rustoleum glossy Merlot spray paint. To make the embossed tin to pop more after the merlot color dried completely, I mixed a Valspar chimney smoke color acrylic paint with a glossy clear acrylic glaze that I got a Lowe’s and painted over the merlot colored embossed tin using a foam brush. Then I used a lightly wet sponge and wiped over it so the raised areas of the embossed tin were wiped clean of the chimney smoke color glaze, showing just the merlot color and the recessed areas of the embossed tin had the chimney smoke color glaze over the merlot color to show the depth of the embossed tin. I then used Rustoleum glossy crystal clear spray to seal all of my painted areas.

When staining the wood, I like to use Minwax stain. For this project, I used Minwax Honey color stain for the wood slats and inside of the trunk and Minwax Puritan Pine color for the shadow box. I then used Formby’s Tung Oil Finish to seal and put a shine on the wood. It goes on nicely but you will have to do several coats to start getting a shine on the wood. The more coats, the more it will shine. It would just be your preference.

For the gold metal accent pieces, I used a product called Rub n Buff. It is a cream that you can lightly rub on with a cloth or paint brush and when it dries, you can buff it with a lint free cloth for a shine. It comes in a variety of metal colors. I used Antique Gold for this project.

To put the accessory pieces, replacement wood slats, and leather handles onto the trunk, I used good old fashioned cinching nails just like they did in the past. You can order them at the web sites I mentioned earlier. When cinching nails, you want to use a nail that is ¼ inch longer than the thickness of the area you are nailing into so it can be properly cinched for a good hold. When doing this you want a good hammer and a metal heel which is just a metal block. Some people use a small old fashioned metal flat iron. You just want to make sure that your heel is strong and flat. You place the heel up against the wood where the nail will be coming through and when you hammer the nail, it will hit the heel and cinch into the wood to hold the piece on. You want to be gentle so you do not damage the wood.

Once I had everything finished on the trunk, I made the shadow box out of red oak and stained it with Minwax Puritan Pine stain. The finished project turned out nice and the customer loved it. It turned out to be a very nice display piece.

I hope this information was useful if you are interested in doing a trunk yourself. It is a long, slow, tedious process but the end result is worth it. Happy trunking!

I don't know about you, but to me, THIS is amazing work. Such attention to detail. Just incredible. Thanks to my brother for sharing this with all of you! I hope you enjoyed it.

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