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Cleaning/restoring vintage tin humpback trunk

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Q. Hi Trisha - your trunk looks identical to one I have.
How did you remove rust and clean without damaging the copper finish?
Tanya Landon
- Hillsboro, Oregon
November 20, 2022

A. I tried so many different things. The rust was thick enough that after a good cleaning, I actually used a wire brush and 00 steel wool [on eBay or Amazon] and did the best I could. The only place that it took off the finish was on top and I think it was already rubbed off to begin with there. My biggest issue is that it would start rusting again after anything I did. It would be gone and then back the next day. I used WD-40 [on eBay or Amazon] to try and slow that process down.
Trisha Loudermilk
- Pittsburg, Kansas

A. Hi. Bare, clean metal will rust or oxidize extremely quickly. It needs wax, or preferably a clear coat.
adv.: Protectaclear from Everbrite [a supporting advertiser] is a thin, hard, clear coat used on jewelry, and should work well for this.
Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

⇩ Closely related postings, oldest first ⇩

Q. I am looking to remove rust that is very thin but consistent over the entire area of embossed tin on my 100 year old Humpback Trunk. Using 00 steel wool [on eBay or Amazon] is removing also the black paint that's on the higher part of the embossing. How can I do this without hurting the paint or the trunks wood?

Thanks Much!
John Reycraft
- Northridge, California

Q. I have the exact same question as this person.

I really want to refinish this trunk myself, but don't want to mess it up. My trunk is covered in tin, and wooden slats which also need cleaning. The hinges are lovely/unique, but need cleaning also. I just don't want to mess this up..and then there are thick leather handles on the sides which are mostly dried out..The truck is 120 years old...
Diane Hutchins
- Fairfax, Virginia

Q. I too have a tin covered flat top trunk that needs to be cleaned of rust. It appears to have black paint but has a lot of white spots on it.

Any help would be greatly appreciated....
Brenda Johnson
- Odessa, Texas

A. One of my co-workers was asking me this question as well. I suggested to use naval jelly [on eBay or Amazon] and super fine #0000 steel wool [on eBay or Amazon]. I will find out the results from my coworker and post another reply soon.
- MADELIA, Minnesota

A. In response to the rust on the tin of the black trunk. I also have the same problem and I really think it depends on the amount of rust which is on the trunk. I am in the stages of restoring an old trunk myself and have taken some ideas off the net. One idea was to use steel wool [on eBay or Amazon]; however, if the rust is really bad, then use a wire wheel on an electric drill. I decided to use a wire wheel and it would seem that the rust went all the way through the tin. Now I have to either patch or replace the tin. I think that I'm going to replace the tin as most of the entire top is rusted.
Kevin Brown
- Chatham, Ontario, Canada

A. In response to the question of finishing the metal trunk, I am also refinishing a humpback metal trunk and have found that the best way so far to remove rust is to use vinegar [in bulk on eBay or Amazon] and steel wool, and used 220 sandpaper (wet) on it. I like the look of leaving it distressed with some discolor of the old tin, to make it more vintage looking, not shiny. I plan on sanding the wood strips on it and putting some darker stain on them. Has anyone done a tin trunk this way? Any suggestions on what to put on the tin without making it shiny looking? Wax? Boiled linseed oil? What do you suggest?
Lynne Meinke
hobbyist, retired - Northern California
March 4, 2022

Museum Waxes

on eBay or


(affil links)

A. Actually, I am working on my 1st trunk now. And have tried everything that you did. However, the best thing that has worked for me is using my drill with nylon drill brush 80 grit or better. And it worked like a charm on the tin and the steal on all of the corners too!
Melanie Chiappone
- Manchester, New Jersey
July 8, 2022

A. Try Renaissance Wax ... Hope it helps and good luck!
Goran Budija
- Cerovski Vrh Croatia

thumbs up sign Here are the photos of the before & after.

16032-2b   16032-2a  

I researched for hours what to do with my tin humpback trunk that needed refinishing. Finally, I decided I didn't want it to be all shiny like a new trunk. So, I enhanced the already vintage look by sanding it with fine sandpaper and steel wool. I put an oil base stain on the wood ribbing, and good furniture wax on the tin. I think it turned out great and I was very happy with the results.
Lynne Meinke [returning]
- Redding, California
July 18, 2022

Q. Here is my trunk I was gifted. My dad said to clean and restore. I clarified with him and he doesn't want me to sand the wood, repaint or stain anything, so I am working on cleaning without being able to do anything after. I am making progress, but I am trying to find the best way to get the rust off the embossed copper tin without removing the copper paint/coating that is on it.

16032-3a   16032-3b   16032-3c   16032-3d  

I DO want the tin to shine there, but where it is painted black, I just need it to be clean. Any thoughts would be appreciated as well.
Trisha Loudermilk
- Kansas
September 9, 2022

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