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I have received a number of enquiries about the methods of cabinet refinishing I use. Danish Oil: several people have tried this and report very satisfactory results. However, Danish Oil is only one of several possible finishing methods and may not necessarily be the most appropriate for the set in hand. Here is an edited copy of an e-mail I sent as a response to a recent enquiry about French Polishing:

Re the finish of radio cabinets. Some of the pre-second world war cabinets may have been French polished, therefore could be the stuff to use. You can check for the presence of French polish by rubbing with methylated spirit on a cloth. If the surface finish 'picks up' becoming slightly sticky, that's French polish. Turpentine or other thinners (not cellulose, though) has no effect on French polish, and methylated spirit does not affect any other finish than French polish - if you get my meaning. Although there are different grades of French polish with differing degrees of colour and translucency - as well as the intensity of colour depending upon the build-up of the finish - most would have used standard stuff, which has a lovely golden-tawny colour but does not hide the grain. Often used when veneers used had slightly different shades or colours, as the effect blended things nicely.

Button polish is another form of French polish, I believe this is clearer. Sanding sealer is yet another, virtually colourless French polish. White polish is clear and ideal for light coloured woods when wishing to avoid obscuring the grain.

All French polishing is something of an art. Bear in mind that most commercially produced radio cabinets, including pre-WWII ones, will have been sprayed with lacquer. These clear lacquers usually had a colorant added to them, which built up into a brownish, obscuring film, especially around edges. The process is called 'toning' and is used to with the intention to improve the appearance of mediocre quality timber, whether veneer or solid. Remember too that years of tinted wax polish, smoke from chimney open fires and nicotine all combine to give what the antiques trade love to call 'patina' but which, in the case of radio sets, is basically muck. A good initial cleaner is Ambersil aerosol foam cleanser, available from most mail-order electronic suppliers such as Maplin. You can see the dirt flood off.

As for finishing with Danish oil, it is simple to use and gives a nice effect, but it IS clear and variations in the shade of the underlying wood will show and - of course - it is not 'original' in any respect. Its all a matter of choice! My principle is - speaker fabric, knobs, grille and dial reveals, feet - ideally, all should be as near to the original factory appearance as possible.

The receiver shown on the right is a Pilot Jack, a post-war three-band table radio of fair quality. The top picture is of the set as found, badly scratched and crazed (despite the photograph making the set look quite acceptable at a distance). The centre photograph is of the cabinet refinished with gloss lacquer and the bottom photograph shows the completed set. The video link below shows the restoration.

VIDEO

 

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