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Case Restoration - Wooden Cases
Like rexine cases wooden cases will often carry the result of years of dirt and grime as well as a varying number of knocks bangs and even breakages. Well cared for examples will obviously be minimally affected but, given that the technology of the gramophone has long since passed into history the chances are, unless the piece has found an alternative life it is likely that it has spent years in a loft or out building simply decaying. Case restorations can be long and time consuming particularly where new components need to be cut and shaped but in many cases the worst scenario is a clean and refinish which needn't be a major event. The following illustrates the basic repairs of common problems that might be faced..
Just one note before we commence. I have only thus far restored oak cabinets but I assume that mahogany cabinets were originally finished in a similar manner. This seems to be a shellac based finish which, if you try and clean it with methylated spirit or similar will result in the shellac being softened and the surface far from being cleaned will just become a tacky mess. (However with skill the use of methylated spirit can be used to re spread the shellac to cover scratches etc but that is beyond the scope of this article.)
The examples used are of my restoration of the HMV163.
Stripping ( If absolutely necessary!)
To strip the surface I usually use a Stanley knife blade held between the fingers and thumbs as in the photographs. For any shaping I use a surgical scaplel usually with a No 10 (rounded) or 10a (flat) blade. Care is of the order here, not only for danger to oneself but more importantly to the workpiece. It is an easy matter for the blade to slip and leave a nasty cut in the surface of the wood. As a general principle I try and have as much of the length of the blade as possible in contact with the wood. Usually the surface that is left is ready for finishing but if necessary it can be finished further, or in difficult to access places, with fine grade glass paper or wet and dry paper.
A long working life inevitable leaves its scars so I have included this section as an overview of what might confront us. It obviously cannot be all inclusive, to be honest a whole website could be devoted to repairs but that goes beyond the scope of this article. The photos and notes largely speak for themselves and relate to 3 wooden machines I have restored. The HMV 103, 104 and 163. The HMV163 is dealt with more extensively on the next page where I look at the restoration of the lid in particular and is further illustrated on the 163 page of the graham-ophones site. (Click links to visit). Common problems with wooden cases including lifting veneers, indentations, missing veneer, sprung joints and broken beads. Just one further note on lifting veneers. Thankfully animal gue was traditionally used for fixing. I say thankfully because once heated the glues become softened. This means that veneers that have lifted can be "ironed" back. Use moderate heat from a domestic iron and protect the surface with a towel. Practice first on an out of sight section.
Stain is usually available as water based or spirit based. I prefer spirit based stain as I find it doesn't raise the grain as much as water based. Those of us of a certain age will no doubt recall disastrous results of streaking etc that accompanied early efforts at staining. Such memories were at the back of my mind when I approached the 163 restoration. However I obtained a Liberon spirit based stain shown in the photograph which has been nothing short of brilliant. It flows on easily with no patchiness and is dry in an hour. A subsequent coat can the be added if required. I apply the stain with a piece of the blue roll available for mechanics decorators etc. as it can simply be discarded after use. I apply a liberal coat working with the grain of the wood which is essential for every stage from stripping through to finishing. Working across the grain, especially when stripping and waxing, can and will leave mark.
It is also important to match the inside colour of the gramophone as close as possible. The inside is usually not only as damaged as the outside but it will no doubt be home to the manufactures transfers/decals. Often on restorations there is a great distinction between the outer case colour and the inner which to make spoils the appearance of the gramophone. This should be avoided.
Once the stain is dry (a min of 1hr) a wax finish can be applied. I use Briwax that contains a further stain as opposed to the natural colour that is available. Application is with a fine grade steel wool, again working with the grain. Once applied allow time for the solvent in the Briwax to evaporate and then it may be polished with a soft cloth, working once again with the grain. Subsequent applications will build the finish further.
THE STAIN AND BRIWAX CONTAIN SOLVENTS SO SHOULD ONLY BE USED IN A WELL VENTILATED AREA PAYING STRICT ADHERENCE TO THE INSTRUCTIONS AND WARNINGS CONTAINED ON THE PRODUCT