Welcome to the Old School: Restoring Antique Radios

Before the second world war Radio was a revolution in mass-communication much like the internet today. Fortunes were made and lost, empires built, epic patent battles ensued, all of which resulted in the world being more connected than ever before, which makes for a really great story (and a great Ken Burns documentary).

Last month we showed you how to modify a vintage radio to play your own audio source through it while re-using the existing electronics and maintaining its functionality. In this post we will show you how to restore any vacuum tube radio. You will learn basic repair/restoration procedures from a different era when it was actually worth repairing consumer electronics. Plug into history and get your hands on the most influential technology of the first-half of the 20th century!

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Vintage Kegerator

Vintage Kegerator

[Kerber] got his hands on a classic 1950’s General Electric fridge, and converted it into this classy vintage kegerator.

As his build log shows, it took an intensive restoration process to get this fridge back in shape. He completely stripped it down, scraping off the sixty year old insulation, fibreglass, and glue. Then the chassis was sanded down to a smooth finish and painted black. R-19 insulation was added to replace the old stuff.

Next up was electronics. An Arduino, DS18B20 temperature sensor, and a solid state relay were used to regulate the temperature and prevent frozen beer. There’s also a Guruplug server that reads data from the Arduino every minute. It makes this data accessible through a web page, so the temperature of the kegs can be monitored from anywhere. [Kerber] admits that this is overkill, but leaves room for future expansion.

The kegerator draws about 180 Watts, and runs for about 6 minutes per hour to keep the temperature regulated. This is pretty impressive considering the age of the fridge. The final restoration looks great, and serves up data along with the beer.

Neosporin…the Retrobright for bench equipment?

polishing-knobs

[linux-works] picked up an old power supply from eBay, and as it was built back in the 60’s or 70’s, it was in need of a little TLC. One thing that immediately caught his eye was the condition of the knobs, dials, and banana plug receptacles – they were dull and faded, showing off 40+ years of heavy usage.

He started off by simply removing the knobs from the power supply, giving them a thorough cleaning with soapy water before leaving them to air dry. They didn’t look any better afterward, so he decided to take a different approach and apply some triple antibiotic ointment to the knobs. As it turns out, letting the ointment sit for a few minutes then wiping the knobs with a soft cloth really made them shine, as you can see in the image above. [linux-works] attributes the effect to the white petrolatum base of the product rather than the antibiotics, likely making a wide array of products equally suitable for the job.

We know how well Retr0bright has worked for the vintage computer folks, so we’ll be interested to see how long the effects of the triple antibiotic treatment last. It certainly can’t hurt those readers who spend their time perusing flea markets in search of classic electronic equipment.

Hackaday Links: March 21, 2012

Don’t get your dirty fingers on the glass

[Poke] sent in a video of him using Android devices with a wiimote and PS3 controller. The build uses the Joystick2Touch and the USB Joystick Center app. Root is required, but this will be very useful when tv-sized Android devices start showing up.

Wonderful restoration work

[John] sent in an Instructable on restoring an ancient typewriter. It’s almost beautiful seeing all those delicate metal parts so finely cleaned and reassembled.

Proof of the Big Bang is in one of these articles

[Paleotechnoligist] has been reading the technical journals from Bell Labs. These people were the Google of the 20th century and did some amazing stuff. Here’s the math for getting to the moon and a thing about “cellular telephony.”

Oooohhh extruded aluminum

[Richard Sum] sent us a pic of his new 3D printer kit he’ll be offering soon. Very professional looking.

Flying like a three dollar bill

[Yannick] and [SaakNeMah] sent in this video of a guy strapping on bird wings, running down a field, and then flying for about 100 meters. The project is Human Birdwings and it’s gotten an amazing amount of press coverage. We’re calling fake on this for three reasons: the wings didn’t produce lift, the camera angles are all wrong (only applicable if there was a single flight), and this guy would be a gazillionaire if his wings actually worked. Argue amongst yourself in the comments; we’d love to be proven wrong.

Old pachinko game tweaked to add a reward system

restored_gumball_vending_pachinko_machine

[Tim Higgins] picked up an old pachinko game at a garage sale for his wife, but it ended up sitting unused in the garage for a few years. When he finally dusted it off, he decided that he wanted to restore and build a nice cabinet for it, though he thought the idea was a bit lame.

He says he likes to use some sort of CPU in his projects, and even though it was overkill, he made it his goal to add some sort of microprocessor to the game. He didn’t want to ruin the original aesthetics of the machine, so he decided that he could use an Arduino to drive a rewards system for skilled pachinko players.

Using some PVC pipe, he built a treat hopper which is controlled by the Arduino. When the player wins, the microcontroller triggers a small hobby servo, which dispenses gumballs/candy/etc.

[Tim] says that his wife loved the gift, and he was quite pleased with how it came out as well. Hit up his blog for additional build details and be sure to check out the photo slideshow of the restoration that we have embedded below.

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Vintage AM radio restoration

radio_restoration

Instructables user [knife141] enjoys restoring vintage electronics in his spare time, especially old radios. AM radios tend to pique his curiosity the most, and in this tutorial, he discusses the restoration of an old radio from the early 1940s.

While people would likely assume that the vacuum tubes in a radio this old are the source of poor performance, he has found that most units he repairs suffer from bad capacitors. He says that the old electrolytic, paper, and wax caps used in these radios were never meant to last more than a few decades, let alone 70 years.

He always starts the process off by discharging the caps and replacing the power cord, both as a safety measure. He was pretty sure the capacitors were bad in this radio, so he swapped all of them out, regardless of condition. All of the internal wiring was then checked over, and any damaged cables were replaced or covered with heat shrink tubing.

With that done, he powered on the radio and was happy to find that the distortion he previously experienced was completely eliminated. With the electronics taken care of, he tackled the radio’s asbestos insulation by encapsulating it with varnish. Attention was then turned to the exterior, where he cleaned and buffed the leather, refinished the face plate, and polished the dial’s cloudy glass.

While it’s not exactly a hack, we always like seeing vintage electronics given new life, and we’re always cool with saving these sorts of things from rotting in a landfill.

iPhone case rehabilitation

[Richard Cabrera’s] iPhone was scratched from years of use. A big part of the appeal of Apple products is the dose of sexy that comes with them, so he set out to remedy this abomination. His iPhone case rehabilitation guide walks you through the miraculous transformation. One of the tools he uses is a headlight lens restoration kit from 3M because its polishing pads include graduated levels of grit for the transition from rough sanding to buffing. As you can see, the logo and text have been buffed off but that’s a small price to pay for what looks like a shiny new device.