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Dangers in antique radios, phonographs, and more.

Be careful when buying antique electronic equipment that was manufactured before modern safety standards.

You may have heard your mother yell at you "don't put a fork in the toaster!" which is good advice today.

The most dangerous characteristic of antique electronic equipment is that often they were designed with exposed metal parts connected directly to the AC power line.  If the item is plugged in to 120 vac 'backward' there may be lethal electricity exposed.  This can cause serious injury, fires, or death. 

Eventually items began to be manufactured with 'polarized plugs'.  You can recognize a polarized plug because one blade is wider than the other; if you try to plug it in 'backward' in a modern AC receptacle you will find that it should not be possible.  Note that I said modern AC receptacle.  Older receptacles were not polarized either.

Even with polarized plugs there is still some danger.  When plugged in 'correctly' the exposed metal parts should be connected to the AC power neutral.  The neutral power conductor in a properly wired building will not be connected to 120 volts.  However this does not mean there will be no voltage on the neutral!

The best advice for those buying antique electronics as display items for decor, is to remove the AC power cord so that the item can not be plugged in ever. 

If the item is still operational and you wish to use it occasionally you should have a qualified electrician inspect the item to determine if any exposed parts are connected directly to the AC line.  ALL exposed conductive surfaces must be checked.  Some old radios seem to be safe, but the screws on the bottom of the cabinet may be dangerous. 

Even though your old radio or phonograph may have no 'exposed metal parts' now, what about tomorrow?  The plastic, bakelite, or wooden knobs may be attached to metal shafts, and those metal shafts might be dangerous.

There are devices called "isolation transfomers" that will reduce the danger of using old electrical devices like these we are discussing.  Note the word 'reduce', I did not type the word 'eliminate' !

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