Friday, August 07, 2015

Old Trunk Renovation...

 I've had this old metal trunk for several years.  It's not a family heirloom or anything, but I liked it and bought it from an antique shop basement.  I've used it for a coffee table and for a luggage table for guests, but I've never stored anything in it because it STINKS!  It has that musty, old, stink that just doesn't want to go away no matter what I do.  I've tried kitty litter, baking soda, ground coffee, and although the stink might wane, it never has completely gone away.

Well, for some reason, TODAY I decided this musty, old trunk was going out in the hot prairie sun for a de-stinkafication session.  I read lots of things to deodorize old trunks, some of which I've already tried, but I tried the new-to-me remedy of spraying vodka with clove oil all over in the trunk and then letting it sit in the sun.  Perhaps a week of sunshine would get it there, but just one day didn't.  Frustrated, I decided to do something drastic!

 See the inside of this trunk?  It's wallpapered.  The entire inside has glued-on wallpaper.  Of course, much of it was coming loose, but a LOT of it was well-stuck-down.  I decided one of the best ways to de-stinkify this baby was to take off the wallpaper.  This tray comes out and it's so warped that I may discard it or ask CarpenterSon to make me a something similar.  The rest of the trunk was wallpapered too and so I began.  I thought I could maybe sand it off with my disc sander.  I started with the lid and it went fairly well, but OH my GOODNESS there was a lot of dust -- glue, paper, and wood.  OOoooof!  I didn't think I could do the whole trunk this way so I used a spray bottle and dampened the wallpaper with some water.  Then DIL told me that I should add laundry softener to the water and see if it helped.  I'm not sure if it did or not, but I sprayed a whole lotta water on that paper before it started to loosen.  My trusty 5-in-one paint tool worked great to scrape off the paper.  Still, it was a big job.  Bigger than I anticipated, but that's how these things go, don't you think?

I got the majority of the wallpaper off the interior and figured I'd sand the rest off.  I want to smooth the wood surface down anyway, but for today, this was my stopping point.  I sprayed some Simple Green onto the wood and gave it a wipe with a terry towel just for good measure.  I thought it would be helpful to further de-stink it.  This evening the smell is MUCH better.  I'll let the trunk dry thoroughly.  I moved it into the garage for the night, but I'll set it out in the sun again tomorrow for a deep dry before I sand it down.

The plan is to stain the interior wood with a Danish Oil stain.  No poly finish.  They say that you ought to leave the wood to breathe without sealing it, and for some reason, that makes sense to me.   I may give it a linseed oil rub down too. I'll rub some steel wool over the rusty metal parts and then clean the exterior and oil the wood and leather straps.  I have no intention of changing it or adding new parts.  I like the well-worn, well-used look, but I do want the interior to be stink free so I can store some things in it.

I don't know yet what I'm going to stash in it.  Maybe board games on the bottom and card games on the top tray.  Or maybe some quilts and blankets (depending on the smell).  It would be a fun dress-up trunk too. The Grandies think it's a treasure chest so maybe I should hide some treasure in it!

What kind of treasure would you hide in a trunk?
If you have renovated a smelly, old trunk, do you have any tips?
More to come as the project progresses!


  1. If I managed to get it stink-free I would then try to add some nice smell, just to make sure something doesn't develop when it's closed up again...maybe some cedar wood on the bottom? But I am inexperienced at such things.

  2. It's a lovely trunk and you could try Nok-Out to rid the odor. I have my Great Grandmother's trunk, a bit worse for wear but still in use.

  3. I have a trunk like that in my garage. It was in Ron's family. I keep thinking I am going to restore it too. The tray is gone. Ron's family were from Ireland, and his Grandpa was 89 when he gave it to me. I have had it for 30 years at least. I have it filled with some old quilt tops, that were from Grandpa's Mom. Plus lots of handwork from my grandmothers and great grand mothers and my Mom. I check on it from time to time.
    But it stinks so I still haven't done anything with it.
    I will read and watch closely. :)

  4. That was a lot of work. We've had some old pieces of furniture that don't pass the stink test. I've only tried putting a dryer softener sheet in each drawer to see what happens. A treasure in that chest would be fun to find!

  5. Maybe if you filed the trunk with a whole big bag of cedar chips for a while, you know the kind you buy for pet cages from Wal-Mart? That might absorb some of the musty smell.
    I was thinking that if you allow the grands to play with it, nowadays they recommend a special kind of lid hinge that doesn't let the lid fall down with a slam (and probably allows a trapped kiddo to open it from the inside).
    Your trunk looks like a fun project!
    We have 2 old trunks that we used when we moved overseas once. One is used as a coffee table in the family room. It stores board games in the bottom and card games up top! We purchased them in 1989 so they aren't quite antiques, but they do have a nice well-work look.
    Post a pic when it's all done, it will be fun to see!

  6. I'm glad I'm not the only person that gets sucked into projects like that. I can't wait to find out if you get the smell out. Sounds like a lot of work, but it should be worth it in the end.

  7. For some reason I thought that if you sprayed it with poly it would hold the stink in (contain it). I also thought paint did the same thing? Dianntha

  8. I have an old trunk I use as a bedside table and I store old homeschool papers and other memorabilia I can't bear to part with. But it does stink. I am starting to wonder though, if it might be too much of a hazard with grandchildren. The lid would be like a guillotine if it landed on someone. I may just have to make it difficult to open. Best of luck with your destinking project. I'm too lazy for all that! I might try Dianntha's suggestion though. Sounds quicker. ;)

  9. I would keep my crochet blankets, neatly folded with a LOT of lavender sachets.
    Or use it as Luggage and go on the Orient Express :-)
    I find that baking soda helps with most odors.

  10. I'd store quilts in it, of course! Actually, I've been on the prowl for years for old trunks to store the boys' school papers and art projects in. Then, when they have homes of their own, they take their trunks for their children to go through on rainy afternoons.


  11. Wow Jody, that's a huge job! It looks like you made great progress. I think game storage sounds wonderful. I have a little train case that I use for a sewing case, but it stinks too. I'd love to find some secret elixir - short of ripping the interior fabric out!


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