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Zebrawood Heresy Project

This is an early restoration project.  For more up to date information about veneering, please reference the "M" Khorn webpage.

1972 Klipsch Heresy speakers.

I'm using unbacked zebrawood veneer purchased from "Certainly Wood".  


Here, the first few steps have already been completed.   The back of the speaker has been removed and the components have all been removed from the motorboard.   We decided to install veneer on the front of the speakers so that the beauty of the wood could be seen while listening to them, so I took the motorboard out and removed the grill cloth and logo.  Then I used polyurethane construction adhesive to glue and screw it back in place.  I removed the wood stands from the bottom and cut the front edges of the speaker box back flush with the motorboard (close to flush). I used a setting-type resin to fill all the gaps.  This product is like a bondo for wood, made by Minwax.




The speakers were in kind of rough shape cosmetically, so they were perfect candidates for a re-veneering project.







After the resin completely set overnight, I sanded the front of the speaker with a belt sander and 50 grit belt.   This was more difficult than it might seem, it only takes one slip with the sander to create a dip, or for the edges to roll off at an angle.  The idea is to end up with a smooth and completely flat front face to attach the veneer.   I also sanded the whole speaker with a random-orbit sander and 120 grit discs.  It's interesting, even as rough as these speakers were with scratches and dings, I could have sanded them all out without going through the veneer.   This is why I like the unbacked veneer.




This photo shows the resin bonding and filling between the motorboard and the speakers sides.




I used a little of the resin on the insides of the woofer and horn cutouts to smooth them up.  I'll repaint these black after I put the finish on the wood.




Laying out the veneer.  It came in strips about 7" wide and 10' long, consecutively matched.  I used the first two to make the fronts, the next two to make the sides, top, and bottom of one speaker, and the next two to make the sides, top, and bottom of the other speaker.   When I unpacked them, all the grains were virtually the same, and all going in the same direction. As I paired them up, I flipped one over so the grains were bookmatched with one another.  Not end for end, but simply flipped over so the grain of one is the mirror image of the other.







Two strips attached together are wide enough for the sides, top, and bottom of the speakers, so I worked with the pairs and cut the pieces needed in series, this way the grains will match up from the sides to the top (if everything goes as planned!).   After getting all the pieces cut, I used a metal straight edge and cut the edges straight where the two strips met in the middle.   The veneer is kind of rough on the edges and needs to be cut straight.  I've just recently learned about a veneer saw that is used for this purpose and I'll have to get one for my next project because cutting these with a utility knife turned out to be the most difficult part of the whole process, because this veneer is very brittle and the knife would follow the grain and actually pull chunks of veneer out from under my metal straight edge.   So I had to make lots of very fine cuts with the knife before finally breaking off the scrap piece.   I attached the two strips together with veneer tape to make the whole pieces needed for the sides, top, etc...




In this process, you apply Titebond II waterproof wood glue to both the substrate and the back of the veneer and let the glue completely dry.  It's o.k. to wait up to 72 hours before ironing the piece on.  The heat from the iron melts the glue and forms the bond.  I found it easy to just pour the glue on the veneer and the speaker and then roll it out with a small disposable roller.  It's important to make sure that you apply a thick and even layer of glue, and wait until it's completely dry before ironing it on.  I found that this took a couple of hours to dry in my workshop.  A light sanding of the glue was good for knocking off the dust and/or bits from the roller that had dried in the glue.  I might try using a sponge type roller next time.  If the veneer rolls too much, from having the moist glue on the back, simply spray a little water on the front side of the veneer and it will roll right back.




These next few photos show the process of actually attaching the veneer to the speaker.  Before ironing the veneer in place, I trimmed the piece down so that only a 1/4" or less was sticking out on all sides.  This helps to keep the edges from rolling up and breaking the bond as you iron.  I carefully centered the veneer on the speaker and started ironing in the center of the piece to initially set it in place.  I used the highest setting on the iron and had no problems with scorching.  Once I got the piece set in place, I started ironing at one side, moving the iron slowly across the speaker to the other side, while at the same time using a piece of wood, pushing down hard in circular motions just behind where the iron had been.  What I'm doing is setting the veneer into the melted glue with the wood piece while it's cooling down.   It takes quite a bit of pressure to really bond and set the veneer.  I repeated this process several times back and forth over the whole piece.  Then it was time to trim the edges back flush.




The edges that are going with the grain can be trimmed back using a hand-held veneer trimmer like this one, but it can be tricky.   If the trimmer catches the grain the wrong way, it will pull pieces of veneer off the speaker.  This happened to me a couple of times (see the next picture).  I had to take it slow to find out which way the grain was running.  Once I got it so that it was cutting "against" the grain, it trimmed very nicely.




Tear-out from veneer trimmer.




The veneer trimmer will not do the end grain of the veneer, it just rips it all up.  So I used a metal straight edge and a utility knife with a new blade.




I held the straight edge out just 1/32" and scored the scrap three or four times on the top.   Then I moved the metal straight edge out over the scrap and cut from underneath a couple of times.  The pieces snap right off leaving just 1/32" sticking out.




I carefully finish off the edges with a random-orbit sander and 180 grit discs.




Once I get the edges trimmed back flush, I go back and make sure the edges are glued down tight.  I use the iron and heat an area for about 15 seconds, then use a damp wad of paper towel to press down the area that was just heated.  The pressure of pushing down on the edge sets the hot glue, and the dampness from the paper towel cools it so it doesn't lift right back up.   I check all edges carefully, listening as I run my fingers up and across the edge of the veneer.  If it sounds "light", "loose", or like paper, then it's not set.  I then check all across the middle of the piece to see if I hear any looseness.  I had a couple of spots where I had to reheat with the iron and really push hard with the end of the stick to get the veneer to set.




Once the edges were trimmed and I knew everything was set good, I sanded the whole top with a random-orbit sander and 180 grit discs.   This removes the veneer tape and smooths out any ridges.   Then I used a little bit of sandable and stainable wood filler in any cracks, and then gave it another light sanding.




Here's the bottom of one of the speakers after sanding.




This is the project at about 10 hours, the sides and bottoms are veneered and sanded, and the tops and fronts are glued up ready to go.   




DO NOT DO THIS!!! I was paying so much attention to lining up the grain lines from the top to the sides, that I didn't notice that there wasn't enough veneer to overhang one corner.  Of course, I didn't notice until I had the first few passes with the iron already done.  About 2/3 of the veneer came off, but right where I started with the iron wouldn't budge.  I hadn't even really seriously gone over it with the iron, nor had I set it down by rubbing with the wood block.  It shows how well the glue bonds.   So if you're reading in the article where it says you can use the iron to loosen the veneer to reposition it, don't believe it!   It doesn't work!






Little things like this will happen.  Easy to repair though, just put a little glue on it, let it set for a few minutes, and then put the iron on it and press it into place.  I even had good luck with wet glue behind a couple of loose spots and using the iron right on it.  The glue bubbles as it heats up and then sets up.




I'm not exactly shure how this happened.  It's hard to tell if I've sanded through the veneer, or if it's IN the veneer.   This photo makes it look much worse than it is, thank goodness.   My guess is that there was a very thin bubble there and I sanded through it.  I don't think it will really show once they're all finished, it's one of those things you only see if you're looking for it.




I decided it was easier to make new bases instead of re-veneering the old bases.  I also decided to turn the grain vertical instead of how the factory did it, horizontal.  I started by glueing some veneer to a piece of 3/4" birch plywood.  Then, I cut it into strips on the table saw.




Here are the cabinets, all newly veneered, finish sanded, and ready for polyurethane.  I have 15.5 hours into the project at this point (not including shopping time at Home Depot!)




Assembling the bases was easy with one of these rigs.   Titebond and 1-1/4" brad nails should hold them secure.  This clamp holds the base frame perfectly square, but I've always found that I have to overcut all the miters slightly, probably 45.5 degrees, in order to get tight corners.
I'm at 16.5 hours now, it only took an hour or so to cut and assemble the bases.




Here I partially installed 4 screws into the back of the speaker.   This will elevate the speaker off the table so I can finish it.







This is where the PWK emblems were when the speakers had grill cloth.  But I just couldn't put them back there over the new veneer.  Gary will have to do that himself if he really wants them there.  O.k. Gary, hold your breath for the next photo, are you sitting down?




I had to make an executive decision.  This photo shows the speaker on the right with no finish, the piece of veneer in the middle with one coat of clear poly, and the speaker on the left with a coat of linseed oil.  I was a little nervous about doing this, but the clear poly just didn't look like it was adding any color at all, and I remember Gary's other speakers having a golden tone to them.   So I hope this is o.k. Gary, I went ahead and put a coat of linseed oil on the speakers to bring out a little more golden color.  By my eye, it's more of a golden color than your Cornwalls though, at least from what I remember.  But the oil certainly makes the grain POP right out.  It adds a lot of depth and I'm very happy with the way they look already, even without any polyurethane.




If you really hate them Gary, I can tone it down some.  In person they look awesome.




Here's the oiled bases next to the speaker without any finish.




I found these great brackets made by Stanley to hold the bases onto the speakers.




Something I learned on this project is to try and have different color wood fillers to work with.  After I was already done with these speakers, I found some nice colored, sandable, and stainable wood filler made by Elmer's.  I had to use the light colored filler on the brad nail holes on the bases, so I used some paint and an artists brush to hide them.  This is a before and after shot of the same corner.







I mounted the PWK emblems on the back.




Here they are with one coat of linseed oil, bases done (but not on for finishing), and the black paint has been put on the cutouts for the woofer and horns.










As the Heresy project nears its end, the next project makes its way into the shop!


I now have 20.5 hours into this project with only a few coats of polyurethane left to go.  I have moved these speakers to my other shop to apply the finish.  Then I'll pack em up and send em home!


Here they are, all finished and ready to go.  Overall, the finish came out pretty good.  I was disappointed to see some very small scratches from sanding between coats.  Hard to believe, but 400 grit sandpaper can still leave scratches if the corner of the paper is hitting the finish just right.







Here's the bases with the grain going vertical.  This looks much nicer than the way the factory bases were done with the grain going horizontal, especially with the zebrawood grain.




I also built a pair of angled bases.







Volti Audio - Klipsch Khorn V-Trac Upgrades and Restoration