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If there is such a thing in the trunk refinishing business

Most trunks have some metal exposed somewhere - thin black metal around corners, heavy steel corners, latches, hasps, and shoulders, brass locks and nails, and pressed or flat tin which was used to cover the pine boards beneath and add a decorative touch.  If you have an old trunk that shows signs of rust on the steel or tin parts, or has heavy corrosion on the brass parts, you've got some work ahead of you.  Right up front let's get one thing straight - brass gets the red carpet treatment, using kid gloves, and steel or tin parts get beaten senseless.  Simple Yankee ingenuity at play here.  Brass is soft, steel and tin are harder.

**We interrupt this broadacast to bring you some vital safety information that may keep you from turning into a number-than-a-stump garage refinisher***  PLEASE assume that any and all paint you see on your trunk is lead-based paint.  Yes, lead, rhymes with head, and is a toxic metal that will turn your brain into cottage cheese and make your eyes shrivel up and your fingers curl and your teeth turn green just before they fall out.  Lead-based paint is potentially harmful - protect yourself, those around you, and your property in accordance with sound safety practices.  Respirators, disposable clothing, gloves, safety glasses/goggles, etc are all required  for this type of work.  Don't mess around with your health!**  We now return you to your regularly scheduled drivel reading:


Some trunks have quite a bit of brass on them.  Most trunks do not.  Sorry, but that's how it is.  Check out the heads of the nails on your trunk, along with the lock and any other pieces that have a little gold color showing.  Use a piece of fine steel wool (not your pot scrubber) available from the local farm or hardware store, and rub away on some of these pieces.  You'll know pretty quickly if you have brass there.  Polish it right up.

I can't help but say something about the fairly common - but highly objectionable - practice of buying brass or gold-colored paint and rubbing it on every metal piece on your trunk.  You might think it looks great, but you won't be fooling anybody, and it certainly didn't look that way originally.  If you like that look, go ahead and do it.  It's your house, I suppose.  Just don't tell us about it.  Jeezum crow.


Roll up your sleeves, Flossie, you've got a big job coming up.  Rust must be treated seriously if you want your refinished trunk to last more than a few years.  Of course, if you don't mind refinishing it every couple of years, that's your business.  We like to do them once.  You should get rid of all the rust, right here and now.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the rust war.  Call them, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, and Brute Force or Bust.

The slow and steady approach involves the use of steel wool, maybe a wire brush, and several hours of rubbing in circular motions.  The rubbing is done by a professional masseuse, on your sore muscles.  You'll be grinding that steel wool back and forth over the rust for hours and days on end,  bringing forth shiny metal for all the world to see.  When you're done you'll wish you could just take off your arms and send them out for repair.  For all the labor, however, I have to say that the payoff is in the beautiful results.  You'll have a nicely shined-up trunk, and all of the wood slats and softer parts, such as brass, will be in good condition.  Most of our customers prefer their trunks get the steel wool treatment.  We don't blame them.

The brute force technique requires a lot less time, but has the potential to really mess up your trunk.  That's why we included the "or bust" part in the name.  For this technique you need an electric drill, a circular wire brush that fits in the drill, an extension cord, a dust mask, ear plugs, eye protection, and a second dust mask.  You see where I'm headed here, I'll bet.  Suit up in your protective armor, put the wire brush in the drill, plug it all in, brace your feet, address your trunk, and touch the brush to the metal on the trunk.

Tools for working on antique trunks
In the hands of the skilled master this is a delicate instrument of restoration.
For the amateur it's a weapon of mass destruction.
Next, when the dust cloud clears, take your protective eyeglasses out of your ear, spit the earplugs out of your mouth, try to get your leg off the now-sparking extension cord that broke in half, untangle the barn cat from the rest of the cord, and go look for your drill in the dooryard.  Your boots are around here somewhere.  See, you pressed down too hard.  This next time, take it a little easier.  Go as lightly on the brush as you can, and try to keep it on the metal parts only.  Those wire brushes will eat through oak slats like green corn through the new maid.

One of our website visitors, Layne Carlson, offers the following tip, which we loved:  "I've found that using a Dremel with the small wire brush attachment is much better than the drill and brush method. We tried the drill and found that it would really eat away at the trunk and take off any finish the metal had as well as the rust. The wire brush attachment is much softer and so more gentle as well as much smaller so that you can get into the details without getting the wood in the process."  Thanks, Layne.  One of these days maybe I'll get a Dremel for my birthday - I've wanted one since I was about 10 years old!

Probably the best approach for you is to experiment a little.  Wire brush the heavy rust first, then use steel wool to finish up.  Steel wool any brass, the slats, and other wood as well.

Like so: Refinishing steps for antique trunks
No rust left on the metal.  No wire brush marks on the slats, either.  Watch my arm break off from all this patting-myself-on-the-back.

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