Phonograph Restoration and Repair
by Mark Caruana-Dingli and Bob Nix
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
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
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
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.