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Wood Radios: Majestic 161 Restoration

Click for a larger picture I purchased this Majestic tombstone off e-Bay in the spring of 2004 for what I considered a song -- around $150. These radios are incredibly rare, and I've only seen two or three in the time I've been collecting. Of course, this radio had a lot of problems. The grillecloth is wrong (it's an old Zenith pattern). The radio had some veneer chips and some water damage on the top. The radio had been poorly refinished using what appears to be Redwood deck stain (ugh). The chrome had been over-polished to the extent that the nickel was showing through, the chromium having been completely worn off. Luckily, I saw an example of this radio for sale at the 2004 Lansing Swap meet that had an original looking finish on it. That radio sold for over $500! Using that mental picture (someone snapped it up within 2 minutes of the meet starting, so I didn't have time to take a photo), I was hopeful I could restore this Majestic to its former beauty.

Cabinet Restoration

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The first thing to do was to go ahead and strip the radio. This part was easy, as the existing finish was not very good. It really does appear that it was redwood deck stain of some kind that was used -- the rags and leftovers from the stripping process were a red mess! The photo to the right shows the cabinet after stripping. This radio has a front and top panel of mahogany, with the balance of the cabinet covered in birch, poplar, or some other light colored wood. You can see the difference between the two woods after stripping. The ligher colored panels would need to be toned to match their mahogany counterparts. The radio also would have had black trim in many places, something that I noted when viewing the example for sale at Lansing.

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Spraying trim...
After stripping the radio, the cabinet was sanded and filled with paste wood grain filler. The filler doesn't really need to be applied to the birch or poplar pieces, as those are close-pored wood which does not take filler. However, the mahogany did take the filler well, and several coats were applied. The radio was also sanded several times to help remove the deep reddish stains that had happened when it was refinished the first time. Once that was done, I taped off and sprayed the black trim. The photo to the left shows the trim being painted. I use Ace Hardware gloss black lacquer and standard masking tape. Newspaper is good for covering areas that you don't want sprayed.

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Veneer fix..

The photo on the right shows the case with a clamp on it, fixing a small veneer problem. There were a couple veneer chips on this radio, but they were all on the mahogany areas, and fortunately, mahogany is pretty easy to patch. I usually just cut a piece a little bigger than the chip, glue it down, then clamp hard. When the glue is dry, I sand the edges of the patch down and feather it into the existing veneer. This worked very well on this radio. You can also see how the black trim turned out.

The radio was then sprayed with several coats of toning lacquer on the lighter areas. This included two pieces of the top, and both sides. Once these were dark enough, I also shot a little toner over the mahogany areas to make sure they had a similar tone as the newly sprayed areas. After drying and a quick rubdown with 0000 steel wool, the set was coated with multiple coats of clear lacquer.

The grille was taken to a chrome plating shop, and was replated at a cost of $65. I was able to clean up the other trim pieces without having them replated. A silver patterened grille cloth was found that looks pretty good.
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After the finish had cured, the radio was rubbed out with successively finer grits of sandpaper, and then polished with a high quality paste wax. The grille cloth and newly chromed grille were installed. The photo to the left shows the complete radio (click on it for a larger picture). The radio turned out beautifully, and it even impressed my girlfriend (and she's not a radio buff). At some point, I may have to restore the chassis, but for now, I'm just enjoying having this radio to look at!