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Safety Precautions:
Remember when working with refinishing chemicals, solvents and finishes that these products must be handled carefully. Read and follow label warnings and instructions.

Use refinishing chemicals outside if possible. If used inside, make sure there is adequate ventilation.

When using solvents and spray finishes wear a respirator with replaceable filter cartridges (not just a dust mask). Chemical resistant rubber gloves (not dishwashing gloves) and eye protection should be used when using chemical strippers. Wear a dust mask when sanding.

Most refinishing products are highly inflammable. Don't use them near open flames or appliances with pilot 1ights. Dispose of solvent laden rags in water to prevent the chance of combustion.

Recreating a 1930’s Lacquer Finish

Basic Materials:
(Available at paint or hardware stores)
Naphtha (can also use mineral spirits) ("White Spirit" in UK)
#0000 steel wool
Gel-type paint remover
"Disposable" bristle brush
Hamster bedding (from pet store) or wood chips from wood planers
Lacquer thinner
Denatured alcohol ("Methylated Spirit" in UK)
Paste wood filler
Burlap or other coarse fabric
#220 silicone carbide sandpaper
#400 wet/dry sandpaper
Tack rag
White (clear) shellac
Good quality brush
Oil based stain(s)
Lacquer toner spray(s)(*see below)
Gloss spray Lacquer(*see below)
2 blocks of wood wrapped with felt
Lemon or butcher block oil
Car wax or paste wax
Lacquer masking tape (green color) for masking off lacquered areas

*For ordering contact:
Liberon/Star Finishing Supplies, USA
Liberon Finishing Supplies, UK

The hard part about refinishing a wood radio so that it has an original type of finish is wading through the many choices in the paint store. Radios had lacquer finishes (except for a few, mostly in the 20s, that had shellac finishes), so lacquer is the finish to use. Don't use varnishes, polyurathanes, tung oil or Danish oil finishes. They won't look right on a period piece.

Here's how to do it:

Stripping a finish off an old set is usually quite quick. The easiest method for most people is to use a chemical stripper. I would suggest using a gel stripper, such as Citristrip, which can remain wet (and therefore working) for a couple of days.

Apply it liberally over the old finish using a cheap "disposable" brush. Let the stripper alone to do its work. When the finish starts to come up, grab a handful of wood chips (hamster bedding from a pet store) and scrub off the finish. The chips will absorb the stripper and the dissolved finish. Don't forget to wear protective gloves.

Then make a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner and wash off any finish and stripper residue with the mixture using #0000 steel wool to apply it. Use some fresh chips to dry up any of the mixture from the surface. You now have a clean wood surface.

Some woods have an "open pore" grain structure. Walnut, mahogany, and oak are such woods. To obtain a smooth finish it is best to fill the pores level with the wood surface. A paste wood filler is made for this purpose.

The filler can be colored with a little oil based stain, if needed. Apply the filler to the wood and rub it into the pores. Let it start to set up and remove the excess with a coarse cloth across the grain, then let it set overnight.

The next day sand the surface lightly with #220 silicone carbide sandpaper. Make sure any film of filler that might have been left on the surface is removed. Wipe it down with a tack rag to remove stray dust particles.

In a jar, mix one part shellac to five parts of denatured alcohol to make a thin "sealer" coat. Paint a coat of the thinned shellac over the wood surfaces of your radio and let it dry (it will only take a few minutes). This shellac coat seals the surface and allows the stain to cover more evenly.

Run you hand over the wood. You'll feel some slight bumps. Sand lightly with #400 sandpaper just to remove those bumps--and be careful not to sand through the wood at the edges.

Apply the appropriate stain to the wood with a brush or paper towel. Let it set a few minutes and wipe the excess off with paper towels. Let the stain dry overnight.

The next day apply another sealer coat, let it dry. Tack rag again. If the color is right, go on to the next step, otherwise you can apply a second coat of stain, either the same color or another as needed, then add another sealer coat, sand, and tack rag. It's important to add the shellac coat in between the layers of stain, otherwise the solvent in the new layer of stain will start to dissolve the lower coat and you will be wiping that away along with the excess new stain. You can also use spray cans of lacquer toner (with sealer coats in between) to even out colors in different pieces of wood (this is what most manufacturers did).

Once you get the color right, give the surface one last sealer coat, sand, and tack rag, and you're ready for the finish.

Spray lacquer is somewhat difficult to find, but was the finish used on almost every wood radio made. The hardest finish is obtained with gloss lacquer. It is best to use the gloss, even if you don't want a really shiny finish, as you can control the level of shine in the last steps.

Spray even coats of lacquer on the radio, letting each coat dry completely, and then sanding lightly with the #400 paper and tack ragging. Again watch out for the edges. You probably will need to apply three or four coats (more if you didn't fill the grain of any open pore woods).

After the last coat, wet the surface with a little water sand again with the #400 paper--just enough to give an over all dull look. Then buff the surface with #0000 steel wool Until you get a more even dull appearance.

Wet the surface with some soapy water, sprinkle some pumice (an abrasive) on and rub the finish with a block of wood wrapped with a couple layers of felt for flat surfaces or a pad of cloth for rounded surfaces. This will give the lacquer a semi-gloss finish.

If you want a glossier finish, repeat the process using lemon oil or butcher block oil, rottenstone (a really fine abrasive) and a clean felt wrapped block.

Lastly, apply a thin coat of wax. Pre-softened car wax is easy to use, or use paste wax (add a splash of naphtha to liquefy the wax and make it easier to apply). Buff the wax to a to shine.

Additional Resources:

Repainting Plastic Radios
Here's a method for making repainted radios look like factory painted ones. It's a little complicated, but the results are spectacular!

Troubleshooting lacquer finishing problems
Descriptions of common problems using Nitrocellulose Lacquers with their causes and methods to cure them. Also guides to finishing products and source for them.


The Weekend Refinisher; How To Make The Most Of Your Furniture: A Step-By-Step Guide
Johnson, Bruce E.
Written by the popular syndicated columnist of "Knock On Wood," this informative, lively guide turns the mysteries of refinishing and repair into good, old-fashioned common sense. 75 illustrations.
The Furniture Guys Book
L'erario, Joe/Feldman, Ed
"The Furniture Guys" are the zaniest, funniest how-to duo on the air today. Watch them on the "Learning Channel" juggling expert furniture and home repair, pop culture hilarity, throwaway historical asides, and sudden swerves into B-movie lore, and you`ll ditch earnest old Bob Vila and never give Home Improvement another look.

The Furniture Guys Book presents ten projects, complete with step-by-step guidance on stripping, staining, varnishing, upholstering, basic repairs, and troubleshooting touch-ups such as stain and scratch removal. Projects include a pine Hoosier, a Victorian throne chair, a roll-top desk, a pine hat-rack, and more. More than 250 black-and-white photos and drawings illustrate every detail, and a full-color insert displays the finished projects in all their glory. Plus there are handy tips on everything from setting up a work area to sizing up the potential of yard sale bargains.

All this, and funny too! A must for the millions who watch them on the "Learning Channel" or who will be tuning into their forthcoming nationally syndicated radio show -- and for any would-be refinisher looking for advice that`s as entertaining as it is effective -- this book will find a prominent place on workbenches all over America.

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