Camelback Trunk restoration

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Project by jasonborthwick posted 11-12-2017 06:02 AM 2361 views 2 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The Project was the restoration of a mid 1800s camelback trunk. It was a 20 hr project with cleaning, metal repair, woodworking, painting, leather , upholstery work and fabrication of replacement parts. This was the second trunk I have restored so the learning curve was way better. Please take the time to restore one of these if you get the chance. The process will give you an in depth knowledge of construction methods before modern fasteners and the craftsmanship displayed during that ime period. The trunk was plain when I received it so diamond panels were added to the front to give contrast to the overall look.

Materials used in the restoraton:
Black gloss paint, boiled linseed oil, and furniture wax used in he restoration. Tray was fabricated from 1×6x8 pine board, and covered with two types of fabric.

Please give feedbackor any good or bad experiences you have had restoring trunks.

Thanks for looking.

10 comments so far

View BurlyBob's profile


7590 posts in 3035 days

#1 posted 11-12-2017 06:16 AM

Absolutely fantastic in everyway possible!

View Viking's profile


882 posts in 3965 days

#2 posted 11-12-2017 03:07 PM

Nice restore Jason. I did one, very similar to yours, back in early 1970’s. Painted mine satin black and then painted all the metal trim pieces and latches with brass paint. I’ll have to take some pictures some day. I still need to build a tray for mine.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3637 days

#3 posted 11-12-2017 04:51 PM

This is a beautiful restoration of this trunk. Nice work!

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View dalepage's profile


387 posts in 1611 days

#4 posted 11-13-2017 01:09 AM

Thanks so much for the post. I have an old trunk to restore and you have prompted me to do it.

Any pitfalls to avoid before I begin?

-- Dale

View swirt's profile (online now)


5220 posts in 3742 days

#5 posted 11-13-2017 02:31 AM

I have an old camel back trunk like that (yours seems more ornate) that my wife’s grandmother had when she immigrated from Europe. It’s in pretty bad shape, but I have been afraid to touch it and ruin it (I would never live that one down). What is the secret to getting the iron cladding off it without resorting to a pry bar?

-- Galootish log blog,

View jasonborthwick's profile


121 posts in 2409 days

#6 posted 11-13-2017 04:42 AM

Thanks for the nice comments everyone.

Dale page and Swirt this is the second trunk I have done. Please see the prior one for painting tips a reader left and a couple of great parts resources and how-to guides I found.

Also Swirt I added some of the metal details to make the trunk more ornate. Both trunks will be displayed as decor in homes. I found tin tiles and cut them to fit the front of the case between the wood slats. I painted them and burnished the points off the diamond shapes to give contrast in color. The diamonds were added to tie the outside look to the diamond fabric used on the inside.

As for pitfalls, one of the major things is to keep in mind the order of steps to restore. (See the forest not just the trees)

I.E. How will this step affect the next step and the finished product. One issue that I created was to prep the metal for paint and tape the wood off instead of sand wood and metal, finish and tape wood, then paint. I taped wood, painted, sanded and finished wood, retaped and repainted. Due to the sanding scratches on the freshly painted metal.

Finish everything exterior before doing anything inside. Do the fabric work outside the shop if possible. (Make wife stiff drink if using dining room table)
Only remove any hardware you can’t work on while it’s installed on the on the case. There were no screws back then. It is held together by cinch nails. If you remove them you have to reinstall them in the same manner as the original. I also filled all holes and redrilled for the replacements to create better mechanical hold.
To stabilize the entire case I made panels out of 1/8 plywood and poster board then covered in fabric and used quick grab and upholstery tacks to install. Covered all seams with alternate fabric color for contrast.

The best tools I found are a tack puller, small brass hammer, grinder, cats paw, pick tools, and small files. The best way to get under the metal parts without destroying is to try to clip the cinched end of the nail from the inside or hammer he nail out enough to get to it with various tools from outside.

Viking, I bet that restore was great. I made the trays from scratch on both restorations I did. It should be a good weekend project.

Have fun on your upcoming projects. If you need anything let me know. That what this place is for.

View Ivan's profile


15950 posts in 3637 days

#7 posted 11-13-2017 07:37 AM

Very impressive trunk and restauration project!

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View DaleMaley's profile


516 posts in 3006 days

#8 posted 11-14-2017 12:52 PM

Nice Job!

-- Dale, Illinois,

View swirt's profile (online now)


5220 posts in 3742 days

#9 posted 11-18-2017 11:26 PM

Jasonborthwick. Thank you for the follow-up on my question. That was all VERY helpful.

-- Galootish log blog,

View woodworkfkdn's profile


296 posts in 275 days

#10 posted 10-03-2019 08:33 PM

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