Build You Own Restoration Hardware Style Steamer Trunk

Jen Burns
by Jen Burns
3 Materials
I found a vintage reproduction steamer trunk in the Restoration Hardware catalog that I absolutely fell in love with. I just couldn't justify the price of $1800 to sit at the end of my bed for storing odds and ends.
RH trunk in their catalog $1800
I looked at other stores and many places sold similar trunks, all for well above any amount I was willing to pay. So I skipped ahead into some of the other classes in my course schedules for carpentry hours and found the subject on "Kerf Bending".

Kerf bending wood is done by cutting several shallow cuts in a series a little more than 3/4 of the way through. The goal of the series of cuts, is to remove enough material in succession to allow the wood to bend where each cut is made. The more cuts the smaller the radius of the bend.
After drawing up my plans and marking each piece of 1/2" purebond plywood with the proper length and width, I measured where my bends needed to start and where they needed to end. I set my blade on my circular saw to allow the blade to cut through all but the last layer in the plywood.
Once each piece was cut, I used a few bungee cords to help hold the bends while I glued and nailed the pieces in place.
Clamps don't exactly work well with holding curves like this so I had to improvise.
I let all the pieces dry overnight before sanding and putting a few coats of Modern Master's pewter metallic accents paint on.
Next I had to replicate the look of wrapped aluminum sheets on the trunk. First I marked off a few straight lines with a pencil and square.
Then using my large combination square and a small chisel I defined the lines making an indention.
Then using carpet tacks or upholstery tacks, I nailed them in a rough line along the indention's I had made with the chisel. I wanted these to look handmade and not perfectly straight in line so I wasn't worried about spacing or perfection.
I then stained and cut pieces of quarter and half round molding to trim the trunk.
Using wood glue and brad nails to secure the trim, I filled the holes with putty and touched up after it was dry.
To add the look of a vintage aged trunk I decided to glaze the entire thing with Unicorn SPiT in Midnight's Blackness. I used it full strength, brushing on and wiping back the excess with a clean rag.
I pre-drilled the holes for all the hardware and used an old leather belt for the handle. I also added some details with small brass finishing nails.
I lined the inside with black felt.
I sealed the entire trunk with polyurethane from Old Master's antique sheen. Here it is finished, and I can't wait to use what I learned for the next one.
All finished!

**Updated with photos of handle/side and lined inside of trunk.
Suggested materials:
  • Purebond Plywood   (Home Depot)
  • Modern Master's Pewter
  • Unicorn SPiT   (
Jen Burns
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
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3 of 5 questions
  • Bettye Martinez Bettye Martinez on Nov 25, 2016
    Thought about making them to sell and how much would you charge? This is fantastic! You are truly talented and have done a beautiful job on yours. I'd love to have one myself but, like you the cost of one has always been out of my range. Put up a post if you ever decide to make one to sell.
  • Cbe12661495 Cbe12661495 on Nov 25, 2016
    How long did it take you to complete it? If money is sent for the materials and shipping cost, how much would you charge to make it?
  • Marc Davey Marc Davey on Jul 14, 2018

    Hi Jen, Amazing work. I love steamer trunks, I've just picked up a restoration project to work on. Can I ask, How did you bend the half round around the radius on the lid? In one of the pictures it looks like you kerfed it but the final image looks to smooth.

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  • James@TheCavenderDiary James@TheCavenderDiary on Dec 16, 2017

    YOu are my HERO!!!!! This is a brilliant tutorial.....Can't wait to make my own. Thanks!!

  • Ang100930087 Ang100930087 on Mar 18, 2024

    Love this, but I found a steamer trunk with similar lines. I am wondering if your Modern Masters Pewter paint was satin or matte, because I’d love to copy the look. Thanks!