Restoring an old chest

Well, what have you been up all those years? With no update on anything?

Mostly programming, jumping different jobs, started freelancing on my own, wrote a lot of Python, Golang, C. The usual suspects…

And now, for something completely different!. How I spent 4 months of my life restoring and old piece of furniture 😀

The tools of the trade

This took me longer than I expected (close to 4 months, 4 hours a week), and since it is more interesting than what I’ve been programming you’ll enjoy a full post on how to do one yourself! haha.

You will need:

  • A chest
  • Patience
  • Sand paper
  • Hammer
  • One of those metal toothbrushes
  • Hot glue (always!)
  • Polyester and oilcloth fabric
  • Measuring tape
  • crowbar (smallish one, not the Gordon Freeman one)
  • rust-proof enamel paint
  • Wood dye
  • Wood
  • Saw and jig saw
  • screws
  • flat washers

First step, the sanding

The first thing that you have to do is sand the whole thing. In my case it had some beautiful (but long wasted) paper inside. So sanding the interior took a long time. I prefer doing it by hand, at the end it is somewhat relaxing for me, but you can be smarter and pick one of these for maximum noise and speed. Don’t forget to sand the exterior (if it’s wood), or in this case the exterior small wood stripes.

Second step, more sanding

The exterior of the chest is made of rusty and ugly sheet metal. So it needs a little bit of sanding too. Not too much, but all the bolts were very rusty. A metal toothbrush will do the job:

Or if you feel “powertooly” use a dremmel 🙂

Everything is sanded, now what

From here you can go in different ways. I started by using dye on the outside wood. To do that simply use a little ball of cotton thread wet with the solution. Since I will be painting the metal sheet later, it does not matter if it gets dirty with it. We’ll get a nice colour for this old wood.


A new coat of paint

With the new colour on the wood, it’s time to clean the metal sheet and apply some new paint that will make it shine again.

First of all the wood needs to be protected, for that, a good painter’s tape will do the job wonderfully:

unpainted chest

Once it is protected, we’ll apply a solvent to dissolve the rust that has been accumulated in the metal over the years. Once the solvent is applied and cleaned with a dry rug, we start painting with a rust-proof enamel paint.

I’ll be using two colours for that. Crimson for the base, and dark grey for the rest of the details like the metal sides and bolts.

When the paint was set, I saw that it was too shiny for my taste. To remedy that I used a little bit of bitumen spread over the chest, not too much, but enough that when cleaned over with a dirty rag it removes the whole shininess from the furniture.

Some fixing

I do not have a lot of pictures from this part (Oh no!! you’ll have to do with a drawing), but the chest has some things that have to be removed since they are of no use on the restored one. Using a hammer, a crowbar, and some patience not to break anything I removed:

    • 1. Some crazy bent nails that were a **** to remove without damaging anything
      2. A metal bar used to hold the chest open.
      3. Two wood bars used to hold a second level on the chest (with more of those bent nails)
      4. Protruding nails all over the place (not only two)


Most of these removed parts won’t get there again until the end (keep them safe, just in case). But at this stage, I measured the bottom of the chest to add two extra wood panels below, hold them with screws so the old wood base has a little bit of help. The size of the screw is essential since I don’t want it to go through and appear on the other side (ready to bite!). Choose a proper length.

The insides

The interior will get quite a re-shape. Since the interior wood is old, ugly and splintered all the way, I’ll add a second wood layer on each side of the chest and also on the chest cover. Measure all the small planks and create a double of them.

For that, I’ll use cheap thin wood that can be easily cut with a compass saw, or a jigsaw. I end up with a bunch of pieces ready to be prepared.

Each piece will be covered by two layers of fabric. A first fluffy polyester layer that will give it volume, and second one with a beautiful oilcloth I bought that had a map theme. The cloth will be quite resistant and a small waterproof layer.

When cutting each piece to the final size, keep trying to fit them together in the chest. This way it’s easier to see if some needs more space than others. Also, since the polyester will result in extra size, it’s important to leave some space for the piece to grow.
It is a pain when something does not fit, so be careful from the beginning. When everything is fitted it could hold itself just by pressure between the sides. But to be extra careful, apply some hot glue between the old wood and the new clothed layers. The glue will keep it tight, and in the final touches, we’ll screw some of the pieces to the chest anyway.

Detail touches

Remember the wood bars that were removed? I’ll fit them with cloth the same way as the other layers and re-add them to the chest.

I use two screws for each wood bar (and a couple of flat washers to protect the fabric), securing the whole sides a little more since there are at least two sides with screws holding everything tight. Again be wary of the screw length, so it does not reach the chest exterior metal sheet.

With those two in place, we can now add an extra level to the chest if we like. (I like and I did). A new level with the same cloth and a piece of a leather belt to pull it out.

With the rest of the belt, I added a new line to hold the chest open. This was more troublesome than expected since it’s a heavy chest and the first belt that I used was not up to the task. Also, you have to be aware of the maximum angle you’ll let the chest open, otherwise instead of holding it will just bend the other way. (yeah, seems I’m enjoying drawing stuff 🙂 )

The final touches are just related to the bottom. I added some furniture pads so it does not scratch anything and called it finished!.


As usual, I add conclusions/summary. Restoring furniture is fun and relaxing, and it is not extremely difficult, so I highly recommend it to everybody.
So far I restored an old table and a medium cigars box (where I keep my pictures). But this chest has been my biggest project and the bane of my existence for some time 🙂 It will be a while until I embark myself into such a big furniture piece.

Also, I’ve seen that my English knowledge for specific DIY and carpentry words is abysmal compared to how I can talk and write about computers. (Flat washer?! really?!).

Finally thanks to Malu from who actually instructed me in every step of this process :-). Learning by yourself is one thing, but having somebody helping and teaching along the way is wonderful.


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