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Phonograph Restoration and Repair

The May CAPS meeting was a great success as our speakers demonstrated their skills and displayed the results of their work. Many of the repairs shown were simple enough for most enthusiasts to attempt and the following article highlights some of the tips and methods which were shared at this meeting.

Refinishing Metal Parts — Mark Caruana-Dingli

Refinishing parts such as a bed plate or tone arm support is simple enough that I would encourage anyone to try it on a few rough pieces. I would not recommend this for a part with decals that are substantially complete, as the result never looks as authentic as the original decals.

The following is an overview of the process; more complete instructions generally come with the decals. The finish on many parts will not be removed with strippers so most of the finish will have to be leveled or removed by sanding. Several base coats of orange shellac cut with 30% alcohol and tinted with Nigrosene powder are applied sanding with 280 Silicon Carbide paper every 2 coats. The number of base coats depends on the condition of the part. The next step is to apply decals. There are 3 types of decals available; water transfer, varnish transfer and solvent transfer. If the decal you need is available in water transfer, I find these decals have a longer working time and result in a better final product with fewer breaks or crooked stripes. These can be easily applied by following the instructions included with the decals.

On top of the decals a few thin coats of orange shellac (cut 30%) are used to give the decals a more golden, aged tint. To give the final finish as smooth an appearance as possible, I begin with a light sanding with 400 wet/dry paper. Next I dip a corner of a soft cloth in thinner (50%) white shellac and give the part a quick wipe similar to applying French polish. You will probably have to practice this last step before attempting it on the piece. I have also used this last step to bring new life to a part which didn’t require a full refinish.

Cabinet Restoration — Bob Nix

The following are some helpful hints and products I have found work well to help restore old cabinets. I have had great success turning even the oldest, roughest machine into something to be proud of.

Howard’s Restor-A-Finish - comes in many colours and will remove a lot of blemishes from wood. If the surface is lightly marked, you may want to just use a cloth with Howard's Restor-A- Finish on it. For heavy stains and marks, I find that the finest steel wool you can find soaked with Howard's Restor-A-Finish will result in amazingly good end results. Always rub with the grain.

Howard’s Feed-N-Wax - or lemon oil applied after using Howard’s Restor-A-Finish will leave a nice finish.

Master Qualarenu - slightly applied to fine steel wool will smooth out wrinkled alligator hide finish especially on mahogany pieces without stripping. I find that Circa 1850 furniture refinisher is quite harsh and usually turns into a gummy mess resulting in complete stripping of the cabinet.

The Finish - I normally give input as to how a cabinet should be finished but as you know, the customer has the last say. I have used semi-gloss tung oil, Minwax Wipe- on Poly and Minwax Antique Protective oil finish. I normally put the last coat on and hand rub it to achieve the best overall smooth finish.

Stripping - The Last Resort - I will do everything possible to keep the original finish. But as you know these old cabinets get abused pretty badly sometimes and you do not have any choice but to strip them down. The stripper I use is from a private supplier in Sarnia and is called Ultra Stripper, which contains no methylene chloride. It will not lift or affect the grain and will not loosen any glue joints. Every piece of hardware and motor are removed and each piece is individually stripped. Once the cabinet is stripped, a stain is then applied, if necessary, and then followed by the finish of your choice.

Staining - If the wood will not take the stain well, I use a jell stain to achieve the desired appearance. After drying overnight, the finish is then applied. Now, as you know, even though you waited the required time before putting the finish on, you may find that some of the stain you put on may come off on your cloth. To avoid this, you can purchase a pressurized Preval spray gun to apply the first finish coat. This will "lock in" or seal it and the remaining coats may be applied by hand.

Veneer Bubbled - Take a very sharp knife and cut a slit the length of the bubble. Put some glue on a very thin blade and slide that under and spread the glue over the troubled area. Do the same with the other side. Press the bubble with your fingers and wipe off any excess glue. Place a flat board over the area with wax paper in between. Clamp until dry. Another method to apply glue is to use a disposable syringe and simply slip the needle under and inject the glue.

Broken Lids - Lids are normally damaged at the hinge area where the screws go in. It is either badly split or broken right off. The best way to fix this is to re-glue it and clamp it carefully so as not to break the lid. It still normally requires some fill in spots then some sanding. Restaining of the area is needed then refinishing of this area. A break like that is not noticeable if you do a good job.

Large Screw Holes - Large screw holes can be fixed with the old stand by trick - toothpicks. If the hole is too large you will need 2 or 3 toothpicks. Use a dab of glue and push in the toothpicks then install your door, etc.

Broken Doors - Doors sometimes break due to abuse and pieces are missing. In this case I take an old phonograph parts cabinet and cut another door from a side or back panel. The hinges and knob are installed, stained and refinished to match the colour. In using this method there is a good chance that the grain won’t match but what other choices are there?

Flecks of Paint - If you have a cabinet with flecks of paint on it, it is best to take a thin blade and scrape or flick the paint off. The use of steel wool or sandpaper will only lighten the area around the paint and then you have another problem.

Water Stains - Water stains are virtually impossible to get out. If you find something that will remove the stain, it will drastically lighten the area around it at the same time creating a problem. Best thing to do is to take out what you can and let the rest go. After all it is an old piece and it will add some character to it. You don’t want it to look new. Sanding will only lighten the surface and still leave the water stain deep in the wood pores.