Personal Projects #1: Steamer Trunk ~ Blanket Chest

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Blog entry by John Smith posted 04-29-2018 08:14 PM 1867 reads 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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A few years ago, my 8yo granddaughter saw an antique steamer trunk at a yard sale and fell in love with it.
Going through school, she learned that that style of trunk was used back in the days before airplane travel
was common and people traveled on cruise ships such as the Queen Mary (and the Titanic).
for their vacations that could last up to 6 months or more. So they carried everything neatly packed in large wooden trunks. Upon her research, she learned that the rounded top was to prevent other trunks from being stacked on top of theirs. This style had several names such as dome, turtle back, camel back, etc.
So – fast forward to today, she is going on 14 years old and is just a joy to be around. Nobody knows about this project but my wife and you guys that I have been building her a trunk for the past two months in my spare time.
It is 36” wide, 17” deep and 27” tall. Building the “box” was pretty straight forward ~ the time consuming part was looking at hours and hours of steamer trunk photos on the internet. Finally putting the final design together and finding and collecting all the ornamental metal parts from different sources.
I did not have any written plans to go by (only google photos) – it is all scratch built by the seat-of-my-pants.
The box is 1/2” birch plywood. I purchased the Red Oak banding through the Big Box Stores. It is 1/4 ” thick and cut to 2-1/4” wide which was the trunk industry standard for all the hardware in that era.
I grooved each board on the router table as per the original examples I found.
Through trial and error (lots of errors), I steam bent the top five straps in my cooker one at a time because I had only one caul to clamp it. It was steamed for 45 minutes @ 225* and worked well. It sat in the clamped caul over night then the next day, on to the next one. (there was no hurry, so I did one a day).
The 5 bent straps were stored bent in a fixed frame until needed.
I fiberglassed the top of the lid to (potentially) keep a bunch of teenagers from breaking it while jumping on it.
The black leather upholstery vinyl and interior fabric came from JoAnn Fabrics. The figured tin top and all the strap clamps came from different sources found on the internet. It is not finished as I keep seeing an empty space for “one more ornament“. (you gotta learn “when to say when”).
All the hardware and fasteners were washed in an acetone bath then painted with Rust-Oleum “Hammered Silver” spray paint. the oak straps were stained with Golden Oak and the box was a mix of whatever stain I had on hand the finish is brushed with (against my grain) MW satin poly. ( I want it to darken with age).
My plan is to give it to my granddaughter in June for her birthday.
[I should be pretty much done with it by then].
Now – my new wife wants one !!!!! But, not as big and no stain and all natural wood and not so much “bling”. (plain and simple). But, the way I see it, is with several different species of wood for accents. And all the hardware will be painted antique hammered brass. (gold color).
The reason the parts have to be painted is that some of them only come in bare metal, some come brass plated, and some only antique bronze and some came used from ebay plain steel painted black.
So to make it all match, I painted all the hardware and screws to match.

Thank you for looking at my project !



-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

9 comments so far

View Kelster58's profile


759 posts in 1516 days

#1 posted 04-29-2018 11:20 PM

That is an AWESOME project and a great gift. I am sure your granddaughter will treasure this for years to come. As many of these steamer trunks have, this piece looks like it will be handed down for several generations. GREAT Job!!

-- K. Stone “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

View Redoak49's profile


5026 posts in 2964 days

#2 posted 04-29-2018 11:20 PM

Well done !

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17132 posts in 3594 days

#3 posted 04-30-2018 03:02 AM

Beautiful work, John!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4321 posts in 4085 days

#4 posted 04-30-2018 03:46 AM

Crazy cool! Your grand daughter should love it. BTW, best steamer EVER! :D

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Kaleb the Swede's profile

Kaleb the Swede

1980 posts in 2945 days

#5 posted 04-30-2018 12:00 PM

Mr. Smith, that is a beautiful project. Well done. I’m sure she loves it

-- Just trying to build something beautiful

View Bobsboxes's profile (online now)


1479 posts in 3640 days

#6 posted 05-01-2018 01:47 AM

Real nice chest, lots of details. Granddaughter will be very happy.

-- Bob in Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View ocean's profile


225 posts in 1809 days

#7 posted 05-05-2018 01:19 AM

Beautiful! Just like the originals with cedar bottom tray. Great job. Also like your steamer. What ever gets the job done.

-- Bob, FL Keys

View grunenberg's profile


24 posts in 966 days

#8 posted 10-20-2020 01:16 PM

That came came out great. I bet she loved (and still does) it

-- How hard could it be?

View Ocelot's profile


2814 posts in 3614 days

#9 posted 10-21-2020 03:35 PM

If she didn’t know it already, she’ll know that grandaddy loves her!

That should really light her up.


-- I intended to be a woodworker, but turned into a tool and lumber collector.

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