Vintage Radio = New Chest of Drawers

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About: We are 3 friends who join up forces to make stuff during evenings and weekends. Our biggest passion is recycling and repurposing old things.

We love recycling old unwanted items to give them new life.

This project is about the shell from an old radio that was saved from trash by our friend. It did not make any sense to restore it as this radio does not have any vintage value and the shell was totally empty (except for the little turntable) so we decided to repurpose it to something else.

As you can see, visually the item has preserved it's original look. But it's purpose completely changed and now it's a a small chest of drawers. Did you already guess where the drawers are? How about some hidden ones too? :-)

Read on to learn how we built it. If you prefer video format - skip to the end to find a YouTube video.

Step 1: Sketch to Plan Your Drawers

The way to preserve the original look of the radio is to use it's original features as the drawers. Here in our build, the front speaker is a drawer, the glass dial is a drawer, the turntable section with the flip door is a tray and even the row of buttons is a hidden drawer!

Step 2: Empty the Shell and Take Everything Apart

In our case we had an empty shell. But if you don't, that's the first thing you will need to do. Take out all electronics, speakers, the scale/dial glass and buttons. Remove the turntable and any doors. The only thing we kept was the front face because we knew it would not create obstacles for future upgrades.

Step 3: Cut Out Sections From the Front Panel

To make drawer faces you will need to cut out sections of the front panel as per your sketch. Here in the photo you can see that we cut out the front speaker grille, and a plastic strip between the buttons.

I used Dremel with a cutter tool to make all the drawer faces and finished them with a file to make the edges even and smooth.

Step 4: Cut the Glass

The scale/dial glass is always fixed from the back so it is always bigger than the front panel opening for it. If the glass is to become a drawer face, you will need to cut off the edges. Mark the needed size using permanent marker, take a good glass cutter and remove these edges. Use the diamond file to blunt the edges and round the corners.

Tip: mark the edges while the glass is still installed by following the edge of the plastic frame.

Step 5: Prepare Buttons and Knobs

The idea is to use the buttons already present on the radio as drawer pulls.

It will sound draconian but for this build you will have to cut off these buttons and knobs. Make sure you leave enough on the ends to be able to use this to glue the buttons and knobs back to the drawers.

On the photo I marked where I made the cut.

Step 6: Prepare the Internal Frame

I collected all my plywood cut-offs of different widths that I had laying around the workshop. The frame is built around the holes that I have made - speaker, glass dial, buttons. It was helpful to make a sketch of the key elements of the radio together with sizes. Usually you would build the frame and then implant it into the radio case but I found it more convenient to glue the frame inside the shell piece by piece. By the way, this new frame will also reinforce the old shabby shell.

Notice how I also built a tray in place where the old turntable used to be. You would lift the top door just like you would do in with the turn table but now it will open a tray where for example jewelry could be held.

Step 7: Make the Drawers

We used the plywood scraps to make the drawer boxes and some thin MDF for the drawer flooring.

Quick tip on how to assemble the drawers: apply the glue to the edges, attach the two pieces and use the nail gun with some pins to fix them together. Pins won’t be strong for future use but they will hold the pieces together while the glue dries out.

Step 8: Hidden Tray

The lower section stipe between the buttons has been previously cut. Together with the buttons it will form the face of a hidden drawer tray where you can keep your secret papers or jewellery. I think the photo is self explanatory on how this tray was made.

Step 9: Glue the Drawer Faces and Install the Buttons

Cyanoacrylate glue was used to glue both the glass and speaker mesh face-plates. To make an instant bond, activator substance was sprayed on the other side of the gluing surface. Once the faces are fixed, attach the buttons with the studs that you have made.

For the hidden tray with buttons 2 component epoxy was used to set everything together - it also acts as a filler for the empty spaces.

Step 10: Ball Bearing Drawer Slides

If you have large drawers, I recommend to install drawer sliders. Best are ball bearing type for two reasons: they permanently attach the drawer to the cabinet so that the drawer will never fall off and also they allow the drawer to slide out 100% (depends on the slider you purchased).

In my case, the drawer with the glass dial face was large and heavy so we installed the bearing slides there.

Step 11: Making the Legs

Many old radios were built like an individual piece of furniture and had legs. This one too came with legs. By the time the shell reached me, the legs were long gone. In any case, they were black, thin and simply ugly.

Specially for this project I built a custom lathe machine. This lathe is designed to mill cone shaped sticks. For example, you could mill a lighthouse or a rocket. After the lathe was built, it takes about 3 minutes to mill a new leg. Click here for a video overview of the lathe features (be sure to turn on subtitles in the YouTube window).

Step 12: Attaching the Screws to the Legs

I was lucky because the leg brackets are original and were fixed to the shell when I got it. I drilled the holes in the legs and used again cyanoacrylate glue to fix the 6mm threaded rods. Alternatively, epoxy can be used to cement the threaded rods but it takes time to cure.

Step 13: The Back Cover

I decided to preserve the original MDF back cover - it looks great with the graphics describing the radio info as well as voltages and info describing the input/output jacks.

This mdf panel did not cover the full back area especially where the turntable used to be so I added a sheet of metal to cover the missing area. Why sheet of metal? Because the flip-door of the top tray had hinges and this was the best solution how to securely fix these hinges to the back. There was no space for additional width of the plywood.

Step 14: Finishing Touches

To finish off the build, I installed the turntable flip door, screwed in the legs and installed our label at the back. This item will be given as a present to our friend and neighbor in the first week of September :-)

Step 15: How-to Video

Here’s also a 4 minute video showing this build in a little more detail. Turn on subtitles in the YouTube window.

(I did have to buy another one to shoot the video)

Step 16: Final Words

It was fun to recycle something that had seemed to be beyond what is usable given that I received only a shell of this radio.

If you like recycling and repurposing old things, follow us here on Instructables and check other tutorials, like the Old Fridge to Cabinet conversion that we did.

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    17 Discussions

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    I really love how you turned that vintage radio into a storage unit - it's definitely unique and different. Not to mention probably pretty rare! Not too sure how many people would actually have something like that in storage to convert!

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    Mobilyeah

    2 months ago

    Sweet build to be sure, makes me wish I had skills, perchance one day!

    thanks for posting it

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    paappraiser

    2 months ago

    Seriously very Cool! I did a very similar to a old tube Zenith console. It was a curb find and in crap condition. I used to work as a repair tech in a audio store back 40 years ago. I removed the tube parts (Yes I saved them for another project) Gutted the crap wood out. I refinished with garnet shellac made new speaker covers and baffle boards . Designed a MTM transmission line with 4' speakers, that travels down the front then under then is ported out the back bottom for bass reinforcement. Put a Google audio cast, 24w x 2 amp and custom designed a 2 way crossover. Cut granite for a ledge, installed travertine on the bottom and made it a liquor cabinet. I had to do a minor sound proofing but its solid and no rattles. Sound is amazingly great for background with plenty of low end. Listen to it ever night during dinner, use it on the weekends for the booze. Everyone who comes over for drinks thinks its the coolest thing ever. I never built anything that got more compliments. I tried to retain the "used and older look" so I did minimal refinishing of the cabinet beyond repolishing the shellack. I find older radios all the time in the trash. Most are beyond repair and cost would not justify the ends. Recycling the cabinets as you did is the most ideal situation. Your piece will be a keepsake for many years. Excellent work!

    IMG_20180904_122229694.jpgIMG_20180904_122201929 (1).jpg
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    spark master

    2 months ago

    waste of a radio cabinet, they showin the video they have all the guts, In USA there would be collectors who would buy it, as they are rare here. Plus you could change it and make it internally new, up to date and if nothing else add blue tooth to it.

    Ah well,

    Your wood working is nice and it does look rather cool with the skinny legs very late 40's-late 50's. While I would consider putting those legs on one, I would keep it a radio. A stereo bluetooth speaker would be awesome in it.

    keep those chips a fly'n

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    LenkaDesignspark master

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you for your feedback. This model is not rare in the country where it was made. I did have an empty shell but unfortunately I did have to buy another one around 5 USD that I gutted - it was shown on TV.

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    cordovox

    2 months ago on Step 16

    Make that "Radiogram Great again". Great project to make something useful for years to come. No batteries no repairs.

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    Alex in NZ

    2 months ago

    What a fantastic transformation! Thank you so much for showing the process and explaining the design decisions. :-)

    1 reply