Lafayette KT-135 EXPLOR-AIR radio kit

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Making a Cabinet
The Lafayette Explor-Air radios appear on ebay several times a year. Sometimes they don't have a cabinet. The cabinet was sold separately and not everyone bought one or could afford one. The cabinet cost $3.49 in 1968. In 2021 that is the equivalent of $27.50.

It's neat to listen to the radio and peer over the top of the front panel and see the tubes glowing, but the chassis is open at the bottom and is a shock hazard. Components and coils underneath can be damaged. On top, the variable capacitors can be bent and shorted, vacuum tubes might be broken. The radio should have a cabinet.

Let's build a cabinet for a KT-135!
Note: These are not "instructions." This page just shows how I made a cabinet.

The cabinet is made of 3/8 inch plywood. I happen to have some 3/8 inch plywood, in the form of a half dozen signs we made for the Pritz family reunion back in 2005. (I was married to the granddaughter of a man named Peter Pritz. In the 1930s Peter Pritz invented the soda machine - the kind where the cup drops down and fills up with soda syrup and seltzer.)

There's just one problem. This plywood was the cheapest crap you could buy. The signs were left outside at various intersections overnight, then stored in the garage for 13 years. They are very warped.

The only tools I have are a hand saw and a palm sander. Not only that, my wood working skills are abysmal. Nevertheless, I'm going to try to make a cabinet.

I used non-warped sections of the signs and cut out the top, bottom and sides. Most people could do this in ten minutes but it took me an hour. 'Tis a poor craftsman who blames his tools. Damn tools!

The panels were glued and clamped. The real cabinet from Lafayette Radio has dovetailed joints but I have no way to make anything so sophisticated.

The glue used was Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue. Rated #1 by Pros, so it says on the bottle. The Titebond people know how to make glue. I was amazed at how strong the box was the next morning.
This came out better than I thought it would! However, it was time to reconsider making the cabinet with this plywood. How much effort was it going to take to go from a plywood box to a radio cabinet? The wood I was using was not appropriate, no matter how much I intended to sand it. It was time to get a decent piece of 3/8" plywood.

NOTE: I stored this in a garage, where it froze during the winter and baked in the summer. Two years later I dropped it and it fell apart!  One problem was that the surfaces were painted before they were glued, so the glue never went into the wood. A few tiny nails would certainly have helped hold it together. Use brads or nails in addition to the glue when making your cabinet.

It was off to Lowe's for a nice piece of plywood. Unfortunately the 3/8" plywood stocked on the shelves was in worse condition than the 13 year old Pritz Reunion signs. It was total junk I wouldn't have taken for free. I bought "Luan" plywood. It's 5.2 millimeters thick, a bit less than 3/8" but it was a LOT easier to saw through.
Andrea came up with an idea to use corner brackets to keep the box square.
All four corners are now reinforced with 1/4" poplar trim. When the box was assembled, all the factory cut sides faced front. All my wonky hand cut sides face rear. They'll be sanded with an electric palm sander before the back is attached.
From the back, after thicker 5/8" trim was added top and bottom. It is now very strong but lightweight.
If using actual 3/8" plywood, the trim pieces in the back aren't necessary. 5.5 inches of clearance are needed for the chassis.

Now it was time to test fit a radio inside the cabinet. If it didn't fit there was no sense in wasting time making a back for it. The radio fit well, though the cabinet is about 1/16" out of square on one corner. Nobody will notice once it's covered.

The cutouts in the back panel were made with a coping saw.
The coping saw makes a wavy cut that needs to be filed straight.

The finished cabinet. All corners and edges have been sanded round.

Now it was time to cover the wooden cabinet, but with what? A close look at an actual cabinet shows it appears to be covered with vinyl wallpaper! How to score some vinyl wallpaper? I had a plan. Yes, a CLEVER plan. I'd buy a wallpaper sample.

I went online and found a really nice vinyl pre-pasted wallpaper. It was $1.10 a foot but you have to buy two 16.5 foot rolls. However, you could order a sample for $5.99.

If the wallpaper is $1.10 a foot and a sample is $5.99, how much do you think you'd get? At least three feet, right?
One foot of wallpaper
They sent a foot!!
When I complained that I was hoodwinked into buying $1.10 worth of wallpaper for $6, a nice person named Lori told me that it was the industry standard for a sample. She agreed it was too small to tell what an entire room would look like and sent me another sample.

A roll of Tolex
While waiting for the other wallpaper sample to arrive, "Plan B" showed up in the mailbox. I had ordered a roll of Tolex from ebay.
The cabinet corners were painted black in case I messed up one of the cuts.
The plan was to use white glue, which is probably the wrong stuff to use. The back of the Tolex was covered with glue, then the cabinet was placed on it and the Tolex was just pulled over the back and top.

I quickly found that Tolex does NOT go on like wallpaper. It will not take a crease unless you force it to. (I suspected this might happen, considering the thickness of it.) Before the glue set, I had to find spring clips, popsicle sticks and masking tape to get it to do what I wanted.

The question now is how is the glue supposed to dry when it is covered with vinyl?
KT-135 cabinet
The next day, the sides went on much easier. Since I now knew how the Tolex behaves, all the clips, popsicle sticks and pre-cut pieces of masking tape were standing by.

KT-135 homemade cabinet
KT-135 homemade cabinet
Finished! Not perfect, but not too bad for a first attempt. I think the glue is still wet under the Tolex.

KT-135 with homemade cabinet
KT-135 with homemade cabinet
The materials used cost about $15.00, the equivalent $2.06 1968. I saved about $10.40 in 1968 dollars by making it myself.

Cabinet made by Jeffrey Hutchinson
This cabinet was made by Jeffrey Hutchinson of Oregon in 2023.
Cabinet made by Jeffrey Hutchinson
A nice home for a KT-135.
Next, the KT-135 goes to the Moon!