A Great Way To Clean Radio Cabinets

Here is my method for cleaning up old radio cabinets.  I’ve never seen the technique harm anything with a lacquer or shellac finish.  It’s not a lot of work and the results can be amazing.  Just be patient and give plenty of time for the cabinet to dry between steps.  Only then will you be able to accurately judge the changes in finish, color and luster.

1. Get plain old waterless hand cleaner such as GOOP or GO-JO (Not with pumice or other added materials!)  Apply it to all wood on the cabinet with clean - old terry cloth.  Use a hog bristle brush to work the cleaner into crevices.  Wipe all the cleaner off with more terrycloth and apply new coats of the waterless cleaner and wipe off as necessary.  Eventually the cleaner will cease to darken your terrycloth…. You have removed as much soil and old wax as you can expect with this method….

2. Put on your magnifier visor and go after the little dots of latex paint that invariably land on radio cabinets worth cleaning & preserving.  I use a sharp Xacto knife to just pop them off.  (The magnifying visor is an essential addition to your preservation work!  I use an Opti-Visor brand unit with a #5 lens board – i.e. 2.5 power.  I also use the add-on 2x monocular lens for the visor.) 

3. Let the cabinet dry for several days.  The depth of color will lighten as the cleaner vaporizes and the lanolin oxidizes.  You really don't want to be altering coloration as in Step 4 untill the existing coloration has stabilized.

4. Under good light inspect the finish for defects.  Scratches and fading can be touched up with wood dyes applied with a very fine artist brush.  Use that visor even if you have 20/20 vision!  OLD ENGLISH scratch cover oil can sometimes be used to darken scratches but be careful because such an oil can ‘bleed-out’ around the scratch and show through the finish….

5. Again, make sure the cabinet has dried out completely…  Saturate a wad of terry cloth in boiled linseed oil and quickly cover the entire cabinet.  Let it stay on the finish for about a half hour.  Use clean terry to wipe as much of the excess linseed oil off as possible.  Use that bristle brush again to work the corners.  (This operation fills microscopic cracks in the finish and helps to even the color.)

6. Wait another week to make sure the linseed oil hardens and then paste wax the cabinet.  It should be good for years to come…. 

7. As I said at the beginning, the results can be amazing!  But what if it still does not look like new?  Keep in mind that a finish showing some of ‘the insults of age’ can still provide a more accurate historical record of how things were done at the time of manufacture than any but the most skilled of refinish jobs.  Many of the authentic coloring agents and coatings used over 50 years ago are now difficult if not impossible to obtain.  The newer materials engineered to be less toxic, polluting or more durable simply do not produce the same qualities of hue, sheen, luster or transparency.

8. If all I said in Step 7 still makes you think the item is not presentable, the cleaning method I have described will not do permanent damage.  Just wait a week or so before using your solvents to strip the cabinet.

Robert Lozier – kd4hsh@carolina.rr.com