I wanted to make a radio that payed homage to the beautiful radios from the 1930's era from manufacturers like Philco and GE but has the functionality of a modern MP3 player. I could have found one of those old radios and did the conversion to MP3 but decided instead to build one from scratch from solid wood to retain a decent sound quality.
This was scratch built from 1" Pine, 1/8" Oak plywood, and 1/8" Birch plywood.
The MP3 module that I used for this particular radio was salvaged from a small player that I bought, but the same module is available commercially online from many e-retailers.
EDIT: The donor MP3 player shown was purchased from ebay, but the basic MP3 modules are also available on ebay or dx.com.
The grill cloth was bought from a vintage radio parts supplier as reproduction fabric. If anyone would like the information where to get it, just send me a line.
On to the instructions.
Step 1: Choose Your Shape.
The shape I used for this particular radio is known as a cathedral style.
So first you will want to decide how big to make it.
I decided to make this one 10" wide by 14" high and 8" deep. But it is up to you, there was more than enough room inside to house the few electronic pieces required.
EDIT: I used a Google Sketchup model to get the dimensions figured out, and then printed it with a large format printer and used that to trace the design onto the wood.
Once you get a template drawn on bristle board, you can use that to trace your pattern onto the wood.
Then using a jigsaw or scroll saw, cut out the shape as well as the inside portion where the grill will be mounted.
You will also want to cut out a piece to use as the base of the radio where the front and back of the unit will be mounted. The size of this piece will be 1" larger that the radio itself so there will be 1/2" offset on each side.
Step 2: Router Required
I used a router to cut the depth to mount the grill. This will need to be slightly larger than the shape of the grill itself to allow it seat fully and give room for adjusting it.
The router was also used to cut a 3/32" channel to mount the side cabinet "band" later in the assembly process.
You will also want to route the outside edge of the back piece 1/8" as the cabinet "band" will sit directly on top.
I then used a Roman Ogee bit to route around the inside and outside edges of the front case, as well as around the base of the radio.
Step 3: Cutting the Grill
The grill has already been shaped and sanded so that it fits snugly into the groove routed in the front cover, so now you will want to trace your grill pattern onto the wood.
Once the pattern is on the wood, you will need to drill some holes so that you can pass the scroll saw blade through it to begin cutting. For those of us with an "Old School" scroll saw, this can be a lengthy process. Those with newer Quick Release blades will get this stage completed a little faster.
Step 4: Choose Your Colour
I like to use Minwax Oil-based stain. You know, the good old-fashioned yellow can, the stuff your Grandfather used. They have some nice colour choices and the application is pretty painless.
You'll notice that I used masking tape on the edges of the grill so it would be easier to mount the grill. This way you can just peel off the tape and use wood glue to quickly mount it without having to sand off the stain.
Once the stain has completely dried, two to three coats of polyurethane sealer will give it a very nice gloss. Be sure to lightly sand with very fine sandpaper in between coats.
Step 5: Mounting the Electronics
I cut out a another "sub-grill" that the grill cloth and the speakers will mount to. This piece was pretty much the same shape as the grill itself.
I simply stapled the fabric onto it, then used hot glue to keep the speakers in place.
I then made three "retainer" pieces to keep the sub-grill in place.
Mount the MP3 module with screws. Remember to pre-drill any holes prior to mounting the electronics to keep them from splintering.
Once you get the wires and everything connected, you should be ready to test the electronics. The donor MP3 player I used, also included a backup battery which comes in handy when the power goes out.
Step 6: Cabinet Casing
At this point, the radio should be working and ready to finish assembly.
I used a piece of 1/8" Birch plywood to make the casing. It is going to need to be the width of the radio plus enough to fill in the channels created for it, which should be about 3/4" - 1" depending on how deep you route the channels. The length of this piece will be the exact length of the outside diameter of the back of the case. Using a fabric measuring tape will make it easier to measure with the rounded shape.
Once you have it dimensioned, you will need to kerf cut the band to allow it to bend to the appropriate shape. My kerf cuts were over 3/4 through the board. You will pretty much have to cut down to the outside layer of the plywood. I used my cordless circular saw set to the right depth and clamped the board into place, with a right anlge square to keep the cuts straight. I then unclamped and moved the square for each kerf to the right measurement.
This method is fairly time consuming, but these should be tools that most craftsmen would have on hand. You could use the router or a table saw or whatever method you prefer for kerf cutting.
Now in order to make the plywood bendable enough to go around the case without cracking, soak the piece in warm water for up to half an hour. This part is also a little tricky, trial bends will determine if it's wet enough to bend without cracking.
Once the casing is in place, I used a brad nailer and wood glue to keep it in place.
Step 7: Case Veneer
I find using Iron-On veneer easier, as this can get a little tricky. On this one I've applied a Pine veneer.
You will need to cut the veneer to the exact size as there will be no room for error. Too short and you will see the plywood, too long and the veneer will ripple and warp.
Start with the radio on its side, and use a piece of cloth to cover the veneer. The cloth will not only keep you from burning the wood with the iron, but it also weighs the piece down so it won't move around on you.
Once you have that side adhered, put the radio upright to do the very rounded top and then place it back on its side to finish ironing the other side of the veneer.
Step 8: Stain and Seal
Now that the veneer is stuck on and you are satisfied, you can trim the edges and start the finishing process of the veneer.
You will want to keep it upright and apply very thin coats of stain and polyurethane to prevent runs. I taped off the pre-finished front and back case so as not to damage that finish.
Two coats of stain and three coats of polyurethane should give you a very deep, glossy finish.
Step 9: Completed
At this point your polyurethane should be dry enough to peel off the masking tape. And now you are done. Step back and admire the creation you have made.
I have made four vintage style radios now with plans for a fifth, all different shapes and sizes. This is one of my favorites because it really reminds me of those old-time radios.
Hopefully you will have as much fun making your radio as I did with all of mine. If anyone has any questions on the assembly process or where to source materials, please feel free to contact me.