Where to begin on an old radio

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Forum topic by Curtis Z posted 12-31-2015 03:41 AM 854 views 1 time favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Curtis Z

30 posts in 2080 days

12-31-2015 03:41 AM

Topic tags/keywords: refinishing radio

So.. I’m actually looking to refinish this old guy. It’s dated as best as I can. A 1936 royal oak cabinet batter powered farm radio. I’m going to attempt restoring the electronics to as “original ” as I can later. BUT, not sure what I’ll pick up considering the dial lists in kilocycles.. not many AM stations around anymore in my area. haha.

Overall it’s in rough shape finish wise.. but mostly ok structurally. A small chip out of veneer at the top. Couple of small dents.. “laying in a basement for decades with crap piled around it” wear.

I guess my biggest question… or at least first question… how to I match the top veneer to repair it, or do I strip it all off and lay new? Do I follow the same “sand it down and start over” for the rest?

I’m not looking for resale value. It has no sentimental value. I’m looking to move it indoors and, worst case, hide a Bluetooth speaker in the back. ;)

10 replies so far

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Curtis Z

30 posts in 2080 days

#1 posted 12-31-2015 03:42 AM

Dang it.. sorry about the sideways pictures…

View rwe2156's profile


3134 posts in 1653 days

#2 posted 12-31-2015 02:25 PM

My wife restored old treadle sewing machines so I get involved in the wood aspect.

One option to consider it minimal restoration, just a good clean up and refinish.
I wpuld start by wiping everything down with mineral spirits. If shellaced, denatured alcohol will remove.
When old varnish removed, I think Restore-A-Finish is a great product.

Unless you are an expert restoration artist to any fixes you do will be obvious.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3039 days

#3 posted 12-31-2015 02:32 PM

This will be quite an interesting project. It would be an interesting blog.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

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Curtis Z

30 posts in 2080 days

#4 posted 12-31-2015 04:20 PM

I’ll take a better peek tonight at it.. and give it a wipe down. I think my head has the vision of a pretty, shiny radio in the corner. But we will see what time, patience, and most importantly, skill can bring! Still pretty new to a lot of this. I know any fixes won’t be of expert quality. Definitely aware.. haha

Charles, hadn’t considered a blog.. Might be worth a thought. It’s great to see what went right, but sometimes it’s nice to see where things go wrong also. ;)

View JoeinGa's profile


7739 posts in 2179 days

#5 posted 12-31-2015 07:50 PM

If it has no sentimental value and you’re not interested in restoring it, how bout this.

Clean it up best as you can. Dont do much of any restoration other than cleaning and maybe some lemon oil.
Cut the top off, put hinges on it so it can be lifted.
Knock out that front panel and figure out a way to leave the radio dials and knobs on it. Hinge one side so it becomes a door, and finally add a shelf or two inside.
Add a back panel and VIOLA !!! A nice bar that looks like an old radio to set in the corner.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View a1Jim's profile


117270 posts in 3749 days

#6 posted 12-31-2015 08:06 PM

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2596 posts in 3133 days

#7 posted 12-31-2015 09:53 PM

Brings back memories on the farm. My parents had a radio/phonograph combo in the parlor. The front tilted out for the phonograph player. It had the AM radio plus some others, maybe shortwave. That was about 60 years ago. Would love to have it now!
In some cases, a complete restoration, such as a collectible firearm, will completely ruin the value. Does it have any value at all?

View CharleyL's profile


223 posts in 3536 days

#8 posted 01-01-2016 03:45 AM

Make the radio work properly first. Even when running like they were new does not necessarily mean it’s going to sound all that great. It’s monaural with one small speaker that won’t respond well to the highs and base notes. They sounded good to us when they were new and we were young because we had nothing else that sounded any better, but now we have multi speaker hi-fi systems that reproduce sounds well enough to believe that we are listening to a live performance.

If you get the radio working well, then consider whether restoration of the cabinet is worth doing. Since we are woodworkers, this will be the easy part so save it for last.

Most of these old radios suffer from dried out capacitors, so all of the capacitors should be replaced with new. Then the bias voltages of each tube should be checked before the radio is run more than 30 seconds or so at a time. A significantly incorrect bias voltage can cause tube overheating and may destroy the irreplaceable output transformer. Hum in the audio is an indication of bad filter capacitors in the power supply. These are the big metal cans the size of the larger tubes.

I’ve restored many old Jukeboxes and I have always had to follow these steps before getting the amplifiers to work again. Even when working as they originally did, some customers weren’t happy with the sound quality. It was sometimes quite difficult to convince them that what they were hearing was the best it was going to get because they had been listening to modern stereo systems and now were hearing an old monaural single speaker system again.

It could be a fun restoration, but proceed carefully and get the radio working before spending time on the cabinet. If the output transformer fails you may never find a replacement for it. Then don’t expect the final result to sound like your stereo system.


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Curtis Z

30 posts in 2080 days

#9 posted 01-03-2016 04:44 AM

I’d like to restore is as much as possible, as original as possible. But if things go south, it’ll be a to make a nice SOMETHING at least. And I’ve actually managed to obtain an old wiring schematic etc.. Definitely need to work on the electronic side of it too.

I’ll take what’s here, start delving into it all, and see what comes up. Thanks for any info provided!

View dhazelton's profile


2789 posts in 2469 days

#10 posted 01-03-2016 03:00 PM

There are tons of stations that radio will pick up, especially at night. It looks like the antenna has gone missing, and will need one (vintage waveMagnet would be cool). If that’s a DC radio you’ll have to investigate how to get it to work off 110 ac power (unless they used a transformer to run it off the batteries and you simply need to remove it).

On antique phonograph sites people desire original refreshed finishes over stripping. One thing that works well is using Gojo creamy hand cleaner rubbed on with 0000 steel wool and then buffed clean (I did it on an old 78 player I picked up for free and was pretty amazed). Follow that with Howards Restore a Finish to fill in any light scratches that still show (really just overpriced stain in my mind) and then a beeswax furniture polish.

As far as the veneer just cut and glue in a patch and stain to match as best you can.

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