Steamer Trunk Refinishing How to

Kimberly Ripley

Antique steamer trunks are vital pieces of history that have made their way into many homes over the years. Whether passed down from a late relative or picked up at an antique shop or fair, their allure is time proof -- but often, their finish isn't. Restoring a steamer trunk isn't difficult, but it can be tedious.

The allure of steamer trunks is time proof, but their finish isn't.

Learn how to preserve the trunk's integrity and to turn the piece into a functional addition to your home.

  1. Use a screwdriver to unfasten and remove any hardware that is on the steamer trunk. The metal around the edges may be brittle, and removing it may damage it. In this case, simply pry the edges of the metal off the surface of the trunk. Gently slip the end of a flat-edge screwdriver under the metal and pry extremely gently to lift the edges of the metal, exposing the surface underneath.

  2. Mask off any leather (strips or handles) on the steamer trunk with painter's tape.

  3. Apply paint remover with a paintbrush or rag and allow it to sit on the finish for the recommended amount of time listed in the manufacturer's instructions. When applying the remover near any metal that has been raised but not removed, try not to get the remover onto the metal. Slip just a little bit underneath the raised edge with a small paint brush or cotton swab.

  4. Use your scraper or putty knife to scrape away any bubbled paint or varnish that has lifted from the steamer trunk. Apply a small amount of paint remover directly onto a cloth and wipe down the areas you scraped. This will help remove any residue that may have been left behind.

  5. Apply stain to the wood with a paintbrush, if you are staining the trunk. Wipe off excess stain with a clean rag. Allow the stain to dry for several hours before applying the polyurethane.

  6. If you prefer to leave the wood as is, simply apply a coat of clear polyurethane once all traces of the paint remover have dried.

  7. Allow 24 hours for the polyurethane to thoroughly dry.

  8. Clean any hardware that has been removed with a rust-removing product. Dry the pieces thoroughly and polish them with a soft cloth. Reattach the hardware. Gently tap the metal edges you have lifted by placing a cloth over the metal and gently tamping down with the butt of a screwdriver.

  9. Remove the painters tape from the leather, and treat it with saddle soap. Massage the saddle soap into the leather and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes. Polish the leather with a soft cloth until it has absorbed all of the saddle soap.