need advice on refinishing speakers. Do's & Don'ts


I have a pair of tower speakers I would like very, very much to refinish. the only thing I don't care for about them is they are 'black'. I'd like very much to have them another color. Even natural wood do... pardon the pun.

they have solid wood veneers, ash or oak, I'm not sure. they are stained black, with a clear coat over that. About ten years old.

Is this a doable project? ...or should I have a pro do it?

I'm thinking chems or sanding, ought to get rid of the clear coating, but the stain is another story entirely. If anyone has done this sortr of thing with a good deal of success, I'd sure appreciate finding out the steps needed to do it.

Many thanks.
I haven't refinished speakers, but I do the occasional piece of furniture.

Treat it like an antique. Don't take a power sander to it. You'll cut through the veneer pretty quickly with a power tool.

Start off with a chemical stripper. You will need two coats at least. I would suggest that you do not use the regular all purpose full strength stripper. The hardware stores will also have a somewhat milder stripper for antiques. Use the milder stripper. It will take longer but you'll have more control over it as it's slower acting. I would also suggest that you use a gel, rather than a liquid. It's easier to work with, especially since you will have vertical surfaces to strip. It wouldn't hurt to take your time and do one side at a time. There's no rush. Again, you will have greater control. If there is still some finish on the wood after two coats, you can treat troublesome spots with a touch of stripper, or sand by hand. Try not to use a coarser sandpaper than 120 in the stripping stage. It's extra work, but again you want to be careful not to penetrate the veneer. Don't worry about the colour. You will be surprised at how bleached it will turn out, even if you started with a dark colour. After stripping, wipe down with a paper towel or cloth damp with a petroleum ditillate. (paint thinner or varsol, or gaoline for that matter, they're all the same thing). This is necessary to deactivate the stripper. Next, sand by hand, not with power tools. But use a sanding block, not your fingers. Unless you're careful, using fingers under sand paper will groove the surface. Sand with a fine sandpaper, say around a 200 grit. Again it takes longer but the objective is to do a good job, not a fast job. Besides, it's already probably pretty smooth, so you don't need an agressive sandpaper. After sanding, again wipe down with a petroleum distillate. Now you're ready to stain and urethane. Just follow the directions on the can. Wipe the stain on with a lint free cloth or a foam brush. Unlike stripping, try to stain all at once, and do both speakers at once. Keep the stain on for the same length of time. This will facilitate consistency of colour. Consistency of colour is also facilitated if you use a conditioner on the wood immediately before staining. This is a necessity if you are using softwood, but it's good to use it for all types of wood. When you urethane, it is is much better to use multiple thin coats, rather than fewer thick coats. You should do at least three coats, with the first coat thinned as per the directions on the can. Typically it's a 50/50 mix of urethane and solvent. Lightly sand and wipe down between coats with a very fine sandpaper. The objective here is simply to roughen the surface of the previous coat of urethane so that the next coat has something to grip onto. You should not be removing the coat that you sand. Use a foam brush for the urethane rather than a bristle brush unless you're experienced at doing this. Be careful stirring the urethane and using the foam brush as you want to avoid bubbles. Like staining (and unlike stripping), you should urethane it all at once.

I doubt if there's is anything I said that you can't find in a do it yourself brochure or book from the hardware store.

However, there is one more very important point that do it yourself books from the hardware store won't tell you.

When you refinish, take the drivers out of the speaker!!!All of the chemicals: the stripper, solvent, stain and urethane could (will) damage the cones if they touch them. Even fumes from these products can cause damage. So take the drivers out. You could try unscrewing them and putting them in an air tight plastic bag without removing them but I think it's probably easier and better just to get them totally out of the way.
If the veneer is very thin, aggressive sanding may go right through the layer, and ruin the finish beyond easy repair. You might want to consider selling them and buying something else, more in the line of what you might really want.
It's going to be real tough to get rid of all the black. Since they are veneer you risk sanding through the top layer. Plan on working about 5x what you think it will take and use a dark stain because I bet you can't get all the black out of the cracks.

Good luck!
You will not be able to get the black off the veneer.
The veneer will also come off if you get too much stripper on it. Be carefull and do a small test area in the back of the speaker.

If they're a simple (box) shape, you could have a furniture-maker laminate a new layer of veneer over the existing surface in any wood you like. You have to remove all the hardware first, but it is do-able.
re-veneering will be a lot easier than re-finishing.

Even easier - PAINT them - if you want to go radical - like red or blue... checkout wilson audio's latest color palette.
If they are what's termed Black Ash finish - I have refinished a few black xerxes turntables.
Nitromors and fine wire wool should remove the Black.
You will never get all the black out of the grain and it tends to look a bit unatural but finished with wipe on coloured wax and buffed up, it looks a damn site nicer than black ash!
I would also tend to go with having a cabinet maker redo the veneer.
I have done what you are considering with pretty good success. I would never do it again due to the large amount of work involved and the significant time it takes. If you go ahead, the post by Markphd is a great tutorial and excellent advice. Fortunately, my Alon V's had relatively thick veneer. I was able to get most of the black out of the grain in the oak veneer by using a medium/soft nylon bristle brush in conjunction with the stripper. Do not brush too hard. I totally agree with the use of a dark stain for your situation due to the trace of black that will be left in the wood grain. Stains with some amount of red in them seem to be popular, such as a mahogany blend. I also agree with removing the drivers and crossovers. Before choosing a finish, you should look at the differences and relative benefits of using a spray laquer finish instead of urethane. However, the finish you choose is really a personal preference issue. With any finish, work in an area with minimal airborne dust or dirt. Good luck.
thanks... I agree.
Infact I called the Phase Tech Factory and asked about removing the drivers and what all it entailed... It's a snap according to them... Couple screws, and two wires on the units..

Given the detailed info and detailed work involved, along with the fact I'd like them to come out of this looking as good as they do now, 'cept another color... I think it best to have someone else do the deed. My concern for the outcome has increased, so to has the fear of really messing things up... so I'm gonna pursue having a pro do the refinishing thing... and do like a cherry or mahogany thing as was posted... maybe a Walnut.

With new drivers, networks, and refinishing, it'll be $900. Six of it into the refinishing... Not bad for a new set of speakers. the $225 or so, I put into the same brand two ways was way worth the money.... really worth while.

Thank you all for your time and efforts for sharing your past experiences and insights. My speakers aren't megga buck units here but are quite good sounding. this little redo venture I think will be a super improvment all around.
As a pro, let me say you've made a wise decision. A good shop knows how to remove black stain from wood if, in fact, it is actually a stain. Most often it is black lacquer, the color is in the finish and not in the wood. One thing to consider, ash is an open, large grained wood and may look a bit odd colored cherry or mahogany. The walnut (brown) color would be more appropriate. Have the grain filled as it will help disguise the fact that it's ash. Also, the use of a dye stain vs a pigmented wiping stain will result in a much nicer look. Glazing can help too.
If you have somebody else do it, and if that person hasn't done speakers before, there's one thing you have to make clear to the person.

Many professional refinishers strip by immersing the furniture in a large vat of chemical stripper since it's otherwise labour intensive work. Obviously you don't want this done to the speaker cabinet unless it can be taken apart, any filling removed and then properly replaced. Now I don't think that a real pro would be that stupid, but then again, some pros may not be as professional as they should be, just like any other contractor. Make sure they know that the cabinet can't be immersed and that it would have to be stripped by hand. It will add to the cost but that's the price you pay if you prefer to have somebody else do it.
Markphd makes an excellent point and I'll go a step further. Never have any piece of furniture tank stripped, hand stripped only.
Lots of wisdom in those last few posts. I am very grateful... the vat deal never entered my mind... nor did the filling or glazing ideas. Many thanks.

thank you. Surely for myself, and naturally for htose later on planning some likewise venture.
I've been involved in things like's a simple box...have it re-veneered if the speakers are worth it. You'll have a very wide pallette of woods to choose from and they'll look MUCH better when you're done (new, in fact).


thanks.. Can you simply apply veneer over pre-exsisting veneer? ...or must you take it all down to the MDF first?
I don't see any reason you would need to take it down to the mdf. The person that does the re-veneer will have a preference I'd guess. New veneer just needs a good, smooth, clean surface to adhere to. If you have ash or oak (open and/or rough grain) you may want to scuff up & clean the existing surface then follow up with a filler to smooth the surface out. Finding a cabinet maker and asking him/her would be the best path.