Vintage Trunk Makeover

I was given this vintage, rusted metal trunk (for free) from one of my co-workers late last summer. He had it sitting around and, knowing him, the challenge this would have presented probably amused him. But I was up for it.

Or so I thought.

It was musty and smelly…

Old Trunk Before

Rusty…Trunk Before

And dirty…Trunk Top Before

Did I mention rusty?

Rusted Trunk

I did? Just making sure…

I started by giving it a good cleaning. To help with the rust, I used a citric acid/water paste. I had the citric acid left over from my soap making days. It’s good to hoard keep things sometimes because it worked better than I imagined.

Citric Acid Cleans Rust
The bottom shows the citric acid treatment

Can you see the difference? I just made a paste with citric acid and water, and scrubbed with a wire brush and steel wool.

Then I tackled the inside. It was…a chore. I may have cried a few tears of frustration. There was a wallpaper type lining in it that wanted to come off in teeny-tiny little pieces, even with multiple vinegar baths. Then I tackled it with multiple course grit sandings…power sanding and hand sanding. It was stubborn…very, very stubborn.

I pulled off the rotting leather straps, gave it another good cleaning and filled the larger dents and holes with Bondo.

Sanded and Stripped Trunk
You can still see the stubborn pieces of lining that wouldn’t come off

Then I primed it with Rust-oleum Rusty Metal Primer so I could start painting.

I’m going to be honest and say this trunk probably has about six layers of paint because I kept trying different colors. I finally decided to use Sweet Pickins Milk Paint in Suitcase…fitting, right?

For the trim I used Rust-oleum Hammered Finish in Brown.

For those of you who have used milk paint, you know it can be…unpredictable. I’d read that before I tried it, but for this piece, I wanted that get-what-you-get unpredictability. The trunk was banged up and I knew a pristine paint finish just wouldn’t mesh with the banged-upped-ness (new word alert).

Sure enough, a few days after the final coat (and even after using Extra Bond on the first two layers) I had the start of a chippy finish.

Chippy Milk Paint

After a few days, I put a coat of wax on it.

I couldn’t decide how to finish the inside. I liked the look of the wood, and I really didn’t want to line it with paper after I experienced first hand how difficult it can be to remove. I was thinking of some future generation DIY-er crying the same tears of frustration.

I considered fabric, but eventually decided to start with a wood stain. I figured I could always change it up later if I didn’t like it.

Here it is, finished (for now)…

Stained Trunk Interior

I still need to replace the handles on the side.

It’s not perfect, and I knew it wouldn’t be, but I think I salvaged a few more years of life for this vintage trunk.

Before and After


4 thoughts on “Rusted Vintage Trunk Makeover

  1. Great info thank you so much. I did t know where to start on mine. Looks very similar to mine. Anxious to get started. Thank you . Rita P

    1. Hi, Rita…thank you so much for the comment! I hope you enjoy the transformation with yours as much as I did with this one…even with that stubborn paper on the inside 🙂

  2. Hi! I bought an old trunk last summer thinking it’s be a good job for me….I have no idea what to do or where to start. So much of trim(?) That line the edges is chipping and gross…how do I take all of it off without ruining it, and how do I replace it. Any advice?

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