How to Refinish an Old Wood Trunk

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Things You'll Need

  • Lacquer thinner

  • Metal polish

  • Screwdriver

  • Wood filler and putty knife

  • Medium- and light-grade sandpaper and a cloth

  • Steel wool (00 gauge)

  • Wood stain and sponges

  • Primer, paint, brushes

  • Polyurethane


Before refinishing the trunk, tape off any metal accents or hardware that you do not remove.


Apply any paint or stain product in a well-ventilated area.

Refinishing an old wood trunk is a simple project that can transform an eyesore into an attractive piece of furniture. Bring out the beauty of the wood with stain, or make a design statement with color and paint. Refinishing and refurbishing old furniture is an eco-friendly and cost-effective way to decorate your home.

Step 1

Remove the hardware from your old wood trunk, place it in a pan or a cup and pour lacquer thinner over it. Brush the hardware with a paint brush, rinse it thoroughly and dry it with a soft cloth. Clean and polish the hardware with a metal polish, and then buff it with a soft cloth to remove the polish and bring out the shine.

Step 2

Repair any imperfections inside or outside the trunk with wood filler. Press the filler into the gouge or scratch in the surface of the wood. Let it dry and harden.

Step 3

Sand the wood inside and outside the trunk with medium-grade sandpaper. Remove the sanding debris and then sand the trunk with light-grade sandpaper. Remove the sanding debris thoroughly with a damp cloth.

Step 4

Refinish the trunk with a coat of stain or a coat of primer on the wood surfaces. Let it dry completely according to the manufacturer's instructions. You can choose to refinish the inside with stain or paint, or simply add a coat of polyurethane for protection.

Step 5

Lightly sand the stained wood surfaces with steel wool. Remove all of the sanding debris and apply another coat of stain. If you put primer on the trunk, apply paint directly on top of the primer; sanding is not necessary. Refinish the trunk with as many coats as you need to reach your desired finish. Let the material dry between each coat.

Step 6

Apply a layer of polyurethane to the stained or painted surface of the trunk. Polyurethane will protect the wood from moisture and stains. Let the first coat dry and apply another coat.

Step 7

Reassemble the hardware on the trunk.

references & resources

Katherine Kally

Katherine Kally is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly home-improvement projects, practical craft ideas and cost-effective decorating solutions. Kally's work has been featured on sites across the Web. She holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of South Carolina and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.