What Finish should I put on a steamer trunk?

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Forum topic by HuntleyBill posted 04-02-2011 04:23 PM 1586 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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114 posts in 3295 days

04-02-2011 04:23 PM

Hello good folks:
I am thinking about building a steamer trunk to mount on the back of my 1930 Ford Model A. I have the plans and am still trying to decide what wood to build it out of but my main concern is what finish to use.

Although the car is an antique and is mainly used on nice sunny warm days, the trunk will still be out in the elements while driving. Yes, I have been caught in storms, windy days, some colder, some really hot 100 plus degree days ( btw, the car does NOT like 100 degree days).

A friend of mine says to use spar varnish, however I tried that finish on a cedar bench I made a couple of years ago and by the end of the first year is was showing major signs of wear. To be fair, the bench sits outside most of the year without protection.

Is there a finish that will be a little more durable for road use? The trunk will be used to cary “stuff” so it will be functional as well as a period accessory.

Your advice as always is appreciated.


-- If you think you can, or think you can't...your right!

5 replies so far

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Rick Dennington

6308 posts in 3400 days

#1 posted 04-02-2011 04:37 PM


If you build the trunk out of a hardwood, which I’m guessing you will, I’d say use a marine varnish, or a marine polyeurathane (?). It’s the kind that they put on the hulls and decks of wooden boats that get exposed to a lot of water and moisture…. A spar varnish will not last in the elements, and will break down over time, as you already know…. So I would recommend a marine varnish, and maybe a teak trunk…just my thoughts…

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....!!

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8166 posts in 3003 days

#2 posted 04-02-2011 07:13 PM

I have one word for you. “CETOL”.
Actually Cetol, from Sikkens, comes in a wide variety of formulations. I’d recommend Cetol Marine, the original one or maybe Cetol Dek. It will outlast polys and varnishes by eons. I’ve used it extensively on boats in a harsh marine environment and nothing even comes close to it. There is even a Cetol Gloss that you can top off with if you want a really shiny finish.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

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Steven H

1117 posts in 3265 days

#3 posted 04-03-2011 06:50 AM


What brand did you use for spar varnish?
Not all are created equal.

Spar and marine varnishes are is what called long-oil varnish, softer, more flexible, also LESS waterproof because they are softer and more flexible.

Spar varnish” made from linseed oil and urethane resin.
Therefore Urethane(polyurethane resin) will start to peel,, crack in U.V light.

Marine varnishes are made from tung oil and phenolic resin.

Marine varnishes have UV inhibitors in them; Spar not so much.

Even if Minwax Spar or other cheaper brands instructions say you can use exterior, it will not last long.
Even the top marine products need to be maintain every couple years.

Interlux Schooner (clear varnish)

Pettitt Captain’s ( Marine oil/varnish blend)

Epifanes Gloss (Marine oil/varnish blend)

For your purpose, I would the oil/varnish blend.

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Steven H

1117 posts in 3265 days

#4 posted 04-03-2011 06:53 AM

Cetol Marine and their other exterior products are also excellent.

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Steven H

1117 posts in 3265 days

#5 posted 04-03-2011 06:51 PM

I think I’m wrong, its not oil/varnish blend.
They cook the resin and oil together to make a varnish.
So I think last both are varnishes not

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