Making A Modern Console Stereo General Woodworking
When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, a very common sight in living rooms was the console stereo. At least here in North America. Typical features were two built-in speakers, one on each end; a tuner for over-the-air radio; and record a player under the top that opened up. Some had tape players – 8 tracks, usually – and the amplifier was inside below the record player. The idea was to consolidate all of these components in one handy place and reduce the nest of wires you find behind separates. They were available in hundreds of different designs (just do an image search for examples) and price ranges.
Fast forward to today and they’ve all but disappeared. Oh, you can still get one, and that’s a testament to just how many of these were produced, but the chances are slim that it’ll match your decor or be all that useful for you. Assuming it works, that is, and the speakers are still intact.
The older ones were all tube based and while you can still get replacements, it’s not as easy as it used to be. A quick trip to your local drug store where you could use the tube tester to weed out the faulty one, and back again with a fresh new one for literally pennies.
” After studying every picture I could find, I came to the realization that I could not improve the design. Or even pretend to improve it…”
I had the idea of making a modern version and, as I mentioned above, did an image search online to look for some inspiration. Of the hundreds I looked at, one immediately caught my attention. However, it’s not old. In fact it’s a product that you can order, if you are willing to pay the $20,000 (base model) price tag.
Here’s the original from Symbol Audio:
Perfect design, in my humble opinion, and worth every penny of the asking price based on looks alone. It’s solid wood – walnut – but the stand is steel. It has a turntable and yes, that’s a tube amp on the left side. The lid closes to keep everything neat, clean looking and dust free.
After studying every picture I could find, I came to the realization that I could not improve the design. Or even pretend to improve it, so I just copied it. The only difference is the overall depth. Mine is just 12″ from front to back, while the original is 18″.
Preparing The Stock
First step, after deciding what it will be made from, is to select the wood. Two types of solid wood will be used – red oak for the stand and cherry for all of the visible parts of the console.
This board is just a bit more than 12″ wide, but has some sapwood along both edges. Rather than cut that off like I’d normally do, I decided to make it a feature. I ripped it down the middle, jointed and planed the faces and glued it back together with the sapwood in the middle.
Now’s a good time to tell you that I made a 10 video build series for this project and that’s available on my Makers Mob. It goes into detail and for this project, I focused on the challenges of building something large and fairly complex using solid wood. If you are serious about learning woodworking, you should check it out.
I picked out another two boards and did the same. The first one is for the top of the cabinet to get that continuous grain. These will be the sides and bottoms of the two speaker boxes:
I also picked out one for the front of the centre section, but that one doesn’t get glued. Here are all of the parts cut to rough length and I’m trying to find the best grain match for the ends:
Ideally, the first board would have been long enough to get the top plus the two ends that show for the ultimate in grain continuity. I didn’t have a board that long, though, so I have to try to pick out something close enough for a near match.
The speaker boxes are mitered on the corners and the grain direction is continuous all the way around. This is important to manage the seasonal expansion and contraction that solid wood is subject to.
I put the box together temporarily with tape after cutting the miters to check the fit. The miters looked great – tight, so I cut the parts to the final dimensions and glued them together.
Hard to see the box for the clamps, I know. But you only get one shot at getting this right and skimping on the clamps is not a winning approach.
I also glued the lid for the centre section:
This is mitered as well, but along the front where it meets the top. I used my homemade square to check that it was actually square before setting it aside to dry.
The original plan was to paint both the stand and the front panels of the speakers. These front (and back) panels need to be a dimensional stable material like MDF or plywood, since they won’t expand or contract and will be glued in solidly. I used 3/4″ply and created a small reveal around the panel:
Perfect fit on the miters:
But, and this is a big but, I changed my mind and decided that I wanted to stain the stand dark and have the fronts of the speakers match. So I cut and planed some oak into thin pieces and glued that up:
That will be the veneer for the front panels.
While that dried, I installed cleats inside the speaker boxes to secure the back panels. These are just off-cut strips of cherry from sizing the stock:
And made the back panels from 1/2″ plywood:
The build video shows as much of the gory details as you’d want to see about replacing the fronts with the oak veneer, but I don’t regret the extra work. The results are worth it and I kicked myself for not thinking of it before I glued the front panels in.
While the glue was drying on the new fronts, I made the ports for the speakers from 2″ ABS pipe. These will be glued into holes cut in the back panels using strong polyurethane construction adhesive:
I also started assembling the stand. The pedestal first, it’s made like an “I” beam. The centre panel is oak veneered plywood:
I used dark walnut strain, wiping it on liberally, letting it sink in and wiping off the excess. Left to dry overnight, the next day I sprayed on three coats of clear oil based polyurethane to finish it:
Lots of bouncing around, working on other parts while glue or finish dries is an upside of a big project – there’s always something to do while you wait. The glue dried on the ports and I could round over the outside with my trim router:
The Centre Section Assembly
The centre section is made from solid oak, the same as the stand. Since it’s inside and won’t be seen, I didn’t have to make it from the more expensive cherry.
The main part is “U” shaped. The bottom and two short sides with the grain direction running the same way, to match the stand and the speaker boxes.
Like the other back panels, the one on the centre section is also plywood. Here I’m attaching the lid with two concealed hinges:
Next that back panel was screwed to the “U” section and the lower front panel is attached with glue and biscuits:
I used a cove bit in my trim router to cut a finger groove in the edge of the lid to give me something to grab to open it up.
The deck is another piece of solid oak. It rests on shelf clips on each end so that it can be removed to access the equipment inside:
Maybe a bit overdue, but lets talk about that equipment. This console won’t have a record player, tuner or 8-track – it’ll have a real computer inside. Plus a small class D amplifier to drive the efficient speakers. I have a similar arrangement n my living room right now, except everything is separate and there’s a mess of wires behind. This new console will tidy that all up.
After spending a considerable amount of time carefully sanding every surface, I put on the first coat of a tung oil blend. The oil really brings out the colour and grain of the cherry and is a classic finish for fine furniture:
After the first coat I took all three parts and set them up on my table saw to get a proper look at them together:
It took nearly a full week to finish four coats of oil, letting it dry for 24 hours and lightly sanding between coats. In that time the cherry darkened noticeably, becoming much richer looking. I could then do the final assembly, fastening the speakers with four screws after clamping them in position:
Nice to have the long clamps for this. It’s not every day that you’ll need them, but hard to beat when you do.
I also put foam weatherstripping tape around the edge of the back panels before screwing those in place. It forms an air-tight seal, which is important to avoid air leakage sounds from the speakers:
The reason I made the backs removable was that I hadn’t decided whether the speakers would be mounted from the outside or inside. Outside makes them perfectly flush, but inside can give a more finished appearance because you can’t see the screws. And grills were never an option for this – these speakers need to be seen.
Installing The Speakers
With everything finished, I finally got the speakers:
These are from Dayton Audio, PS180-8 fullrange with a very cool looking red phase plug and also a whizzer cone. That whizzer really adds the authentic way-back to this modern design. I wrote a blog article on designing the boxes for these drivers, if you want more details.
I used my handy circle jig for the cordless trim router to cut the hole and recess for the drivers:
A perfect fit:
Finished and in my living room (but not hooked up, yet):
The original has a subwoofer in the pedestal of the stand and that’s a possible upgrade I may do in the future.
It took most of a full day to get the hardware installed inside. I started with the power supply on the left side and worked my way across. It’s worth noting that everything inside is attached to allow for the expansion / contraction of the solid wood. The enclosure for the power supply, for example, is screwed to the back panel only and not to the bottom:
I show a bit more of putting in these parts in the build video below.
I’ll use the deck area to keep my lenses and other small cameras, plus any accessory that I need to plug into USB. This clutter used to be on top of my old computer collecting dust, so this alone is a major improvement.
And finally the build video. Remember if you want the kind of instruction and detail that you won’t find in the average YouTube video, you can join my Makers Mob where I have created ten detailed videos going through this build from start to finish.