Vintage tube radio restoration

1950’s Tube Radio Restoration

This post is about something a little different than my usual fare. It still involves some woodworking techniques and is about a well-made, artisanal item, so I think it’s ok to write about. Last summer as I was about to head out grocery shopping I saw a really cool radio put out with the trash by one of my neighbours. It had rained the last few days, and apparently it was sitting out there for a few days. I asked him if he would let me have it, and he was more than happy to help me carry it into my workshop. It was time for a radio restoration!

Vintage radio restoration

The radio the day I rescued it

My neighbour’s parents bought this radio over 60 years ago when he was a child. He told me how he used to turn it on and wait a few minutes for the tubes to warm up before tuning in to listen. It hadn’t been used since the late 60’s, so it was in storage for the last 50 years, and had clearly been moved around without much care. The wood veneer was coming off and broken in all the corners. The top had some deep chips. The side walls of the radio had deep scratches that looked like it had been gouged out by Edward Scissorhands. It was missing its legs, so I’d have to make those too. And the tubes hadn’t been replaced in 50 years so I would have to look at getting those to work.

Vintage radio restoration

After some cleaning it didn’t look as bad, but it still needs a lot of work

A word of caution – Old radios from this time frame often have a hot chassis. Look up hot chassis radios, learn how to identify them, and test the radio carefully before you start working on a radio yourself. Hot chassis radios can shock and even kill you if you touch the chassis when plugged in. Some of them have metal chassis that are hot when switched on, and something to watch out for even more, some have hot chassis when switched off.

Radio restoration vintage

Filled in and taped up for paint. This is before sanding.

After carefully ensuring the radio was not a hot chassis type model, I cleaned out the internals. This took a while, and I had to be careful not to damage the tubes. I then cleaned the outside of the radio and assessed the damage to the veneer. I figured I could glue down some of the areas of veneer that were coming off…I would have to fill in the rest. Once the glue dried I filled in the chips, gouges, scratches and the areas where the veneer no longer lined up, followed by sanding to get the surface smooth and ready for painting.

Vintage tube radio restoration

The tubes – they look super cool when they turn on

The next step was choosing a colour. I knew I wanted it to be a vintage appliance colour, either a blue or a green. My girlfriend helped me out with this and she picked the perfect colour. I always seem to have difficulty picking paint colours so I was glad for her help. I then taped removed any hardware that would come off easily and taped the rest with painters tape. I applied one coat of primer and three coats of paint. I wanted to keep the Hudson’s logo, and that required some careful painting. If you look very closely it doesn’t look perfect, but from more than 6 inches away it looks just fine, so it would have to do.

Vintage tube radio restoration

Almost done. Just one more coat of paint…

I had to fiddle around with the tubes a bit to get it to work. I didn’t know it before, but it turns out replacement tubes are easy to find online if you know which one you’re looking for. With the tubes sorted, I had to make a cover for the the back – I didn’t want to risk my cat getting electrocuted in there.

Vintage tube radio restoration

Done and in it’s new home!

I was over the moon when I tuned in to a local radio station and found the radio worked perfectly. The tubes create a warm, crackly sound that has amazing charm to it. I’m a big fan of the Fallout series of video games, so I played some of the songs on the soundtrack using a radio transmitter and it was as though they were meant to be played on this radio. Here’s a video…it doesn’t do it justice, but it’ll give you some idea as to why I’m so glad I ‘rescued’ this radio.


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