Monday, August 29, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Colouring, and Tinting

When refinishing a piano, the request is usually made because the clear coat on top has deteriorated to the point where it requires a new surface.  The outside is scratched in many places, or perhaps the outside coats have the appearance of snakeskin, or alligator skin, with the small multiple cracks, or crazing, as it is commonly referred to.

Along with this expected deterioration is the wear on what is called the “colour barrier.” This is the colour that the wood was stained with and forms a type of barrier to hide or change the original colour of the wood.

Any cabinet piece that is considered a “high traffic” area of the piano, which is usually the area where the players sit and operate the instrument, the colour eventually gets worn away, allowing the wood to show itself without colour stain, or finish.

Places such as the fallboard edges, music desk edges, keyboard end blocks, cheek block edges, around the keyboard and pedal set are the most common places to find this type of wear.

So then, along with the request for an improvement to the finish which is clear coat, one must determine what the original colours were, if the finishing request is a return to original colour.

There are specific places on the piano that one can discover the original colours; inside on the cheek past the keyboard end blocks, in the cabinet of an upright, often times the back of the fallboard does not receive any sunlight and a good place to find original colouring; underneath the grand piano on the rail just above the legs attachment; this rail runs underneath the piano and is often a place where you can discover original colour.

Colour stains are straight forward; choose the colour you want, either in oil stain, alcohol stain, or water stains; these are all available today and serve different purposes when refinishing. I choose to use oil based stains that can be wiped or sprayed on. The reason I choose these types of stain is because most of the pianos I refinish here are fairly old; the oil provides the old veneer with a bit of welcome moisture and also raises the grain lines.

This is beneficial to the finished product.  With some oil based colours, it is best to let the oil evaporate off for a couple of days as the lacquer finishes are alcohol based and these two products reject each other.

Water based stains, which were popular at the turn of the last century, are now making a comeback into the marketplace due to environmental concerns.  Water based stains are used much the same as oil based stains.

I find that alcohol stains are NGR stain; non grain raising stains tend to give the appearance of being painted, as alcohol stains are very strong in their pigments and do not allow the natural inconsistencies of the wood to show through.

NGR stains are primarily used for tinting problem areas of wood and can be mixed into the sprayed finish to colour match problem areas that have colour damage as a result of sunlight UV rays or other types of colour damage to the patina of the wood.

With tinting, one must have knowledge of the colour wheel, primary and secondary colours, a full understanding of tint, tone, and shade, along with how colours compliment or split compliment. In other words one must be able to “see colour.”

Without the ability to see colour, one must then attend a finishing supply shop and have the colour matched or purchase an already mixed colour. For tinting, these shops can tint the finish to what you need or give you a recipe to mix with your own colours you have purchased previously.

Here is a photo album of a piano that came in for refinishing. This instrument was completed sometime back, and while it is not the Heintzman presently under construction in the shop, this piano is a good example of the colouring and tinting processes.  

Aside from the damage done to the instrument, I discovered that this one had been refinished improperly and also had long term light exposure, so this is a good photo album to view about refinishing pianos. It demonstrates some of the problems you have to solve to get the instrument looking good once again.

Underneath each photo I have written some text about how some of the problems are overcome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Piano Cabinet Repairs to a Difficult Corner

Here is another common piano cabinet repair that is difficult to conquer. Often times this repair is done several times over the life of the piano.

The repair I am referring to is the music desk on the small console upright piano built in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with the stand alone music desk.

Usually this type of design has the small brass eyelets at each end and there is a small gauge wood screw that travels through the eyelet and locates into the side thickness of the music desk between the veneer layers.

What happens during hard use or neglect is that the music desk is over-extended to the front, or too many books are loaded onto the frame, causing the screw to break away the edge of the frame. As mentioned previously, this can be a problematic repair, as this is a design flaw, or weakness in the design.

Here is a photo set of the repairs done using the car body filler, colour, and finish.  Go forward slowly in this photo set as there are two videos that will take several seconds to load properly.

There are, of course, other music desk designs that give the same problems; one of the more common ones is the repair shown to the music desk of the Heintzman grand piano presently under reconstruction in the shop. 

Another problematic music desk that comes to mind is the music desk that is a small strip of wood attached to the fall board and flips up against the fall board when closing. Usually this type is also found on upright pianos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Cabinet Repairs

 In a previous posting I showed some of the cabinet damage that had to be repaired; there was the big chip out of one of the round legs, the poorly repaired music desk, the back of the fallboard where the lock inserts, and the broken end on the side of the bench.

One of the things I like about using auto body filler is that the product dries in 30 minutes and will accept any colour. This was one of the problems with using the old plastic wood; once any colour was added over top the plastic wood went really dark.

I understand now that there are epoxy style wood fillers with colours, but I have not had a chance to try them out yet so I could not make any recommendations on those products as of yet.

Here are some photos of the repairs done to the broken leg, the music desk, and the bench side. 

Same photo set starting at photo 84

Cabinet Repairs

Friday, August 5, 2011

Latex Paint Removal from Old Lacquer Finish

 This is a good posting for any technician who works in the institutional systems; schools, churches, hospitals etc.

The staff members in these buildings move the pianos around from room to room as per the requirements of use.

Many times the piano is bumped against the wall or rubbed on the door frame of the building. The result being paint left on the old surface of the piano. 

Please note:
This photo album was made some time back with an older camera. There are two short videos within this photo album that will take a few seconds to load. If there are any problems with viewing, please let me know through direct email or through the comments section here at the bottom of each posting.

Here is a photo set and video solution to remove latex paint from an old lacquer surface.


The Varsol used here in this presentation I have only tried on old lacquer. With any removal product it is always best to test the product on a piece of the piano that does not show in case the product also removes the finish and colour. For example, I would not recommend using Varsol on old varnish as the varnish will melt causing further problems.

Will it work on old Shellac? Possibly it might; try applying some on the side of the check that does not show beyond the fall board to see if the finish melts. If the finish does indeed melt then stop and find another product that is not so invasive.

Grand Piano Restoration: Cabinet Repair Supplies

With any refinishing of wood work there are always surprises lurking underneath the darker colours; usually in the form of damage, previously repaired damage, or poorly repaired damage that must be dealt with.

I use Mohawk Finishing Supplies and their products for the most part; Mohawk has everything I need to repair and finish a piano along with years of experience in the products and the use of them. 

The owner of the Mohawk franchise here in Vancouver, has regular presentations and workshops one can attend here to learn the proper use and applications of their products.

Of course these products can be purchased from any of the furniture refinishing supply houses.

Here is a photo album of some of the most common repairs supplies required to make the piano look like new once again.

Piano Cabinet Repair Supplies

Grand Piano Restoration: Finish Removal

One can purchase the consumer products from the hardware store to complete small refinishing jobs. However, because of safety regulations, these products have a low concentration of active ingredient to remove the old finish; using them is time- consuming with variable results.

Stripping woodwork of the old furniture finish is to be done quickly. When refinishing a piano, there is more than 40 square feet of material that has to be refinished; some of the boards have both sides with finish on them. It is best then, to purchase the finish remover with the highest concentration of Dichloromethane. This product will move into the outer coats of finish and rip them up quickly.

Use a stripping agent that is a gelled stripper instead of a liquid. Also make sure that the stripper used is water soluble. This allows one to wash the boards down with water to neutralize and remove the stripper along with any excess of old finish. The water will also open up the grain and coarse steel wool or those green scrubby pads can be used to remove the tough bits.

In addition, for safety concerns, is the fact that one has a hose nearby in case of accidental contamination to the eyes, hands, or other areas of the body, or an accidental spill of the chemicals.

Remember to stay away from the chemicals while they work. Dichloromethane is a known carcinogen so one does not want to stand around breathing the fumes continuously.  Wipe the stripper on with a brush and leave the boards for a minimum 10 minutes, then using the hose, wash the stripper off. I use the end of my shop driveway for washing the board down as the hard surface allows the water to wash away and leaves the old finish that I can scoop up and place in the garbage.

I do the majority of my stripping outside, so there is plenty of fresh air available. Use a breathing mask, gloves, and eye protection for this task.

Here are some photos of the boards with the finish removed, some of the previous damage found underneath, and samples of the different woods used to make the cabinet in a piano. 
The different woods used have varying base colours and grains; this is why one must learn the art of colour tinting in order to make all of the wood the same colour. Please begin at photo # 84 in the link provided below.

Same photo set starting at photo 84.

Finish Removal

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Grand Piano Restoration: Lacquer Curing

After the tuning pin holes have been re-sized the restoration project in this area will be dormant for about two weeks.

When lacquer is sprayed it must be given time to “cure” properly. The reasons for this are two-fold but both reasons are connected to one another: 

Spraying furniture finish through a spray gun requires the mixture to have the consistency of water. This means that the mixture has a high concentration of solvent to allow the proper flow through the spray equipment. After spraying, the product must be allowed to “gas-off” which means that the solvent evaporates out of the finished product.

While the gas-off process is on-going, the lacquer applied to the surface shrinks because of the solvent loss; at the same time, the catalyst in the lacquer hardens and stiffens the lacquer to its characteristic hard shell, or tortoise shell. The following day after spraying, the lacquer feels hard to the touch, this is only the outside surface to a certain extent; the lacquer underneath is still swimming. 
Because of this I am unable to tape off sections of the plate in order to re-string.  The lacquer is not fully cured; when attempting to remove the tape after stringing, often times this will rip off the plate gilding, causing problems.

Waiting for this process to complete allows us to move over and continue on with another area of the project; we will begin the refinishing process of the cabinet this week.