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Cleaning Old Metal Pieces w/o Ruining Stuff

Discussion in '"Boat Anchor" & Classic Equipment' started by KI7WQH, Jul 26, 2018.

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  1. KI7WQH

    KI7WQH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi everyone!
    I have some Yaesu 400 series radios (Ft-400, FTDX-400 etc) and they are pretty dingy inside and out. There are 2 metal surfaces that I'm interested in cleaning up/restoring but I don't even know where to start.

    1. Internal metal pieces of the case, also transformers, where the metal is heavily tarnished . Would love to get these metal pieces back to their factory shine without having to submerge it in anything - but maybe that's the only way?

    2. These radios have beautiful aluminum bezels and faces. The bezels get dinged up and scratched pretty easy but I don't think I can just buff it out without also ruining the "matte finish" or texture. I feel like if I attempted to sand out these gouges i'd be left with a polished piece of metal that wouldn't have the same look as the original. My guess is there might be some kind of process you can do to get that matte texture after you buff out the gouges, but really have no idea.

    3. Bonus question: Painted on text! some of my pieces have text that has been worn completely off. At first I thought maybe i could print up some decals like they use in model trains etc, but then you are still left with the transparent plastic that you print the text on. What was the original process at the factory to paint these labels on? This would also be helpful in fixing the face on my ft-101 that has some white text worn off (you can't make white decals at home very easily).

    4. Bonus #2: Is there a way to re-chrome the small parts around the VFO and meter? I don't want to just paint it or something like that but really chrome it. Do bodyshops do small runs like that or would that cost $$$$?

    Thanks for any ideas! I've been working 3 jobs the last few weeks and haven't been able to get my hands dirty but I'm hoping I'll have some time off soon!


    Attached Files:

  2. KB4QAA

    KB4QAA XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Hi, welcome to ancient radio restoration.

    You need to determine what your restoration goals are, and also have a realistic perspective of what is possible/practical. Some points....

    Goals may vary by radio and personal interests:
    1. Museum piece. Keep untouched for historic reference or collector value
    2. Operating Museum piece. Minimal repairs to make operational, either modern replacement visible or restuffing/disguising component to appear original. Stabilization of corrosion and damages.
    3. Operating radio. Made functional for daily use. Cosmetics addressed as desired.
    3.a. Improving the radio beyond original design and performance.
    4. Show piece. Restore as close to original new condition.
    5. Over-the-top-obsession. Replating chassis, mirror finish IF cans, replacing every wire, dressing leads, replacing or repainting front panels, replacing dials and knobs and screws. "Gonzo". ;)

    1. You can only have the original finish and patina once. After you fiddle with it, it is gone.

    2. With few exceptions e.g. Scott, McMurdo Silver, the internals of radios were never "shiny". Protective coatings, and metal finishes such as oxide surfaces while not fancy are important and attempts to polish them actually exposes chassis and bodies to corrosion, e.g. radio chassis, IF transformer cans, transformer frames. Irridite, Cadmium, Tin, Zinc protective coatings and Oxide or Passivated surfaces on components may not be obvious to the uneducated eye and may appear to be 'dingy".

    3. Face panel markings were often painted, offset or lithograph printed, as well as water-slip decals. Commercial printing companies can exactly reproduce painted, lithographed panels for a price. sells decal sets for many old radios as well as generic radio term sets. Various laser printing and label systems are available from art suppliers that can iron/heat transferrs onto faceplates.

    4. Aluminum oxide finish can be restored by A. Remove corrosion, clean and polish/sand to a consistent surface. B. Apply Lye based, NaOH, oven cleaner spray to item and allow to develop for 2-3 minutes C. Rinse clean with water. D. Apply a basic wax for protection.

    5. Did I mention, "1. You can only have the original finish and patina once. After you fiddle with it, it is gone."? :)
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
    KI7WQH likes this.
  3. W2WDX

    W2WDX Subscriber QRZ Page

    The Yaesu front bezel is not metal, it's metalized paint. I know it looks like metal but it's not. I know plenty of people who pulled out the ScotchBite pad and found out the hard way, and had nothing but a spotty ruined surface. To date I have not found a supplier of this type of paint. It's best to just leave it.

    A word of advice. Scotchbite is your enemy. Remember that. And for good reason. Blood poisoning and cancer, for one thing. Many chassis were treated years ago with Cadmium and other heavy metals to inhibit rust. Using ScotchBite pads to "make the chassis shiny again" is an exercise in futility (since once you remove these coating the chassis begins to rust and pit feverishly) and its also potentially hazardous. On painted surfaces Windex and ultra-fine compound is the best approach. Windex will not soften paint (things like Fantastic will not only soften but remove some silkscreens) and compounding very lightly by hand will remove oxides, smoke browning, and bring back the paints luster.

    I use Windex on everything. It always removes the gunk and never damages the surfaces. (Never on electronics of course, just chassis parts). Aluminum parts are easy (as long as they are not cast). There are chemicals, used mostly in aircraft maintenance, that removes the oxide from aluminum and brings back the original surfaces. Works great on chassis for like Heathkit DX-60 or Collins 75A series and such.

    Restoring is complicated and requires knowledge of materials and what materials were actually used on a given item. I've seen way too many vintage radios utterly destroyed by people guessing how to deal with old surfaces, rendering the piece pretty much worthless from a cosmetic perspective. They may function, but look like ... well ... you know the word.
    K9ASE and KI7WQH like this.
  4. KI7WQH

    KI7WQH Ham Member QRZ Page

    These are good points, I would have to explain it like this. I have a complete FT-101 station that I consider my "daily driver" and then I have a complete(i think) fldx/frdx-400 station with an ft-400s and a ftdx-400 as well that I'm setting up as my "classic sports car". I would like to get it looking as factory fresh as possible, both inside and out, but still intend to use it regularly. I'm not concerned about patina as much as i'm concerned about ruining stuff by cleaning it. I figure I still have a decent amount of time to live and I'll add my own patina to the rigs :)

    I will check them out, this is good to know.

    I was hoping for an easy "trick" but this is something I can do eventually. In the meantime there is a lot of dust and crud built up on the insides of some of these pieces that I will clean up for now.

    1. I thought there was something odd about material, this is good to know.
    2. I've been very paranoid about scratching surfaces so I've ony used t-shirt type cloth
    3. Also good to know
    4. Ha, that's what I've been using too
    5. Yeah, It took a LONG time to hunt down all these pieces and the last thing I want to do is ruin them.

    Thanks for the responses! I'll post some pictures of my progress once I have a chance to actually work on them!
  5. W2WDX

    W2WDX Subscriber QRZ Page

    @KI7WQH And one other note, using a "lye" based cleaner on aluminum is not good. It works at first, but then everything turns black or spotty over a few years. It also etches any oils on the surface into the aluminum, so fingerprints and oil stains become a black permanent part of the metal. A cleaner such as Alumiprep 33 (now called BONDERITE C-IC 33 AERO) is what should be used. The correct chemical is Hydrogen fluoride, which is immediately converted to Hydrofluoric Acid once water is added. In addition to the two acids mentioned here, it contains buffering agents (Potassium phosphate) to help retard some of the effects of the acids employed. It also contains a specific form of alcohol (2-Butoxyethanol) and an emulsifier/surfacant (Alkylphenol ethoxylate) to help lift away oils and reduce surface tension. It can be expensive, but it is the chemically correct (and only true) way to return aluminum back to its original surface. It's also reusable when stored in a plastic bottle; I've had my liter bottle for years and have restored dozens of radios with it. (Getting low now though). And never polish/sand aluminum, this only increases the microscopic surface area which leads to accelerated corrosion. If you want to inhibit the formation of Aluminum Oxides on the surface, using a clear alodine soak will make the clean renewed aluminum last decades. Now this is only for aluminum chassis & parts and I am still researching ways to deal with a bare steel or treated steel chassis; for now, I just clean them with Windex the best I can.

    Can you tell I did a bit research on this? lol I don't just go with the "common" wisdom, which sometimes isn't wise at all. I like to know the facts when I do restorations. Here';s some images of aluminum chassis treated in this way:

    gatescapplug.jpg RBL 002.jpg headx60b1e.jpg joh6n21l.jpg

    Understanding these things takes a while to learn, but makes all the difference. Even strange details like on the Heathkit DX-60B in the third image, the main power transformer is not painted. It's actually a form of "bluing" like used a gun barrels. Something unique to a few of the DX-60's. I had a few and each time I found this in this case I would remove all the previous surface using sandpaper, then emery cloth and finally steel wool, then apply gun metal bluing. Recognizing things like just makes these restoration pop, as they say.

    By the way, I use the same process on aluminum antenna parts, so my antennas always remain shiny even in the salt air of my area.

    The big thing about restorations, at least from a "total work needed" perspective is to not bother with pieces that are not already in reasonably good shape (unless you are just looking to have a "functional" unit, which is fine). This seems like common sense, but many times Hammy Hambone has had his fingers inside a radio and just mucked things up where a true restoration cannot be achieved, like a guy sanding a chassis down. Once that's done it's over from a true restoration perspective. Electronics is easy to restore, but chassis and even paint jobs are a lot of work, and sometimes even impossible depending on the amount of "restorative damage" done in the past. So always pass on questionable pieces. If the chassis looks untouched and not corroded, even if the electronics is totally screwed, it can only then be properly restored.

    Now fixing up a radio, a refurbishing, just to have functional unit? That's fine too. It's just not as pretty and gets old looking very fast. Hihi!!!
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2018
    KI7WQH likes this.
  6. KI7WQH

    KI7WQH Ham Member QRZ Page

    Those shots are beautiful!

    That is what I would like to have eventually. Thanks for the great info. Too be honest I'm not sure what metal the Yaesu's of this era use for the insides of the chassis, it could be some kind of steel alloy or aluminum. I'll have to inspect it more closely.
  7. W5INC

    W5INC XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Great information and TNX for posting it. :)

    White Vinegar can also be used to clean off Aluminum oxidation off of rig's chassis. Then you can use 91% Isopropyl alcohol to rinse the vinegar off the chassis, since it is an acid. For the folks who are restoring rigs on a budget. :)
  8. W2WDX

    W2WDX Subscriber QRZ Page

    On the Yaesu it's anodized steel. Short of stripping the chassis down completely and having the anodizing removed and re-applied, the best approach is the Windex cleaning. Yaesu chassis are pretty good in terms of longevity, and most are in good condition. Most just have a ton of dust and gunk, which a good cleaning deals with nicely. I have a complete FT-301 station, including the FT-221R and at one time had a complete 101 Twins station. So I know the older Yaesu's well.
  9. AF7XT

    AF7XT Ham Member QRZ Page

    National ? RBL-(5?)
  10. W2WDX

    W2WDX Subscriber QRZ Page

    Yes ... Haven't even finished the restoration yet. Crazy heavy and hard to work on. Have all the electronics finished and the receiver reassembled and cleaned. Left the original wrinkle finsh intact since it was in very good shape. However, looking for a gear for the main tuning; one of the teeth is broken off. It even has the matching weird-assed coaxial connector (coax end). Great lowfer I hope to get working.

    Now if I can just figure out how to run a crazy long receive antenna on my tiny property, I'd be rocking listening to the nearly non-existent amateur low-band stuff. Hihi
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2018

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