Old wood question


My wife bought a trunk at a yard sale. I'll call it a humpback trunk, as it has a rounded top. The thing is in actually decent shape. The filigree stamped top pieces are all there, and all the wood is in good shape. It is a light gray in appearance.
I want to just make the thing look a little better. No restoration or anything like that. What do you suggest for this. Should I use a varnish? Shellac? Stain and then clearcoat? I would like a one shot deal that will come out with all the wood being fairly even, and not having dark places from the stain. The wood is a little rough, but I could sand a bit if I should wipe on the stain with a rag.
What would you do?
I will get one shot to make it look better or mess it up.
Steve
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No restoration or

If the chest's wood looks good as is, why stain it? Sanding rough areas may leave discolored spots, something you say you want to avoid having. Yet, I suppose, you want the wood smoother than it presently is. Does, or did, it have a clearcoat on it? Do you necessarily need a clearcoat on it? Would it look good without a stain or finish on it?
Instead of sanding, rub it hard with burlap or denim wrapped around a block of wood. This will smoothen it without really removing anything relevant, as with sanding... similar effect as long term wear, but lots of rubbing is necessary.
Should you opt for no stain or topcoat: For a furthering of the smooth feel, you might like Tre-Wax. Apply (test) Tre-Wax (follow directions - comes in clear or tinted appliques) on a spot and see if you like that. Tre-Wax dries fast and is not water resistant, so it will wash off easily if you later want a topcoat, of some kind, on the piece. Tre-Wax leaves the surface really smooth, even on raw, unfinished wood, including aromatic cedar. Apply this testing, and any stain testing if you go that route, on the bottom of the piece, before commiting to anything.
Sonny
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how old is it?
if possibly antique the best rule is don't touch it
Steve B wrote:

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Steve B wrote:

Better than what? You've described something that ain't broke. I'd leave it alone.
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Steve B wrote:

One thing I would do is determine what type of finish it had on it. Odd things happen when you mix finishes
It could be that the wax treatment would be all you needed, or even something as simple as Murphy Oil Soap just to clean it.
Deb
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If the thing has any value as an antique, leave it alone. Any changes or upgrades in the finish diminishes the value . . . HOWEVER . . . if you don't care about that and simply want to make it look good, there is a procedure that makes for a very rich, old-timey look. It goes like this:
Get a can of international orange exterior grade paint. (SCREAMING ORANGE). Give the sucker a coat and let it dry for about a week. It will look (I guarantee you) GAWD AWFUL. Then go to an art supply store and buy a small tube of artists oil - color = burnt umber. Squeeze it into a container and mix in enough paint thinner to make it the consistency of heavy cream. With a semi-cheap paintbrush, paint the burnt umber over the orange paint . . . a very thin coat (one coat only), trying to remove the umber with the same paintbrush as you applied it with. This will leave small narrow streaks of the orange paint peaking through the oil paint. It will give the impression of very rich, semi-antique wood. Let this dry for about a week and then coat with some sort of polyurethane.
I've used this on whiskey barrels (for planters) and a ship's hatch cover (for a coffee table). It improves the appearance but is definitely not something you could classify as fine craftsmanship.

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