Monday, October 15, 2012

Piano Fix-Up [and tying on fishing rod guides]

When we moved here in 2001 there was an old upright/verticle grand piano in the parsonage. These are the pianos you see in old westerns in the scenes in the saloons. I love these old hand-made instruments. And over the years I've had this one apart several times to maintain it.  I think the last time I wrote about piano up-keep was on January 2009.

The piano is kind of a focal area for our family because Mary uses it to help teach the kids their Sunday School hymns as well as just for fun. We use it at devotion time in the evening. And some of the kids have had lessons over the years, so they like to play it.

It's actually fun and relaxing work for me to maintain it. However, about a year ago when I fixed it up, it seemed to break very quickly under the undiscriminating hands of our children. So I left off fixing it until most of them could understand and help keep it in nice shape. (read "grumble, grumble, ungrateful, self-pitying dad) Today was the first day for this time of refurbishing the piano.


Cosmetic stuff doesn't affect the playing, so a piano can have magic marker all over the keys and scratches all over the housing, but it will still play nice. Dusting it off and doing some spot finishing can take care of those problems. But real maintenance requires opening the piano. Today we opened the top.

If you enlarge this photo you will see the debris collected in the keyboard as well as several damaged keys. I've only worked on three different upright grands, so I don't know if what I learned with these applies to all of them. But, here are some basic things.

The Top of the piano is either hinged or fixed. For the fixed type, the sound board on the front lifts, slides back a bit, lifts up and pulls out. For the hinged (either whole-top hinged or half-top hinged) the top lifts up, then the sound board tips up, lifts up, and slides out. On our current piano the soundboard has pivoting guards to turn before the soundboard can come off its pegs.

Then the music shelf comes off. Usually with two screws, one at each end.

Then the soundboard supports must be taken out, then the keyboard cover. Usually these are all standard screwdriver blade screws.


On the three that I've worked on, the keys are not attached to the hammer mechanism. The keys have had an upright wooden peg that strikes the bottom of the hammer mechanism. And they lift out very neatly without any complex problems.

But there is a lot of debris under the keys.

On the models I've worked on, all the keys are numbered 1-88 so that you don't have to remember where they go. But I recommend that you take them off in order and lay them aside in order so that it is easier to put them back.

At this point, remove all the pennies, dimes, guitar picks, sewing needles, and other such-and-stuff you wish to keep that you can see.

After removing the keys the vacuum will take up all the rest of the debris. But be careful not to suck up the gasket/cushions for the key base and pivots. On this model and the others I've done there is one metal peg at the pivot, with a cushion/gasket, and a peg at the base of the key as a cushion. These were made of felt and cloth. So keep the vacuum nozzle below the top of the pegs when cleaning this area.


Now, unless there are other repairs, you should be ready to put the keys back on with Inge and Elsie.


The kids did enjoy helping out with the repair. They watched carefully as I pulled the piano apart, asking all kinds of questions. And they did mess with the keys where I had placed them in order. I tried to teach them to leave the keys alone so that we remember where they go so that we could get it put back together the right way. And they appreciated that. It would have just taken more time to read each key's number if they had messed them up. But they didn't mess them up (well, just a little).


 They each wanted to take turns putting the keys back.


I want my kids not to be afraid to tackle what might seem a big project. And I want them to learn that they can figure out how things work just by observing and trying things out. It makes piano and car fixing a bit cheaper that way-along with other things.


So we each took turns. Cleaning each key, putting each key in.


And noting which keys had other problems with the hammer mechanism.

One key has a broken hammer shaft. That one I'll have to either glue back, or re-drill and re-shaft later.

None of the hammer shafts were twisted so that the hammers stuck against one-another. That happens with the severe change in humidity. And the fix is to use a cigarette lighter on the shaft while bending it into the right position. Heating the side with flame toward which you are bending the hammer. Be sure that the dust is gone before you do this. Fames are helpful, but dangerous.

But a few keys had problems with a little block of wood shaped like an H.

Below, you will see at the bottom of the photo the clylindrical peg that is attached to the key by an upright wire shaft. This shaft hits (for the lack of a better term) a block that functions as an anvil, lifting an H shaped block with a spring in front of it to a wedge of wood that accelerates the hammer. Yes, there are a lot of wires and felt straps here, but disregard these for now.



In this photo just at the middle and to the right of the middle the H blocks and the springs in front of them are not set correctly. That means they look different than all the rest and don't work like the rest.

The one in the middle just needed the spring to be re-set in its socket properly. For this I used a hemostat that I use for removing fish hooks.

The one to the right of center had a bigger problem. And it took a little looking to figure out why it refused to stay seated on the lever that lifted it.

I noticed a bit of a stain on many other keys right at the joint between this little H block and the lift. With a little pulling by means of the hemostat I figured out that the H blocks were glued to the lift in this model.

So I put a drop of Titebond III in the joint and we'll leave it to harden until tomorrow.

Hopefully this was the right solution.

We had a few other repairs, like a key that had a crack around the pivot hole. That we glued with Titebond and wrapped with a thread (the same way one would tie on a fishing rod guide) as a clamp.

[For those who need to learn the fishing rod guide knot, take a look at this youtube video on tying on fishing rod guides http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AG1AB2zLmdY , the overlay at the start,  and the use of the puling thread at minute 3:55 in the video show you how to make this knot as a clamp. You don't need to have as many wraps for a simple clamp as in this video, but I recommend good strong thread, like button thread.]

Hopefully I can find the hammer that is missing for that one key and get that put back. But the rest of the piano will work tomorrow.

Mary, I hope you can enjoy playing your Beethoven and Queen again. Sorry for taking so long to fix up the instrument.

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