How to Restore a Vintage Console Stereo
Vintage style, modern sound!
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This 1960s console stereo had so much potential, we weren’t going to let a little water damage and outdated electronics doom it to a landfill. Using simple woodworking techniques, we refurbished this console and added to its high style. Then we filled it with 21st-century audio goodies.
The best part? We’ll show you how to do the same.
- Band saw
- Basic woodworking tools
- random orbital sander
- Table saw
- 1-3/4" x 10" x 60" mahogany
- 3" No. 10 washer-head screws
- 3/4" No. 8 wood screws
- 6/4 x 9" x 48" sapele
- Cold press veneer glue
- Gel stain - Java
- Hide glue
- Oil-based semigloss topcoat
- QuikWood Epoxy Putty
- Sapele veneer
- Speaker cloth 1 yd.
- White craft glue. Gel stain - Antique Walnut
There are four phases to this furniture restoration project.
Phase 1: Fix Cosmetic Damage (Steps 1 through 6)
When I found this vintage console stereo, it was in rough shape. The legs had broken through the particleboard bottom. So first I had to attach a new plywood base, fill the chips and nicks, hide water damage and address other cosmetic work.
Phase 2: Rebuild The Front Panel (Steps 7 through 14)
The center panel needed to be covered in place. I chose a four-way bookmatch pattern with sequence-matched leaves of figured sapele veneer.
The speaker cloth was faded, so I replaced it with classic black ($18 per yard, parts-express.com) and designed new slats to lay over the top.
Phase 3: Make New Legs (Steps 15 and 16)
I chose sapele for the new legs because it was a good match for the veneer on the front panel. Sapele looks like mahogany and is similar to work with, but often has a pronounced ribbon figure, which I love. I found pre-milled 6/4 sapele at a local lumberyard.
Phase 4: Final Touches (Steps 17 and 18)
I finished the console and update the audio components for modern functionality and high quality sound. Check out our guide to old furniture restoration.
Project step-by-step (18)
Fit a New Bottom Panel
- To start, attach a new plywood base.
- I predrilled 16 holes in 1/4-in. Baltic birch plywood and spread the glue evenly with a glue spreader.
- Then I screwed the plywood to the old bottom with 3/4-in. wood screws.
- Pro tip: I did this step first because the console had to be upside down, and I needed to repair the top later anyway.
Inspect Water Stains
- This water stain could have been worse. It only damaged the finish.
- The underlying particleboard wasn’t swollen and the wood veneer only slightly discolored from UV light.
Rub Shellac into the Damaged Area
- A little shellac restores the natural tone in the damaged wood where the finish is gone.
- With a piece of 600-grit wet/dry sandpaper, work a small amount of shellac into the damaged area.
- Wipe off excess with a clean cloth dampened with denatured alcohol. This rejuvenates the natural tone of the damaged wood and fills in the grain.
Add Stain to Even Out the Color
- I let the shellac dry for an hour, then artistically applied the first layer of stain to blend out any evidence of damage.
- Pro tip: Let this stain dry for at least a day.
Fill Chips and Nicks with Wood Putty
- Before you apply the final coat of stain, repair surface flaws.
- I used QuikWood Epoxy Putty blended with a bit of artist’s oil paint (burnt umber) to match the existing color.
- Fill the nicks along the edges and let the wood putty dry.
- Use alcohol-based markers to match the surrounding wood.
Stain and Topcoat the Entire Console
- After repairing damage with wood putty, I applied the first coat of stain to the water spots.
- When it dried, I applied a final coat of stain to darken the entire vintage stereo console by about one shade.
Prepare the Veneer
- I determined the size of each quadrant and cut two blocks of 3/4-in. plywood two inches longer and two inches wider.
- Stack four leaves of veneer and use the plywood as a guide to cut all four at once with a utility knife.
- Figured veneer needs to be flattened before glue-up, so I sprayed the leaves with Veneer Tamer from Woodcraft and laid pieces of craft paper between the leaves.
- Stack everything between the two pieces of plywood and place heavy weights on top.
- Replace the paper once a day to help draw out all the moisture. Do this until the veneer is completely dry.
Veneer the Panel
- Spread a thin layer of veneer glue on the back of each veneer leaf and lay it face down (Photo 3A).
- The veneer may curl slightly as the glue dries. Don’t worry, it’ll lie back down. Spread a layer of glue on the substrate and allow everything to dry overnight.
- Once the glue dries, spread one more thin coat of glue on all surfaces and allow that to dry for about an hour.
- Perfectly center one leaf on the substrate. With a household iron set to cotton, run the iron slowly and firmly over the entire leaf (Photo 3B). This briefly reactivates the glue, joining the veneer to the substrate.
- Once the first leaf is complete, repeat this process for the remaining three.
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Make New Baffles
- I used 1/4-in. Baltic birch to make the speaker baffles.
- To accommodate the new speakers, I cut a rectangular hole with rounded corners 1-1/2-in. from the bottom and one inch from the sides.
- Check for fit and paint the baffles black with water-based paint.
Apply the Speaker Cloth
- Spread white craft glue evenly on the painted baffles.
- Pay attention to the lines in the speaker cloth. Make sure they stay straight and square as you place the cloth on the baffle.
- Place plywood on top to provide even pressure as the glue dries.
- Trim the speaker cloth with a utility knife.
Cut the Slat Parts
- Cut 2-in. x 16-1/2-in. blocks from 3/4-in. mahogany. This vintage stereo console needs eight.
- Mill the rabbet on the ends of the stiles. Place the blank in the center portion of the jig (Photo 6A) and with a flat-top ripping blade set to 1/2-in. high, make multiple passes to cut the full width of the rabbet.
- Make the first two angled cuts (Photo 6B) on each block. Clamp the stile blank in the jig. Make one cut and flip the blank over (Photo 6C) to make the second.
- Flip the sled 180 degrees and make the second two angled cuts (Photo 6D) on each block, creating a slender chevron shape.
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Install the Speaker Baffles
- To ensure a good fit, I made the speaker baffles slightly smaller than the opening. I attached them with glue and brad nails to mounting blocks on all four sides of the opening.
Assemble the Slats
- I trimmed two slats flat on one edge and placed those on the left and right sides first. Then I attached the full slats that cover the joints between the veneered face and the speaker baffles.
- Finally, evenly space the inner slats and pin them in place.
Cut and Rout the Legs
- Make a routing template from 1/2-in. medium density fiberboard (MDF). Drill four evenly spaced holes in the template.
- Trace the template on the sapele and rough-cut the leg with a band saw, staying about 1/8-in. away from the line.
- I attached the routing template to the leg blanks with four small screws and cut it flush on the router table.
Attach the Legs to the Console
- Using a 5/8-in. Forstner bit, drill 1/8-in. deep holes. This is the countersink for the washer-head screws.
- Finish pre-drilling through the leg with a 5/16-in. drill bit. I centered each leg on the bottom of the console using a centering rule and set them two inches back from the front and back edges.
- Pro tip: Face the side with the screw holes inward so they’re hidden underneath the console.
Finishing the Console
- I stained the slats with gel stain in Antique Walnut. To topcoat the entire console, I applied six coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal semigloss wipe-on varnish.
Upgrading the Audio Components
- How you handle the audio upgrade can be simple or complicated.
- I chose simple. I removed the original bits, then found a turntable ($200 at uturnaudio.com) to fit inside the narrow console, a Bluetooth-capable tube amp and a pair of bookshelf speakers from Dayton Audio ($150 and $130 respectively at parts-express.com).
- Then I removed the old components and added a panel to hold the new pieces. And it sounds great!