Brettuns Village Trunk Shop

Removing Old Parts and Attaching Parts to your Antique Trunk

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Brettuns Village Trunk Shop

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Before you can nail on those nice leather handles, you'll probably have to remove some old parts. Be very careful when you do this. There's a right way and a not-so-right way. If you just yank out the old nails by the heads you'll bring lots of wood pieces out at the same time. Pry out the ends from inside the trunk, then tap them out gently. If you mess up the wood we'll notice it when you invite us over for a cup of joe, and we'll just have to rib you about it. Read the rest of this page before you make a big mess of things. Also, a quick note to those of you who decide that the correct way to go about this trunk rehab project is to remove each and every part from the trunk so that you can, well, we're not really sure what you plan to do but one thing's for sure, you're going to dismantle the entire thing. Please keep the following in mind: Removing parts is very tough on the wood, and then you have to get your new nails to go back through the same holes they were in before, but since you yanked them out the old nail holes now look like the Holland Tunnel and you wonder when the state will build a tollbooth in front of each and every one of them. Best to leave the parts in place to the greatest extent possible. Still, some things just flat out have to be removed, like those things that hold the handles in place. Here's what you need to know:

Removing Old Handles and Parts

This can be a delicate operation - you need to get the old trunk handle end caps off, then the left over ends of the old leather handles as well. Curses! Those old nails are really stuck in there! It's time to get your hands on some tools. There are two basic trunk tools that you can't be without if you're going to succeed in funding your retirement by fixing up smelly old things (trunks, not the Widow Pontbriand cross town).

First essential tool is a good pair of end nippers. These are sort of like pliers, only they have wide cutting edges on them that allow you to get right in close to the wood of the trunk. Handy for cutting off old nail heads or ends, and especially handy for getting a grip on old nail heads and yanking them out.

Second essential tool is a good prying tool. Don't let me catch you with a crowbar anywhere near that trunk, not even a miniature crowbar. Might as well run your trunk through the chipper if that's the tool you plan on using. Nope, you need a prying tool. Has a handle like a screwdriver, and a little forked end just right for lifting end caps, nail heads, etc right out of the trunk. Around the shop we call this gem a Tack Jacker. Do we sell these tools? Of course we do. Click here.

Here are the two in action:

How to remove trunk nails Removing nails from an antique trunk Tools for working on antique trunks

These tools are available online through our our Parts pages

Lift up the nail heads with the Tack Jacker, use the nips to roll the nail out. Sometimes it can be helpful to snip off the end of the nail inside the trunk, if you can get to it. Be careful to avoid damaging the wood. Place an old piece of trunk tin or that Nevada license plate you've had nailed to the garage wall (for no good reason) under your tools as you work them around the nails; helps protect the wood. Remove the handle end caps, then remove the handles themselves. They usually have a whole pile of nails holding them on, so that when you remove the nails and handle ends it looks like you're holding a weird leather bug with steel legs. Toss that thing in front of the hired hand next time they're loading hay on the wagon; they'll swear it's a poisonous creature. You'll have to pick em up next day over to Pinkham Notch.

That covers "Out with the Old", so let's move on to "In With the New"...

Attaching Parts

Trunk parts come in all shapes and sizes, just like trunks. We'll have to generalize here, so if the description below doesn't help you, then send us an e-mail.

To attach parts to your trunk you need a couple of things. First, a good hammer. Nice and heavy. Second, you need a heel. Not your brother-in-law; a nailing heel, which is just a big hunk of flat metal. Auto bodywork shops use heels. You can buy one at an auto parts store. Or use an old flatiron or the head of an ax - they work quite well. Third, you need square-shank nails in a length that's longer than the total thickness that you're driving through. Longer? Yes, longer. See what's coming here? With the part in one hand, the hammer in your other, and the tack in your third hand, and the heel on the other side of the trunk with your fourth hand, take a whack at it. Not too hard of a whack, please. Just tap at it. Tap Tap Tap.

In theory, the nail goes through the wood and contacts the heel. At that point, the tip of the nail bends around and goes back into the wood. This gives the nail tremendous holding power. In practice, however, when you take your first whack, the heel drops out of your hand, the tack zips across the barn and hits the goat, the part rolls under the hay wagon, and the hammer falls on your foot. Then the phone starts ringing, and Aunt Persus can't figure out why you hollered at her when all she did was call to say hello and see if your rhubarb was showing yet. You'll get it, eventually.

A few words about the use of wood screws on your trunk. Very few words: "Don't Do It!" By using screws on an old trunk you not only destroy the historical value of the piece, but you leave yourself wide open to public humiliation. Worse than that, you'll violate the "Brettuns Village Law of Death Before Use of Screws" mandate that was handed down by Congress a long time ago. This important piece of legislation includes penalties in the six figures, and rare torture provisions.

Rules of thumb (which is odd, since usually most trunk repairers smash both thumbs clean off while working on replacing the old leather handles):

  • Nails should be at least 1/4" longer than the TOTAL thickness of the stuff you're nailing through, so that they clinch over properly. Wood, leather, metal parts - add it all up and then add 1/4"
  • Example: For nailing through parts/boards that add up to 3/4" thick, you need 1" nails.
  • Tapping works a lot better than full force whacking. Just let your hammer tap against the nail head, hold the heel LOOSELY against the wood inside so that it bounces with every tap, and you'll feel it make its way through the wood.
  • When you do this correctly it should almost sound like there's a tap dancing lesson going on inside your garage.
  • To replace a pair of handles and end caps requires about 20 nails.
  • Replacing a lock requires about 10 nails.
  • Replacing the lid stay requires two nails.
  • Use cut trunk nails from Brettuns Village - very convenient - click here.

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