Introduction: Retro Blaster - Puzzle Box Retrofit

About: I enjoy building wooden locking systems , ...and recycling/upcycling. It doesn't take long for a passion to become an obsession.

The Retro Blaster is a '25 moves to open' modern marvel of mechanical mayhem!, ...well, that's what I tell folks anyway. ; ) *There is a little video tour at the end....

It all started when I found this beautiful vintage counter-top radio carcass at an auction sale. I fell in love with it and I knew right away we had a shared destiny. It took many years to see that dream become a reality, but finally I had to make time for a project that inspired me.

At the time I knew I wanted to add some kind of little stereo to the project, but I wanted it to sound good as well. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I found out about the BOSE Bluetooth speaker Mini. Once I had heard that beautiful little speaker I could not rest until the project had begun!

Slowly, the concept began to take form in my mind, became about creating a juxtaposition between the boom boxes of the 80's and the vintage stylings of the vintage wood radios from the 20's and 30's. Add to the mix a bevy of mechanical locking systems to keep the user busy from accessing the 'Treasure' buried safely inside and you have what you see here.

I can't go into all of the detail that would take many, many more steps, however I do outline the basic thinking and direction as I built it.


Step 1: Music Platform and Front

The first thing I had to figure out was how to properly place the BOSE speaker within the radio carcass.

Through a little experimentation during the building process I found that it would serve to have an enlarged area for the speaker grill.

The enclosed space for the speaker is accessible by a portal on the inside where you can reach all the controls.

Next was to frame in the speaker section. The exiting front frame had curved corners and needed to be squared to continue.

I made some ornate speaker face frame material by inlaying some exotic wood banding into strips of walnut.

This piece does not have a tuner, but needed to have all the expected lines and curves for visual esthetics and so the irregular hexagon shape made from spalted curly maple seems to fit in nicely.

With that done it was time to make an upper front face. In keeping with the age dynamic, a piece of spalted cherry was found on an old fallen-apart encyclopedia bookcase and was promptly cleaned up for use.

The piece was needing something, ...more vintage lines. I viewed images of all the old radios I could, grabbed my French Curve set and drew some lines. Once I was happy with that I woodburned them deeply so that in later steps the wood stain won't cross lines. The difference may seem slight in the images, but looks pretty cool in person.

To assist with the lines and curves, ..and to keep with something that looked radio-ish I added dials, so far you can see the vintage wind up clock that has been added at the top.

For a little mood setting ambiance I added a battery pack of LED lights to the base platform so they shine behind the front speaker grill at night. I was going for a juxtaposition after all. ; )

Once complete I added the front speaker grill cloth, a thermometer and a hygrometer, and two of those little lollipop knobs from another post.

Step 2: The Bussiness Side & the Last Door

I wanted the owner to be able to remove the BOSE speaker if he needed/wanted to so I need to be able to make a removable back grill screen. To facilitate this I made the back grill screen like a drawer so it could slide out after the last move has been made.

A thin rabbet around the back grill screen frame allows for the attachment of the speaker cloth which was glued on and clamped. after the glue had set I added another layer of thin wood strips to enhance the fabric bond to the wood.

The same wood trim I used on the front was used on the back side as well.

Somewhere hidden and difficult to access I routed out a section for the inlay of a skeleton key that will be needed to open the 1st set of doors (coming up).

There ends up being four nice little spaces to build drawers. Each drawer holds something important for the use of the BOSE unit, like the manual, power cords etc. Each drawer is locked by mechanical locking systems, and locked in order, which means you cannot unlock the drawers out of order. Tools and clues are found along the way, but it does take an excruciating amount of tenacity to find and solve these challenges.

After the drawers, I made the last door to be solved. It has 6 different locking systems working to keep it closed, and the knobs seen on each side of the door are but two of them. The arch on top of the door both keeps the user form reaching over the wall, and it contains a 5 moves lock all by itself. The tiny drawer knobs were reused from the same vintage timepiece that I found the clock movement in. Inside the drawers you are seeing a crafty use of exotic wood inlay banding offcuts put to good use. Yes, if you are wondering, there really are people out there that love this kind of insanity.

Step 3: The First Door

I made the door frames to match the shape of the space and temporarily attached them in place to the carcass with small clamps so that I could work on the fitting until it was just right. Keeping the door panel out actually made this step easier I think.

One the doors all seems to hang right I was able to move onto the door panels which were much easier to layout with the door already built and a rabbet ready to receive.

Some woodburned lines were added to carry on the effect that was used on the front side. Once ample coats of finish have been applied, the grooves glimmer like gemstones, adds a real nice effect sometimes.

A couple of appliques were added to the back of the doors, ..thinking maybe now I should have stained them dark before finishing.

A skeleton keyhole was cut into the left door and just for fun I changed up how it was to work. I added a simple lock closure to the inside of the left door so that it remains locked until the right side door has been opened first. A small ring was added to the right door to balance out.

In the last picture here you can see a tricky door threshold that has a pin that reaches through the layers and keeps the back speaker grill from being removed until the last door has been opened

Step 4: The Backside|Inside Random Details

To add a little sparkle, many 3/8" discs of abalone shell were inlaid to the back side.

Two Gatekeepers lurk inside, ...can you see them? I added two little laser cut mice given to me in a random sample of laser offcuts, they watch over the sanctity of order in the house of Retro Blaster. : )

All in all it was a blast to build this piece of amazing functional art, ...and if you think about it, took a hundred years or so for all the materials to come together all in the right place for this piece to happen. I am grateful for the process that allowed me to keep this beautiful radio carcass around for just a little while longer.

Before and After Contest 2016

Participated in the
Before and After Contest 2016