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.
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
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.