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Postwar Bakelite Radios: Bendix 636 Restoration

Bendix radio as found
I purchased this Bendix radio at an antique mall that was closing down for $7. It had been there awhile, and you can see why. There is a large chip out of the case right on the front. When I first saw it, I figured that there was no way that something so awful could be fixed. Later, when it was much cheaper, I decided to buy it just for the heck of it. Usually if I see a radio that cheap, I'll buy it just for the parts. So, this one sat around for awhile. It was only after I had done some body work on my old Honda Prelude that I thought I might be able to fix this radio case in the same way, with auto body filler. Electronically, I was pleased to find that the radio did work. So, it would just be the case that needed major attention.

After removing the chassis, I took a closer look at the case. The chip had broken off quite cleanly. I figured I could support the area from behind, then fill in the missing area with bondo. I glued a small piece of clear plastic behind the chipped out area. This took a little work. My first 3 tries (all variants of super glue) did not hold to the bakelite. Eventually, I tried a 60-second epoxy from Ace Hardware, which worked. Once that had hardened, I had a clear piece of plastic behind the chip which the bondo could adhere to (Bondo does not adhere well to bakelite).

Before sanding
I slathered a layer of bondo onto the clear plastic, careful to not put too much on. With too much bondo, I would spend all day sanding it back down. While the bondo was hardening, I scraped and molded it a bit so that it fit into the area of the chip better. The photo to the right shows what the bondo looked like after hardening. Once the bondo had hardened, I sanded it down, starting with a coarser sand paper and working down to a finer grade. Eventually, the patch began to take shape.

After sanding
The photo to the left shows what the area looked like after the bondo had been sanded down. As you can see, the patch fits the area quite nicely. Once the patch was sanded down, I primed the area with a coat of gray primer. This helped me to see if there were any rough spots, dings, or areas which needed more touch up. There were. Using glazing putty, I touched up a few minor blemishes in the patch. Once that was done, I primed the area again to see how it looks. This is a process you can continue to do until the patched area looks perfect. Because both the glazing putty and the primer dry quickly, you can easily go through several patch/prime cycles in one afternoon.

Sanded and ready for priming
The photo to the left shows the patched area after being patched and primed several times. At this point, I also have sanded down the rest of the case. There were a ton of paint chips on the case, so I carefully sanded and smoothed them out. The areas on the front around the three knobs were especially bad.
After priming
Once these areas were all sanded down, I decided to prime the entire case (photo on right). This would show me if there were any other rough spots before adding the final coat of off-white paint. After priming the case, it is a good idea to go over it carefully with a fine grade sandpaper to remove any dust, bumps, etc. Once that is complete, the radio is ready for the final coat.

The finished radio
The final coat was applied in many thin layers. I used Krylon's Antique White, and I'm pretty happy with the way this set turned out. I think the original paint may have been more of an almond color, but I like the way this looks. After finishing the painting of the case, I cleaned the dial glass very carefully. The glass was painted on both sides, so I wanted to make sure to protect the paint. I cleaned it with water, and used a razor blade to get some grime off of the edges. Then, I cleaned up the knobs (they appear to be a maroon catalin), and put the radio back together.

Electronically, the radio worked as found. I haven't done any work to it, but I may replace the old capacitors at some point to ensure good performance for a long, long time.