To Restore, Or Not To Restore...

Whether 'tis nobler to clean or restore, that is the question. I'm not into restoring things, but often the cabinets and mechanisms are sufficiently gummed up to require heavy cleaning. This entails removing the guts, cleaning the cabinet's finish, CLA the mechanism, and if its not too far gone, polishing the nickel. I had the Model Mechanique Taxiphote apart once, but neglected to photograph the works. I'll have to pull it back out some time and take photos. It's a pretty ingenious design.

Put three experts together and you'll get four opinions on what constitutes restoration. I don't like the idea of restoring things, unless the item is in poor condition. Better a slightly rough original than a pristine restoration. One issue with cabinets though, is the yellowing of the original lacquer finish. The before and after examples here are of a Multiplast cabinet. In my estimation, it has not been restored, but merely aggressively cleaned. The lacquer finish is original. I have used Howard's Restore-A-Finish to take the yellow out of the lacquer. Look at the beautiful wood grain which was hiding under the no-longer transparent finish. Old stains were either carefully rubbed with 0000 wire wool soaked in Howard's, or rubbed with Simichrome polish.

Simichrome is meant for copper, brass or chrome plated surfaces, but I have found it restores a glossy shine to badly stained or weathered lacquer. For areas needing less aggressive polishing, I use Howard's Restore-A-Shine. This cabinet had a bad stain on the top. Whatever got on it had softened and raised the original finish. A combination of wire wool and Simichrome brought it back to a beautiful luster. There is some residual discoloration of the wood itself, but the finish looks smooth and glossy.

Nickel plated trim can be be a problem. On most of the Taxiphotes you see for sale today, you would never realize all the external metal surfaces once had a bright shine. Bringing that shine back may not be possible. The problem lay in how the finish was applied. High quality chrome plating will often come with the slogan "triple plated." What this means is the base metal object has been plated with copper, nickel and then chromium. The three plated metals each have a microscopic structure of cracks. By overlaying the three different crack structures, you get a relatively well protected surface. If you've ever seen rusted chrome, it's not the chrome but the metal underneath which has rusted. It should be noted a second benefit of the copper is it can easily be polished to give an extremely smooth surface for the chrome. Chrome finish, like paint, is only as good as its underlying preparation.

In the case of stereo cabinets, for the most part, they were nickel plated over brass. Because of the crack structure of the nickel, elements attack the underlying brass, which in turn corrodes through the nickel. The point of no return (meaning the point beyond which you cannot get a high polish back) comes pretty early. I've encountered several pieces where I thought the nickel would clean up, but in fact would not. This is why most of the Taxiphotes for sale have dull, ugly looking metal parts. I've also seen metal pieces which were over aggressively polished, leaving large areas of polished brass showing. I would rather have the nickel be a little dull, but with minimal areas of brass showing. My "beverage of choice" for polishing nickel parts is Simichrome polish. Whatever I can get with Simichrome and hand rubbing is the extent to which I'll go. It is certainly possible to re plate, but I would only do this if I were also having the cabinet refinished, and none of this would happen unless I had something incredibly rare and in disastrous condition.

Before: Note how the finish has yellowed and lost its transparency. The finish on the top has been softened and badly stained. The nickel plated brass trim is greying, but in this case the plating is still relatively sound underneath the corrosion.

After: The rich Mahogany grain is back. The original finish had a strong red tint, so I used the version of Howard's for Cherry. It's more a question of desired color than the name of the wood on the can. Simichrome polish was used on almost everything.