The one that started it all

Dan and I have always been sort of old souls, never really conforming to the “ideals” of our generation. Unique and different in our own fun-loving way, finding happiness in the simple things that only we really understood. We quickly found that not many people really “get us,” but we found out even quicker that we really didn’t care.


We started spending weekends rummaging through old antique shops, knowing full-well that we had yet to secure a place to put all of our treasures (aside from my parents garage and basement). Antique after antique began to inspire us on what our future home would look like, and what future projects we could take on (“refinish this”, “stain that”, “oh, this would look great in a dining room”). Our ideas kept flowing and we started to paint without yet having a canvas.


Low and behold, a visit to good old Uncle Chuck’s house would be the starting point for it all. As an estate seller, he was always bringing items home and collecting extra furniture for the family. We stumbled upon an old trunk in the corner of his garage, which he was more than happy to get rid of. “How much, Uncle Chuck?” His response, “Free.” We were sold.


Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. We proudly brought the trunk home (after having a hard time squeezing it into my car, which I thought was a whole lot bigger). and looked it over…a little rough on the outside (“needs a little bit of sanding”) and the inside was covered in paint and wallpaper (“that’ll scrape out in no time”).


[Image of original trunk]


Dan wrote a four-day plan for getting our project done:

  1. Strip
  2. Sand
  3. Stain
  4. Poly


Four days is all it would take to complete our first masterpiece. Or so we thought.


“Day 1”

You can see what we started out with – blue paint and purple checkered wall paper. How bad could it be? So we bought a couple razor blades and went to work.


Its safe to say that scraping alone took up more than four days. A few nights and weekends were spent in the backyard scraping out the trunk, and after what felt like forever, the caked on wallpaper was gone. There were also pieces of old canvas on the outside that would have covered the entire trunk. With most of it already ripped, Dan used a razor blade to cut off the remaining pieces and make sure no little strings were peaking out from under the wood, where it would’ve been originally attached. A little attention to detail, a lot of scraping, and we were on to “Day 2.”


[Images after scraping]


“Day 2”

Sanding! “With an electric sander and a bit of elbow grease, we’ll be done in no time.” Ha! Okay… I’ll admit, it wasn’t difficult. Just time consuming – probably the most time consuming part of the process. As you can see, the strips on the outside of the trunk were painted black and there were a lot of dark spots on the wood that needed some attention.


We started with electric sanders – yes, more than one – which helped to get the majority of discoloration out (mostly by taking off layers and layers of wood until it was finally down to the grain). A few rounds of sanding blocks, and a few 2-hour sessions, later, and that beauty was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The metal accents also needed some attention, as they were pretty rusted over. Nothing more than steel wool (and a bit more elbow grease) to chop away at what was there. Now, this trunk didn’t come in perfect condition, so you may notice some of the rust has actually eaten away at the metal. Rather than replacing the entire section, we decided to leave it and let that add to the charm of this antique piece. Here’s what it looked like after sanding.


[Images after sanding]


And we were on to “Day 3”

Stain! Or what I like to call – the fun part. Fun because this is when we got to see our trunk come to life. But before we could do that, we started with wood conditioner, which helps the stain soak into the wood and apply evenly (or so Dan said, because he did most of the research and has been my teacher throughout all of our projects). While wood conditioner is supposed to go on clear, we found that it was tinting our wood a bit, adding a red tone to it. We’re still not sure why, but once we added the stain, it actually turned out to be a great color.


We went with a medium-tone Honey stain, which really popped against the newly painted metal.


[Image after staining]

“Day 4”

Time to poly and really make this sucker shine. By the time we were ready to poly, the weather had turned and we were forced into my basement. While my parents weren’t too happy with the smell, they can’t argue that it didn’t come out great. We broke the trunk out into sections (outside, lid, inside) and over the course of a week or two added three layers of poly. Again, time consuming (mostly because of “dry time”), but not too difficult.


“Day 4.5” Completing the look

I almost forgot to mention one of the coolest parts of our refinished trunk. When we first got it, one of the leather handles was broken off, while the other was still in-tact. We wanted to add them back on and make them look as original as possible. So we drilled a few holes, leveled off the trunk, and secured the leather straps (which Dan found on eBay) in place. Dan also found fish scale covers to add over each nail hole for extra support. We painted those black, finished them with poly, and added them to complete the look.

[Image of straps]

We also replaced the hinge on the inside of the trunk to make it fully functional (i.e. ensuring the lid wouldn’t fall on our heads every time we opened it).


And waalllahhh! The finished product. Our first project together, and many more to come.


[Finished image]


Since this was our first project, it also meant that it was my first time working with electric sanders, stain, poly, etc. Its safe to say that mistakes were made along the way (mostly by me). No more than a few nicks with the sander, black paint on the wood, and bubbles of poly (all of which Dan came to the rescue and fixed). =)


Anyways – we’re super happy with how it turned out and currently have a pile of other projects in my parent’s garage and basement that we’re working on. More to come!

PS. While the original intent of this trunk was to hold linens in our yet-to-be-determined home, Dan’s mom had another idea. Its currently sitting at her house, filled to the brim with household gifts that we’ll need one day (hopefully soon). She’s truly bringing life to the meaning of a hope chest, a concept I wasn’t familiar with until I met Dan (and one that I am very grateful for!).

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