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How to Restore an Old Cedar Chest

Refurbishing a cedar chest breathes new life into the piece.
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Cedar chests, also called cedar blanket chests or hope chests, have a long history of preserving family treasures, documents, clothing and blankets. Some chests are constructed completely of cedar, while others are built of cherry, oak or other woods for the exterior, but lined with cedar on the inside. Restoration methods vary, depending on the cedar chest's age and condition.

Clean the outside of your old cedar chest with mild soap and water. Wring out the cloth until almost dry and wipe the surface, corners and crevices. For small corners or decorative details, use a cotton swab.

Wipe the exterior of your cedar chest a second time with mineral spirits if the surface is particularly dirty. First, test the mineral spirits in an inconspicuous corner to confirm that it will clean the dirt and not damage the finish. Use a soft cloth and clean small areas at a time.

Remove any soap or mineral spirits residue by wiping the chest again with distilled water. The cloth should be barely damp so as to not leave any water on the surface of the chest.

Wax the chest with a hard paste wax. Use a soft cloth and apply the wax with a circular motion. After the wax has dried, buff the chest with a clean cloth.

Sand the inside of the cedar chest with a medium-grade sandpaper. Sanding removes the surface layer of dust and dirt and releases the fresh cedar smell that repels moths.

Wipe the interior of your cedar chest with a damp cloth to remove dust and debris from the sanding.

Remove any brass hardware such as locks, handles or casters that may require polishing. Polish the brass with a commercial brass polish.

Clean the brass hardware carefully with water and allow it to dry. Residual polish left on the brass will tarnish the brass and deteriorate the wood.

Reattach the brass hardware to your cedar chest.

Things You'll Need:

  • Mild liquid soap
  • Distilled water
  • Mineral spirits
  • Soft cloths
  • Cotton swabs
  • Hard paste wax
  • Medium-grade sandpaper
  • Brass polish
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