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More Work on the Radio Cabinet


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Figure 1. The insert for the cabinet in place, made entirely from recovered wood.

It's been a while since I updated on the radio cabinet project - to tell the truth, I've only been working on it sporadically, an hour or two here and there, but progress has been slow.

The interior of the original cabinet housed the electronic parts of the radio, and was never meant to be finished.  To that end, I decided to make an "insert" for it, one that could hold the LP's in the bottom, with a small shelf above for CD's.  Something I could simply slide into the existing cabinet and tack it with a couple of brads to hold it in place (figure 1).  it's construction is quite unremarkable, so I don't have any photos of it during construction.

This would also give me the opportunity to put a back on the cabinet, at least for the interior - the view from the back of the cabinet will never be seen, and I didn't want to disassemble it - so the existing hole in the back (originally there for ventilation of the tubes and what-not for the radio) will remain, and the records inside will be protected from dust.  The back is actually a piece of 1/4" hickory plywood I had left over from making kitchen cabinets a few years back.


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Figure 2. A piece of the recovered wood jamb used for the insert.

 I have to admit that for the insert I used power tools -  I didn't want to spend any money I didn't have to, and I've got all these old door jambs I saved from when I remodeled the house.  You can see a sample of one in the photo on the right (figure 2).

They are all luan, finished in that dark jacobean color that was popular in the mid-seventies, full of nails, paint, and various nasties from over the years.  Even after going over them with what I thought was a fine tooth comb, I still managed to miss two nails...  I even left a mortise for a lock in one, as its in a place nobody will see.

In any case, I hate to throw good wood away, and this seemed like an especially apt project to use it up in...  So I ran them through my wide-belt sander and glued up panels (yes - with hide glue!),  I made a simple box with some dividers, glued and nail it together.  Good enough to work as an insert in the old radio cabinet, even though I will likely leave the nail holes unfilled.  Eh, it adds 'character'! 


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Figure 3. A bubble in the veneer.

Repairing a Bubble

When I was looking over the top, I noticed a bubble in the veneer that I missed earlier (figure 3), so here's a good spot to take a look at fixing one of those...

They can be hard to spot - I spent quite a bit of time going over the top after veneering it, and I completely missed this one.  Granted, it's not very big - about 1/4" by about 1/2" at best - but it's something you can't let get through.  Turned out in the end, I saw when looking across the top at just the angle the photo at left is taken at. 





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Figure 4. A cut is made with an Xacto knife into the bubble.

 First is to make a cut to allow you to work new glue into and to let the air from the bubble escape.  Using an X-Acto knife, I cut along one side of the bubble for its length (figure 4).  Then I make sure I can work the knife underneath, and it's ready for glue.








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Figure 5. Hide glue is worked into the bubble with the knife, and a scrap piece of wood is used as a mini-veneer hammer.


 The hot hide glue is then worked into the cut, underneath the veneer and into the void that was the bubble.

I used a piece of scrap wood as a makeshift veneer hammer, working the veneer back to flat again.  It doesn't require any specially tool, pretty much anything will work.  Working it back and forth until the glue grabs hold, then its finished. 








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Figure 6. The repaired bubble, ready for finish.

 Once the glue has dried enough, it scraped flat.  The split from the knife might be visible, but when sanded and finished, will be all but invisible (figure 6).  In figure 6, you'll also see an iron, which can sometimes be used to re-activate the glue underneath and allow you to repair the glue in that manner - it's still likely you'll have to put a slit into the veneer to allow the air to escape. 







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Figure 8. A hide glue 'putty" worked into the errant joint.

 Looking closely at the top, I was disappointed at my mishap with the wooden ruler when cutting the splice between the two joints.  Readers might remember that I had inadvertently grabbed a wooden ruler to cut the overlapped veneer at the center to finish the splice between them - and when cutting with a utility knife, cut into the ruler as well as the veneer, severely screwing up the joint.  I thought it might be repairable, so decided to give that a shot rather than re-veneer the top again.

 I mixed up a thin putty of sawdust and hide glue, and worked it into the joint.  I also took slivers of veneer to fill in the larger gaps (figure 8)...

Everything I did would have worked with a patch, but when you have a distinct line between two veneers, the line gets more and more noticeable - but figured I'd give it a try anyway, as there's not much to lose.


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Figure 9. While waiting for the glue to dry, work continues - the finish on the doors are scraped off.

While letting that dry, I went back to the doors of the cabinet an removed the finish, mostly by scraping.  The #80 works great for the purpose, so what I could get with that I did - after that, it was removed with hand scrapers and - where the scraper would go - with steel wool (figure 9).   The scraping revealed a very nice crotch veneer underneath the finish, one that hadn't been too visible before. 

Scraping the old finish on this is a dream.  It's either an old laquer, nitrocellulose, or shellac (my best guess is nitrocellulose) and it comes off so easily with a scraper, yet is easily tough enough of a finish to have lasted 80 years.  I've restored furniture done with modern polyurethanes, and this kind of finish is so much more fun.




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Figure 10. To heck with it.  A new top is veneered into place.

 In the end, looking at the top - I asked myself why work so hard when it would never look quite right and I would never ever be happy with it.  It just wouldn't do.  So  - even after repairing the bubble above and attempting to fill my mistakes with the joint, I thought to myself screw it...  Sometimes you just have to call it like it is.  I would never be satisfied with that joint, so went ahead and re-veneered the entire top (figure 10). This time I used the veneer-tape joint method, where you joint the two mating edges and tape them together.

To do that, you start by using a good quality masking tape and tape the two pieces of veneer together on their back.  Then, a veneer tape - which has a moisture-activated glue - is applied to the face of the joint.  A sponge makes for a handy tape-wetting device.  After the tape is applied, some cauls and weights are placed on it to make sure it dries properly.  Once dry, the masking tape on the back is removed and the veneer is ready to be glued into place, using pretty much identical methods to the previous attempt


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Figure 11. Weight is placed on the top to keep it from warping.

My only concern is that I cannot access the back side of the top.  Rightly, both sides of the top should be veneered, otherwise warping is a distinct possibility - it could actually pull itself apart if the stress is too much.  So while it dries, I put some weight and clamps on it (figure 11).  I was lucky last time - we'll have to see if I'm lucky again. Fortunately, the top is fairly small. so hopefully I can keep it in place.

Worst case scenario, I get to do it all again...  but honestly, it's not that big of a deal.  From the time I decided to scrap my veneer job and start anew to when I had the new veneer in place was all of 2 hours or so - and as the reader might have already noticed, I'm in no hurry...






Collecting, restoration and renovation of old radios may be a very enthralling hobby. Nowadays such vintage models are mainly used as elements of interior decoration, hence their external appeal is of key significance. A restored radio is a beautiful component of a retro style room.

Thanks and regards
Aiyanna Odden
Technical Support Operator


They can be real nice looking cabinets, can't they?  I might have been tempted to restore this one to working order, but all of the electronic parts were gone....

It's been a real treat working on this one, though - I just wish I had more time to work on it!  Right now I'm building a fence and a shed to replace the one that only barely survived last winters snows.

I can report complete success on the veneered top, though...  It came out much better the second time!

Thanks for commenting!