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How to make a steamer trunk

You can expect to pay a small fortune for a vintage or reproduction steamer trunk, but why buy one when you can make your own for a fraction of the cost. I have always wanted to try this as a project and finally found the time to do it. In this project I will show you how to make the steamer trunk and will follow on in the near future as to adding decoration to reproduce a vintage steamer trunk yourself.


Step 1
The first step was the make the box part of the trunk. For this you will need to make a rectangular shape with 2 long sections for the front and back, and 2 short sections for the sides. The front and back are screwed into the sides.

Make drilling easier by using one of the sides to draw a line at each end of the front and back. When you drill pilot holes, drill in the centre of the marked guide.

Place the front and back sections together so that you can drill pilot holes in both at the same time. Countersink all pilot holes.

Step 2
With the box frame on a flat, level surface, insert the bottom. Drill pilot holes through the front, back and sides and countersink before screwing into place.

Step 3
I had all my 3mm masonite strips cut to the exact length needed. The strips are glued onto the front, sides and back with wood glue. You will notice that there are no feet on the box and I should have attached these before gluing on the strips - put your feet on first before attaching the strips!

Step 4
See my comments above about attaching the feet before you glue on the strips. The feet are two blocks of PG Bison SupaWood cut to size and then glued and screwed to the base. Countersink the screw hole so that it won't stick out and scratch flooring. This is what the front of my box looks like after gluing on all the strips.

Step 5
The top is a bit tricky but not really difficult. I cut three curved sections to give the lid of the steamer trunk its shape.

Don't make these too high - you only need a slight curve.

Step 6
The curved strips were glued to the top of the lid and once the glue was dry I also screwed from underneath the lid to ensure there were secure for the next step.

Step 7
My apologies for not taking a photo of this step, but the strips are glued onto the top and I also used panel pins and a hammer to drive the pins in to keep the strips in place. Also - for some reason my lid was a bit too narrow (I measured wrong somewhere along the way) and I added a quarter-round pine strip to the front and back edge, which was glued and hammered in place with panel pins. Having said that, I really like the look that it gives to the chest - more detail. So when measuring up for your steamer trunk, allow a gap at the front and back of the lid for a quarter-round strip of pine.

Step 8
Once the glue had dried I used my Dremel MultiMax to sand the sharp edges smooth.

Step 9
The lid is attached to the box with a piano hinge. Make sure you put the hinge on the right way - it's so easy to get it wrong!

This is the steamer trunk - almost finished - with the quarter-round trim attached. It looks a bit rough around the edges, but bear in mind that once finished it will look bashed up and vintage, so don't stress too much about making it perfect.

Step 10
I painted the entire outside with two coats of Prominent Paints matt cream and then applied Rust-Oleum - vintage red - to the raised strips. Use an artist's paint brush to get into nooks and crannies and then finish off with a foam roller for a smooth finish.

Step 11
After applying a small amount of paint, I used a scrunched up plastic bag to dab over the just-painted area. This will give the paint a leather-look, which is just what we want it to look like. Here's a close up of what the paint looks like after it has been dabbed with the plastic bag. It really does look like leather.

Step 12
This is where the fun begins! It's time to age the steamer trunk so that it looks like the genuine article. I applied Rust-Oleum antique top coat to the red paint - dabbing with the plastic bag again - and also to the frames. With the frames, have a slightly damp cloth handy so that you can wipe the centre clean after painting. You only want the effect around the edge of the frame.

The paint effect is now complete and all that's left is to shop around for some hinges, buckles and straps to add to the finished look. I will be updating this page in the near future to show what the finished steamer trunk looks like, but you get the idea. You can paint it any colour, or stain it instead for a wood effect, age it as much as you like, and even change the shape. The next steamer trunk I make will have a flat top, so that I can use it as a table.


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