DIY Projects

Building a miniature antique trunk

By now you may have noticed that Dan and I have a thing for refinishing old trunks and collecting antiques. Little did I know that it was already ingrained in my DNA.

Turns out, my Nana has a knack for trunks as well, refinishing a few of her own and stored amongst her house full of old antiques (one of which I’ve already been able to get my hands on – remember that old Singer table we refinished?). My Papa passed away just as Dan and I started dating, and it’s really sad that they were never able to meet. My Nana always points out that the two of them would’ve gotten along so well. Partly because they both share an affinity for carpentry. I still remember the first time I brought Dan into my Nana’s basement, and he got to see the full-on carpenter’s workshop that my Papa left behind. Every tool you could imagine, all hooked up to a self-made venting system. Let’s just say I had a difficult time dragging Dan back upstairs.

It’s a pretty surreal experience when you realize that your following in your grandparents footsteps without ever even knowing it.

And now for this project. Rather than refinishing another trunk, Dan decided he was going to build us a trunk from scratch. Except that this one would be much smaller, with the intent of using it as the card box at our upcoming wedding. Sure, you can buy something similar from a craft store, already pre-built using the finest MDF (yes, that was sarcasm). But wouldn’t it be more fun, and make for a much better conversation piece, to say that we (Dan) built it ourselves?

The majority of the trunk was built using cedar planks. This can be found at Home Depot for a whopping $2.75 per 6 foot piece. I think we needed three for this project.

After cutting the wood to size, Dan then stacked one piece on top of the other, and joined them together using glue and a biscuit joint. So in the end, the trunk would be two cedar pieces high. To give the box a stronger hold on the corners, Dan created box joints. This meant he was able to play with more tools and test out a new jig he made on his router table.


Once all the sides were built and box joints carved in, Dan glued the box together and let it dry, with clamps holding everything in place.

You’ll see from this picture how the box joints all fit together

He built the box with all sides covered, and then once completely dry, he used his table saw to cut the lid off. Just another tool he has lying around in his workshop.

Don’t mind the wood glue drip!

Now that the box was built, it was time to add in the detail. An antique trunk would be nothing without its metal accents, so of course, we had to include those. Dan used tin, which is somewhat easy to cut and mend. This was used for the outer corners of the trunk. After fastening it down with rivets, the metal was painted all black.

Most trunks also have wooden accent strips, giving it a bit of dimension. Dan used pine for this, which has a different tone and wood grain to it, helping it to stand out against cedar base.

With the trunk was (mostly) complete, it was time to add a few layers of poly. Surprise surprise, this guy was not getting stained. We wanted to keep the natural look of an old cedar trunk, so a little bit of shine is all it would need.

And now, just a few more details before the trunk was complete. Because we’ll be using this for our wedding, Dan cut a small slit into the top where cards can be dropped into. He also added hinges to the back, and a lock to the front. The final touch was adding leather handles. He creatively did this by cutting up an old black belt and fastening to either side of the trunk. It’s now a true replica of a full-sized antique trunk.

The finished product
Close up of Dan’s old belt in action
And another close-up on the lock

Little by little, Dan’s becoming more and more of the carpenter that my Papa was. And soon enough, he’ll have just as many tools to match.


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