TDW DIY: Converting An Antique Cabinet Radio Into A Modern Music Machine

One of the best parts about DIY is finding a new purpose for old things. That is certainly the case when it comes to this project. If you have a bit of knowledge on technology, circuits, and the like, you’ll find this both challenging and rewarding. Since steps will vary based on what type of radio you start with, we’ll provide some general guidance, but you’ll need to think on your feet for this one.

To start, you’ll need an old cabinet radio. Be careful to find one that isn’t worth much or that is broken beyond easy repair. Some are actually worth a lot of money. Focus on finding one that you like the look of as it will quickly become a centerpiece of your living space. You’ll also need some other supplies for the project like:

  • Tools (hammer, screwdriver, drill, etc.)
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Sanding equipment (orbital sander preferred)
  • Possibly a jig saw
  • A replacement AM/FM receiver… OR… a docking hub for a smartphone
  • Small amplifier
  • Speakers (1 or 2)
  • Speaker wire
  • Various supplies (plywood, sand paper, glue, paint, varnish, wood stain, Lexan sheet plastic, etc.)

Once you have some supplies, get ready to adapt, improvise, and overcome. The challenge begins now.

Step 1: Teardown

You’ll first need to take apart the old radio and remove the “guts”. Again, depending on the type you have this can be a completely different process than what a fellow DIY’er has. Focus on removing the original speaker, radio converter, amplifier, and internal workings. Be careful when doing so as you may be able to preserve some and reuse them or even sell them online. You’ll also want to be careful not to damage the wooden frame of the cabinet itself.

Step 2: Refinishing The Cabinet

Before working on the internal tech for your new music playing masterpiece, you’ll need to fix up the cabinet. Perhaps you want to leave it as is for a classic, rustic feel. But, you’ll most likely want to at least re-touch it with stain or varnish. Start by using your sander to remove any old coatings and smooth it until you’re down to the wood. Remove any cloth over where the speakers were and wash them out with some warm, soapy water. Then, apply a coat or two of your favorite colored wood stain to freshen up the cabinet. Cover it with a layer of varnish or finish to keep it looking good for years to come.

Step 3: Install The New Speakers

Most likely the speakers will go into the bottom of the cabinet. You may need to build a new platform for them or arrange them diagonally so that the sound is directed out of the front of the cabinet. Feel free to get creative with how you place them. Keep in mind that decades ago they weren’t worried about fitting in high-powered speaker systems. You’ll need to do some creative arranging to get them in. A high-quality speaker set like a pair of Bose will really compliment the deep, rich sound of the cabinet itself. To help minimize vibrations or rattling noises, surround the sides and backs of the speakers with some felt.

Step 4: New “Guts”

This step is the hardest to instruct as it all depends on the original set up of your radio. Here you’ll need to install the new radio receiver, amplifier, and then integrate them into the existing dial controls. You can do this by putting the new electronics where the old ones went or creating a new custom shelf for them to sit on. Or, for a more modern/hipster look, replace the original AM/FM display with a docking station for your smartphone. Either way, you’ll need to connect the new “guts” to the speakers, most likely by soldering some speaker wire and making the connections on the electronics boards. This step will take some testing and a little ingenuity, but we know you’re up for it. The best part is, no matter what you choose to do, there is no right or wrong answer. Just make something that you’re proud of. (And that hopefully works!)

That’s All Folks

Once you get everything attached and working, clean up your project and take a step back. Turn on some tunes and enjoy listening to your music on a vintage radio cabinet. Turn on some old 40s and 50s radio broadcasts or listen to the brand-new Drake album, the choice is up to you. Either way, you’ll have an eye-catching new piece that is sure to spark a conversation with visitors. Congrats on restoring your very own vintage radio cabinet with a modern twist!  Learn More

Images courtesy of

Read Next: 12 Best Cordless Drills On The Market Right Now