Restoring a "Photo Finish" 1937 Radio?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Coffee Lounge forum

Forum topic by Scott Hildenbrand posted 02-04-2009 01:28 AM 5139 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Scott Hildenbrand's profile

Scott Hildenbrand

71 posts in 3770 days

02-04-2009 01:28 AM

Ok.. So I picked up this radio today for $7 that needs restored. It’s an old “farm house” battery powered radio from the late 1930s.

The bulk of the wood is fine, though some needs re-glued. The finish however is shot.

This is where I need ideas.. These things used several methods to faux the finish. The finish on this one was a photo finish which was heat transferred.

What I’m wondering is if I could not mock this method using a combination of heat transferred grain (via a laser printer.. Toner transfers with heat) and then follow up with a stain to match the color.

I was also thinking for the outside section using a sponge method to do the stain, which would leave larger amounts of stain in areas giving it that mottled look.

What do you all think?

The face is just plywood as it is, which would not look too great finished in all one color/method.

BTW:: The radio pictured is not mine.. Mine looks much… much worse.. ;)

Here’s the data page for the radio.. It’s not a grand model, or anything rare.. I just thought it’d be fun to play with and give me more experience before I started hacking apart the wiring in my RCA 811K floor radio which I’m also working on.

11 replies so far

View Scott Hildenbrand's profile

Scott Hildenbrand

71 posts in 3770 days

#1 posted 02-05-2009 02:35 AM

No ideas at all?

View willy3486's profile


77 posts in 3426 days

#2 posted 02-05-2009 06:39 PM

My comments are based from restoring these not woodworking. I am still a novice in that area. First on the cabinet. If there is any way to leave it as is most prefer that. It leaves the patina,wear,etc. I usually would just judge how it is and go from there. The one above would be borderline. As far as getting the look to match original here is my suggestions. If the finish is bad and it needs the original finished removed before you do that take pictures from all angles of the finish. That way you have something to go back to, the beauty of digital cameras. Also with the guts out lay a piece of paper on it and trace the outline and take measurements of the cabinet. If you have access to a copier or scanner, scan the front. Then print it out to the exact size even if it takes 2-3 pages taped together. That way you have a exact pattern. Once this is done then remove the finish. Then find a scrap piece of plywood that matches the grain of the face without the original finish. Then just expirement on the scrap plywood. when you get a stain like the lines on the radio then write down what it is. Then if the rest of the radio had the fake grain look to it just do a search on the web for fake wood grain. There is a few articles out there that explains how to do it. And like you said I think one method is using a sponge. You may be able to get the lines on there by taping with masking tape, but test on the scrap first to make sure the stain and tape do not have any adverse effects on the wood. My guess is you can use a dark stain on the lines then do the fake woodgrain on the rest. I have a old seeburg jukebox I need to do this to myself. Hope that helps.

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2656 posts in 3555 days

#3 posted 02-06-2009 12:01 AM

At the cost of the orginal finish, veneer it!

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3613 days

#4 posted 02-06-2009 12:04 AM

look at Stewarts job he did recently on just such a worn out piece he did a fantastic job of restortion I am sure his is the man to help you.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Scott Hildenbrand's profile

Scott Hildenbrand

71 posts in 3770 days

#5 posted 02-06-2009 12:24 AM

There’s nothing left of the original finish.. THIS one is mine.

Alistair, I searched but could not find the restore you’re talking about?

Kindlingmaker, That’s indeed half a thought, but I’d prefer to keep it closer to the original.

I’m guessing I’ll just have to check into methods of doing fake grain with staining techniques. That seems the best method. A coat of conditioner should help keep the bleeding down between the three sections.

This is NOT MINE, but shows how it SHOULD look.

View willy3486's profile


77 posts in 3426 days

#6 posted 05-11-2009 12:55 AM

I happened to find this post again . Here is some resources and info if you need it. If you need parts,tubes,decals and other stuff check out
Another place was
They sale parts to restore radios. I was out in my shop and I actually have one of these old radios. I have restored hundreds of old radios and some are in museums today. As far as that radio goes philco they started numbering the radio by the year around 1938. In other words 38-xyz means it was made in 1938. Sound like you enjoy these old radios and they can be enjoyable to work on them. I redid them for years until a few clients just burned me out on them. I quit working on them about ten years ago but I still have all my tools,books and parts in case I ever decide to get back into them. If you have never reworked one of these old radios that are run off battery power they will suprise you when they play. The ones I have redone seem to pickup and play better than the electric ones only. As far as cabinets in that bad of shape I have done I think I just stripped completely and then put goldleaf on where the lines was if I remember correctly. I would redo the cabinets sometimes but most were in good shape. Good luck on the redo.

View a1Jim's profile


117127 posts in 3605 days

#7 posted 05-11-2009 03:57 AM

I’m with Kindle re veneer

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 3765 days

#8 posted 05-11-2009 07:22 AM

Willy, thanks much for the link to . They have some great original stuff.

I also agree that it would be quite easy to veneer it with real woods. You would also be able to put on really nice finish.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3397 days

#9 posted 05-11-2009 12:18 PM

I restored a couple a few years back. After stripping all the old finish I veneered them with burls to closely match the original finishes.

View willy3486's profile


77 posts in 3426 days

#10 posted 05-11-2009 01:20 PM

Veneering would probably be best for this one. You have to overlook my thinking on these. When I redid these most of the time I had to rebuild them EXACTLY like they was when new. Some of the people I did them for were extreme perfectionists and wanted it to look exactly like original. They would know the numbers of layers,the tint, the difference of the labels,etc. With that in mind If it had 3 layers on the veneer when new it had to be restored with 3 veneer layers. It was similar to restoring to a concours lever of a auto. So I had to figure out the colors,how they were made and make the exact tint and everything. That’s why at that time I did so few of the cabinets. I had one years ago that was a wooden one that had rounded sides. It was completely apart and the curved sides were now peeled away. I got the entire thing back together. This one above if I remember correctly had a oak veneer around the top of it and the front was like a cheaper plywood. It would not look good just refinishing but if you put the veneer on it would look great.Dan had a great suggestion on the burl, it would look great on this one. Back when I redid these I never bought veneer for them either. For two reasons, I couldn’t find it where I lived and two I made it. I would get old TV cabinets and set them outside but with a roof over them. They would get damp and the glue would give on the veneers. Then after 6 months to a year I could peel it off. I then would dry it over a year or so. I would do this to get a supply of veneer to have on hand. I have some I would even take all the parts off the rusted frame and sandblast it. Then put it all back on and such. Some I would even take the capacitors apart and insert new ones and rewax them. Needless to say I haven’t done that in years. Its too time consuming and you don’t make money for going to that trouble. I finally quit doing them for the public when someone started bringing me “heirlooms” they wanted to put in their house. I saw those “heirlooms” in a antique mall for a skyhigh price. I gave them a big break because of the story they gave me about how they couldn’t afford it. Yeah right.

View papadan's profile


3584 posts in 3397 days

#11 posted 05-11-2009 10:29 PM

The ones I rebuilt were just for fun and they were gifts to friends. One old record player I rebuilt was veneered with pieces from an old dresser.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics