Monday, June 20, 2011

Radio Romance, Part 1

Remember that old radio cabinet John and I purchased way back when? Well, we finally dragged it out of the garage about two weeks ago, and have been working on both restoring and steampunking it out ever since.

Here's what it looked like, fresh from the antique mall:

Tonks and Lily approve. Or disapprove. Or don't give a flying rip.
Really, it's hard to tell.

The cabinet was in amazing shape, considering it's 81 years old:

Pretty carving on the face and columns.

As you can see, the only real damage was to the speaker grill, where a few pieces of the lattice design were broken off.

The radio itself was long gone, with the guts and knobs removed:

Ick. Verrrry dirty.

After wiping down the inside (again: ick) we removed the center panel:

This would actually make a beautiful shelving unit by itself, but there was no way I wasn't using that gorgeous center panel. So, we set about repairing it.

First, John carefully pried up the center speaker grill, which was nailed in place with tiny pin nails:

The blue tape is to protect the wood from scratches.

Don't worry; the filthy mustard-colored speaker cloth will be getting an upgrade.

Next, the fun part: I got out my epoxy putty.


You slice off a small section of this putty and knead it together to activate it. It is *extremely* sticky, and you have less than five minutes of open time before it hardens to a cement, so it takes a little practice to get used to. (It's better to work in small sections.) However, I eventually managed to get the two missing sections roughed in, plus one small center patch:

The two skinny patches are where the lattice was missing completely.

Next I spent two nights painstakingly carving the detail into those patches using a pumpkin-carving bit on my Dremel:

The Dremel takes off tiny, tiny bits at a time, so it's very dusty and very slow going - but that also gives you a lot of control, which is good.

Here are my patches after carving:

I won't lie to you: I am extremely proud of these patches. I'd only used the epoxy putty this way once before (on a project I'll feature here later), and I've never carved anything before, so this was both a learning experience and a ton of fun.

Next I used acrylic craft paints to apply a dark faux wood grain over the patches:

Though the grill looks (and feels!) like a heavy wrought iron, it's actually made of wood.

Ready to see the finished product?


Of course, the irony here is that I spent two or three days working on something that no one will ever notice - and that's the whole point. Heh.

Next I'll be showing off the fun, electrical, steampunky features we're adding to our radio cabinet, so stay tuned for those!

Oh, and in case you have something that needs patching, here's the epoxy putty I use. It's about $6 from Amazon, or you can find it at your local hardware store. And believe me, once you start using this stuff, you'll be in love. Just be sure to wear gloves, or you'll be picking concrete bits off your skin for a week. (Heed my voice of experience!)

So tell me, guys, what's your favorite crafty secret weapon? Any tools or products I should know about?

{UPDATE: At long last, here's part 2!}


  1. My secret crafty weapon: TOENAIL CLIPPERS!!!

    That's right. I make jewelry. Simple stringing wire is too fine for wire cutters, and too damaging to scissors. But the clippers do nicely, they are cheap, and the curved edge helps get closer to beads.

    They are also great for cutting pins. :D

  2. Beautiful work! I could feel my mom's side peeking out and being impressed.

    Oh, and Tonks and Lily are not sure about it yet. Unless they can get food or catnip from it they aren't interested.

  3. Unfortunately, I'm not very tool-y or weapon-y (whether the weapons are for craft or of an entirely different sort).
    But I must say: Your cats are named Tonks and Lily? You're awesome, dude.

  4. That is fantastic! Very well done!

  5. The fact that no one will notice it is a testament to your skill with that Dremel!

  6. Totally random, but are you wearing a super pretty reddish ring in one of those photos? LOVES. Also, your project is awesome! My parents had an old radio that was sorta similar when I was growing up. Yay!

  7. Beautiful job on that lattice resto! Looks absolutely amazing - can't wait to see what you're doing to the rest of it!

  8. That is amazing. I zoomed in to see if I could find the patches, and I couldn't tell where they were without comparing to the picture with just the patches. And I love your cats' names. :)

  9. Omigosh! Epoxy putty is freaking MAGICAL! You can bet I will be getting me some of that in the very near future :)

  10. Secret weapon - SUGRU! Best thing ever for tweaking stuff you already have to make it more user friendly. Also good for small repair jobs. I recently used it to make new zipper pulls for my daughter's favourite jacket! Only downside is that it comes in limited colours and has a shelf life.

  11. @ Leila - that's my hematite wedding ring! You can see it closer here. (It has so many different colors that it changes in different lights.)

    @ anony - I just googled it, and sugru sound AMAZING. Thanks for the tip!

  12. Beautiful! I saw you tool and I told my hubby look what I am going to get for you! haha he loves his dremil!
    Love your cats names - harry potter fan? Me Too!

  13. That's it. I need to invest in a dremel, if only to have my pumpkin carving taken to the next level. ;)

  14. That is awesome! I love the tiny details that nobody else would ever notice.
    I can't think of any particular secret weapon. Although I love our cordless nail gun. We seem to use it all the time. And spray paint. I love that stuff.

  15. The restoration work on that grill is absolutely amazing, Jen. I had to compare the before and after pictures to find where your putty even was, and then I still couldn't tell if I'd counted down the right number of struts. Genuinly a genious idea of hot to fix it and to say you had never done that sort of thing before, I'm astounded.

    I hope the final product will be just as stunning, looking forward to it :D

  16. Looks amazing!

    Quick question about the epoxy putty... does it shrink at all as it dries? I need to create elf ears extensions on a plastic doll (a Blythe, actually), and I've been having a really difficult time finding a modeling compound that doesn't shrink up and fall off.

  17. Wow, I am so impressed by that! I really have nothing useful to add but had to say how good that looks - and I look forward to seeing what you do with it next!

  18. I love my Dremel too. :) Occasionally if I'm working with a soft enough material I'll use the drill bits alone to do a little fine work.

    I also use epoxy putty with my action figure and doll work, although I like Kneadatite. It's more expensive, but it has a MUCH longer working time, more like an hour.

    Which is great for sculpting things like.... *self-promotion/* the mask and ring on this doll */self-promotion*

  19. @ Shana - I didn't notice any shrinkage at all, although I suppose it's possible there was some on such a small scale that I couldn't detect it. (John is now telling me over my shoulder that it doesn't shrink. Maybe I should have just started by asking him. Ha!)

  20. Lovely work- can't wait to see the finished product! I keep begging the hubs for a Dremel; hopefully Santa understands this christmas :D

    As far as secret tools go, I usually spend more time cleaning the resulting mess than creating the crafts. As a result, Lens cleaner and Krud kutter are my two favorite products ever. Krud kutter's gotten dried latex paint out of brand-new carpet, even. And the lens cleaner's just the result of doing projection work forever- if you need to get built-up gunk off anything and make it shine while still being fairly gentle on surfases, it's perfect.

  21. Dremels are great! I particularly recommend the flexible shaft, though you'll need to watch the minimum radius - works best if you can hang the thing above your workspace.

    For the real classic firebottle effect, you want a warm amber glow spilling out of the holes in the cabinet... :-)

  22. Suuuper cool! A nifty trick and a job super well done. I'm gonna keep an eye out for that stuff.

    And, my favorite crafty weapon is the toothpick. Humble, yet infinitely useful. Apply, direct, or remove paint, glue, glitter, thread, paper, etc., from small, fiddly, hard-to-reach areas. Also indispensable for sorting beads.

  23. Long time lurker, first time poster...

    As I was reading this post, I kinda wondered why you didn't take a cast of the existing grill (in an area where it was complete, obviously) and maybe work that way.

    You might not know about two products that would likely help in that regard:

    Polycaprolactone (PCL) is a biodegradable polyester like polypropylene or nylon, with a low melting point of around 60°C.

    Plastic you can mold in your home for DIY projects

    It's sold under various brand names:


    Polymorph (by DAGU, Taiwan)

    Still other names: Friendly Plastic, InstaMorph

    There's also this family of molding/casting silicones, which I think I read about in a casting article by Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) in MAKE magazine:

    Smooth-On Products

    OOMOO® Silicone Rubber
    No Scale or Vacuum Chamber Required
    OMOOO at

    TASK® Series Liquid Plastics
    Performance Casting Resins
    TASK at

    I've never used these products myself (that will change in July, when I move to a detached house with an unfinished basement), but I figure Adam Savage knows what he's talking about!

  24. Man, I wish I could sculpt. Poo. I am very impressed, Jen! Can't wait to see the finished product!

    Meilandru: THANK YOU for the tip for toenail clippers with jewelry!

    OT: Jen, you remember when you posted this? Paper Cuts

    Well, I went to the link at the bottom for Gallery 1988, and they have some great stuff in their shop for sale! Lots of cult stuff. I scrolled through and ran across a lot of Ghostbusters stuff--check out what came up!

    Ghostbusters search

    The Crush on Egon one is adorable!

  25. Wheat paste for pasting (duh) and cleaning the spines of old books (text blocks) and spatulas - tiny, very thin bladed spatulas - to be found on bookbinding websites and in cake stores. Think pie and pancakes for mice. Oh, and a good bone folder. Can't live without the bone folder.

    Nice job on the wood.

  26. My only suggestion, in retrospect, would've been to cast the existing lattice* and use the epoxy putty in the resulting mold, rather than having to carve it by hand.. :D

    * That said, I have no suggestions offhand for a casting material or mold release. ;)

  27. Wow, it looks awesome! I can't wait to see the finished product.

  28. @Meilandru...THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!
    I sometimes dabble in the hand made jewelry world and I would have never thought to use clippers!
    This might just save me lots of frustration in the future.

    Note to self: Quit reading Jen's posts on crafty things because you don't have enough time to finish your own stuff!!!

  29. @Greg & skreidle - I initially planned to cast the grill as you both suggested, but I wasn't sure how to securely attach the new pieces to the edges - not to mention I've never molded anything before! So, since I had to make a patch over a jagged break in the wood anyway, I figured I'd go with epoxy for everything. More time consuming, perhaps, but simpler.

    I'll definitely check out those products you suggested, though, Greg! Mold-making is on my crafty "to-learn" list.

  30. Neat! Your projects always seem to turn out perfectly. Or do you just not show us the flops?
    I had to laugh after just having read today's CW post to come here and see your two cats first thing. :-)

  31. Great tips Jen! I have my grandmother's ornate gilded mirror that needs a few spots filled in. Now I know what to use. Thanks! :-)

  32. Jen, amazing work! Most impressive. For all-purpose crafting I loves me a hot-glue gun. It's good at attaching things where regular glue wouldn't do the trick, especially for fabric crafts.

    A completely unrelated secret weapon: when making colored cookie dough I use concentrated gel colors, which I scoop out with a tiny spoon (from a toy kitchen set). I've discovered you need to make the colors darker than you want, because the cookies lighten as they bake.

  33. Slightly off topic, but speaking of Steampunk -- thanks so much for the _Airborn_ recommendation. I've been recovering from knee surgery and doing a lot of reading, and that may well be the best of the lot (along with the other two). My actual job is posting new entries to the website, and I noticed these upcoming Steampunk goodies:

  34. This looks amazing. I can't wait to see the finished product. I wish I had more occasion to use (as well as more skill with) my dremel. I end up using kitchen utensils all of the time in both crafting and gardening. That's probably the only thing I've got that could be considered a secret weapon.

  35. I keep staring at the completed grill and no matter how hard i look, I can't spot the fixed pieces. Jen, you are AMAZING!

  36. Silputty from Van Dykes Restorers could also be used in a situation like this. You mix up some and press in the part you want to clone. Let it set, then peel away. After that, you fill it with the molding compound, let it set, and unmold. Voila! New pieces!

  37. That's awesome. The carving that you did with the putty was unbelievable. Kudos madam! Your kitties are adorable also.

  38. Julie G. from IowaJune 21, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    Wow! Awesome job! Can't wait to see the finished project.

  39. That is awesome! I can't wait to see what you do with it next.

    I looked up the Loctite epoxy and that's exactly what I've been looking for to restore the missing fiddly bits on the rocking chair I'm restoring. Thank you for the tip!

  40. Wow - what carving skills! So clever - I don't know if I would have thought of this. Can't wait to see what else you've done with it.

  41. @Shana -- my Mom uses epoxy putty for doll repairs all the time (mostly fingers and ears but she has sculpted whole hands). She then paints over it to match the original bisque or porcelain finish. She doesn't seem to have any issues with it shrinking.

    (OT -- does anyone have a suggestion for why I can't seem to log in with OpenID? My LJ log-in never seems to work when I post here.)

  42. I have a small pry bar that I bought when we were putting down flooring in our then new house. I swear I have used it on every house project since then! I'm not a huge crafter per se, but I do house projects a lot and I couldn't live without this tool! Here is one like the one I've got although mine is a different brand.

  43. My crafts are currently limited to crochet (and I am on a yarn buying moratorium for 445 sq ft apartment can't fit any more stuff without using up what I have!). I have had a lot of new babies born into my life recently, with even more on the way so I am crocheting blankets and stuffed animals every free minute I have! I have two otherwise non-crafty items I use all the time: I always keep nail clippers handy, so I don't have to carry scissors around wherever I go. And I use old knee highs! I stuff the cut ends of the yarn and/or fiberfill into the knee high toe until I get the size needed for the current stuffed animal body part, then tie it off nice and tight and cut right above the tie. Then I tie off the bottom of the now toeless leg part of the knee high, stuff it for the next body part and tie off the top. I keep going until I need a new knee high! That way, little baby fingers can't get in there and pull out stuffing!

  44. Absolutely beautiful job on the lattice, Jen! Your talent and creativity never cease to amaze me. Can't wait to see the next installment!

  45. My trusty glue gun is my go to for most things, but if I need something more permanent, I use E6000 glue. That stuff glues anything to anything and then I use clothes pins as extra fingers when needed.

    I love your crafts inspiring!

  46. You *should* be proud of your work!! That grill looks great!!

  47. Thank you for showing me the wonders of epoxy putty! I have a drawer that no longer can hold the track on one side and now I know the tool to fix it! You saved me from hours of walking around my home super center ;)

  48. @Meilandru They're great for embroidery thread and yarn while flying too.

    @Anna For me it is hat pins (the long T shaped ones) to put fine detail on Scupley figures, pick apart beads, etc. : )

  49. Can't wait to see the final product.
    I knew a pre Harry Potter Tonks. He was named after the toy brand Tonka.

  50. Whether anyone notices or not, you did an amazing job! Very impressive! :)

  51. What kind of moldmaking\casting do you want to learn? Metal casting, I can direct you to numerous helpful(comprehensible) books and websites on the topic. Plastic molding, not so much, but I did find a book on plastic injection molding at home. It might be useful.
    P.S. Lindsay Books has lots of really good technical\diy books, if you're into that sort of thing.


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