Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 39 and 40 – Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25 – Back to the grind

Goals: Get the harp ready for priming and prime; varnish the soundboard; practice engraving techniques with the Dremel (that’s going to be hard); start work on the impossibly numerous and minute pieces of felt and leather that must be replaced.

Music: Miles Davis’ “Milestones”; Ornette Coleman’s “At the Golden Circle” (volumes 1 and 2); Chick Corea’s “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”; John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and “Crescent”; Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band’s “Act Your Age”.

I’m so sick of the harp not being finished, that I thought I would try to knock that out this weekend. The problem I’m having is that with the heat and humidity, the weather doesn’t allow the paint to go on and dry properly. I figured I would just grind the hell out of the thing and spray paint it early in the morning the next day.

But after cutting the grass in that heat and humidity, I could really only spend about an hour prepping the harp. That left me with another hour of prepping on Sunday, so it was almost 11:00 by the time I got to the paint. I actually was planning to wait on the paint, but I noticed that since I’ve stripped it down to the metal, a thin coat of dusty corrosion forms on parts of the harp if I let it sit for a short time. There was nothing for it. I sprayed the primer on after masking all the pins, and that seemed to work okay. I had a few areas with some bubbles from the sprayer not spraying right, but with the paint partially dried, I was able to press them out. I may not even have to sand before the final coat goes on. We’ll see.

For good measure, I spray painted the damper cover too.

Saturday afternoon I also put a coat of varnish on the soundboard. I’m pretty sure I’m done with that. It did not really help the shims blend in, but everything looks quite good nonetheless. Varnish is pretty tricky to handle indoors, and it’s not at all like painting, and personally, I’d rather deal with polyurethane, but I’m going for some authenticity here. So, I think one coat of varnish is all it’s going to get.

Finally, I started the felt and leather work. I’m experimenting with the best ways to attach felt and am having some success with two sided tape. The problem with it is that it is difficult to handle and it takes the most time, because the pieces of tape have to be cut to the right size or else they stick out and don’t look so pretty. That’s why I decided that anything visible will get glued, and anything that requires more than, say, ten of something, I’ll try to use glue. At the same time, I’m also experimenting with different types of glue. Plain old Elmer’s gives the best finish, but doesn’t always stick well. Contact cement sticks the best for most applications, but it’s a pain to handle. Superglue works wonders, but it can be tricky to handle, too, and it isn’t really too good on the cloth (felt) applications. Basically, I’m just going to keep sticking stuff as best I can however I can and leave it at that.

So for starters, I tackled the two pieces of felt that go on the key levers. Because the felt I bought is half the thickness of what’s on the keys, I had to do two of everything, but I quickly figured out that it isn’t that difficult if you make everything twice the size it needs to be then cut it in half. I used Elmer’s to glue the two halves of each piece together, so with 59 damper push pads and 85 keys in total, I cut almost 300 pieces of felt over a period of about two hours. It looks like I’ll have to use contact cement on the small pads that go over the wippen spring, because that is hollowed out underneath and I can’t afford to get any glue on the spring, in which case, I might just use contact cement on the back felt as well. I’m about out of Elmer’s, anyway. Here's what that looks like. The dime is for perspective.

I tried to use my felt cutting technique on the leather for the hammer catchers, but leather is a different beast than felt or paper. I’m probably going to have to use an Exacto knife and cut each piece individually, in order to compensate for the grain, texture and topography of the leather.

It was a full weekend. Next chance I get, I plan to finish up the harp so I can begin the wood refinishing process.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 38 – Tuesday, July 20: Killing time

Music: The Theme from South Park

I decided to work on the small detail stuff, mainly felt and bushings and the like, while watching TV in the future. That way I can get more done by multi-tasking a little. So it was a pretty simple operation. I reinstalled the felt on the keyboard rack. Measured the punchings for the keys and reinstalled them. Then I checked the keys for accurate movement. (They moved.) And while that doesn’t sound like much, that will save about one hour of work in the future.

There are going to be a lot more entries like this one, as there is lots of precision cutting, trimming, and gluing to be done with the felt work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 37 – Monday, July 19 – Unplanned Uptime

Goals: No thought or planning was undertaken for this session of work

Music: None. I was concentrating.

I found myself with dead time in the early evening, as I ran out of poker chips on the website I play on, and Pawn Stars wasn’t going to start for another hour and a half, so I decided to tackle some odd jobs on the piano.

Not wanting to get dirty and sweaty, and not wanting to have to pull out a whole bunch of tools and stuff, I decided to touch up the brass rods for the pedal assembly with the Dremel, and reattach the pedal assembly. After grinding the rods, I inserted them and they were uneven, meaning the felt had fallen off of one of the pedals. So I took the assembly apart and used rubber bands to hold the felt pads in place, and put everything back together again. Realizing I still hadn’t manufactured the rods to hold the assembly, I cut some off the brass rod material that I bought for that purpose and ground them down like the others. I had to drill out the holes a little bit to fit the larger rod material. I could have gone ahead and attached the pedal assembly except for two things. One is I wanted to bend the brass rods a little to keep them from slipping completely out, but I wasn’t able to do so with pliers and channel locks and my hands, so I knew I’d have to bring them to work and have someone in the shop do it for me. Two is the piano sits just a bit too low to attach the pedal assembly, since I removed the casters from the legs and didn’t replace them. (Thankfully, it is high enough that if I raise the piano up a bit, I can attach the pedal assembly and then let the piano back down and still have some clearance. Whew!)

I also experimented with a piece of wood and my Dremel to see if I could hollow out the shape of the brass letters I plan to insert in the piano. The short answer was, “No way”. The bit on the Dremel tore the crap out of the wood, and precise cutting of the exact shape of the letters is completely out of the question. That means, I’ll have to hollow out enough to insert the letters, then back fill and paint around them to smooth it out. I’m not sure that will work. I’m not sure what kind of fill material can be used. I’m not even sure it could be finished smooth. The letters are also kind of big and close together. I may have to develop some other way of using the letters or give up on the idea entirely. It would suck to have $130 worth of brass lettering that I could use at all, though. I’m going to have to come up with something.

So, no plan, no organized approach, yet I still invested another hour and thirty minutes into my piano.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 36 – Sunday, July 18 – Veneer not far

Goals: Mount the veneer; get the piano back on its legs.

Music: Nat ‘King’ Cole’s “After Midnight”; Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis’ “Very Saxy”; Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool”; Jimmy Giuffre’s “Free Fall”.

Another first today, as I installed my first piece of veneer ever. I bought the good kind (toxic kind) of contact cement for the job, so with the plastic up over the doors, I shut the air conditioner vent and opened the windows and turned on the fan. Here's the piano and the veneer at the start of the project:

The cement went on pretty easily and because the veneer was a good bit larger than the back of the piano all the way around, I was able to leave enough of the edges clear that Mrs. S and I could handle the material without gluing it to our hands. We weren’t quite ready for the veneer to stick as easily as it did, so we didn’t have it quite as tight as I would have liked, but when I pressed it down with the ‘J’ roller, all but one of the bubbles disappeared. I cut it opened and reglued it, and it looks sort of rough, but I’m pretty sure when I do the stain that it will look just fine. I cut the edges off with my Dremel, and sanded everything smooth, even and with rounded edges to compensate for the increased height of the veneer, and now, even with the bubble patch, it looks one-thousand percent better. And after all, it’s the back of the piano. Here's the result:

While the veneer was setting, I trimmed the soundboard crack shims and sanded them smooth. I had to redo one of the large cracks because it didn’t take for whatever reason, and I ended up having a little gap left over. I was going to fill it with wood filler, but decided against that. Instead, I’m just going to leave it and count on the strings and harp to cover it up enough that nobody will really notice. I still also have the varnishing to do, and that should help with the appearance of the cracks as well.

I closed out the day by reattaching the legs. Because I inserted the screw dowels with just a little twist to them to tighten them against the piano’s underside, and because I painted and patched the underside, only two of the four legs went on smoothly. For one of the other two legs, I had to scrape off some of the wood filler that I put on the bottom (which in hindsight was a mistake, because it isn’t visible anyway, being in between the leg and the piano bottom). For the other, I had to sand it like four or five times to finally get it to fit, and I had to bang the crap out of it, injuring my hand in the process. But with the legs on, I had Mrs. S pull out the sawhorses and we set the piano on the floor once again. After sitting up on those thirty inch sawhorses for the last month, the piano looked positively tiny when it was lowered back down to the floor. I’m sure it will look massive again in a few days, but right now, it does not.

Next phase is going to have to be to get the harp in shape, because I need to start working on the lid panels. Those will have to be done in stages, and there are three of them, so the sooner I start on them, the sooner I can have them finished. That means I need to finish up the harp to free up my sawhorses. I also will not be able to avoid the felt work and inlay work much longer. Although some things are getting done, there is still much to do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 35 – Saturday, July 17 – Back to work

Music: John Coltrane’s “Blue Train”; Terry Gibbs’ Dream Band’s “One More Time – Vol. 6”; Sonny Criss’ “Sonny's Dream: The Birth of the New Cool”; Freddy Cole (with Bill Charlap)’s “Music Maestro, Please”. (Grammy nominated, that last one. I own a signed copy!)

Spent about fifteen minutes in the garage with the Dremel and the harp. I completely wore out one stainless steel wire brush bit and exhausted the battery, but man, does that clean up good! I’m going to have to go through at least three more of them things, which Mrs. S was kind enough to pick up yesterday on her way home from shopping.

I spent the rest of the day inside. I chiseled out the four cracks in the soundboard, then glued and inserted the shims. They need twenty four hours to dry completely, so I won’t touch them again until Sunday. Here what one looked like before and after shim insertion:

I worked on cleaning up the soundboard after that. I really cleaned the serial number board in the front, and I re-inked the serial number. It was a tedious, slow, meticulous job, but I took it nice and easy and it looks great. Success is in the details, and the details of this piano are certainly there.

I glued felt to the bottom of the legs. As soon as I finish the veneer, I’ll re-attach them and away with the sawhorses.

Then I reamed out all 159 of the tuning pin holes. Then I vacuumed up the mess.

It was a full day’s work, including wiping up cat pee two more times. I’m done with that, though. I’ve got plastic up to keep the dust in and the cats out.

 (And as you can see, the cats already found a way to get behind the plastic, but these are the two non-perpetrators of the cat pee caper. And no, they are not robots, that's just the cool flash effect you get when you put them behind plastic and the flash in front.)

Day 34 – Friday, July 16 – Seeing a man about a piano

Music: None. (We were talking.)

In my efforts to learn something about square grand pianos before purchasing one, I was introduced to Dr. B. He’s been around pianos for a long time, has his own piano restoring and tuning business, and has experience with square grands. Long about when I bought the piano, he and I talked by phone about it, and he expressed an interest in seeing the piano and possibly, advising me on some “dos and don’ts” of the refurbishing process.

So in June, he and I met and he looked over the piano and the work I was doing. He gave me a strong vote of confidence, as he told me I seemed to be doing a good job and was going about the process in the correct manner. He was also kind enough to offer to help me purchase parts as cheaply as possible as well as lend me some of the tools I would need for the process.

Today, July 16, he brought over the tuning pins and spoon bit that I would need for the piano. He also brought me sundry tools that I would need to fix my piano: a wire spool device, a shim chisel, a pin driver, and a soundboard wedge chisel, among other things. He even brought some shims (although I had purchased some already). He spent a good twenty minutes explaining everything and making sure I understood what was in store for me as my project progressed. He even posed for a picture or two for posterity’s sake.
(a couple of shim tools...)

I’m sure we’ll hear more from Dr. B before this is all over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 33 – Thursday, July 15 – New Music, same old piano

Music: Kenny Burrell’s “Ellington is Forever” (just bought this, which is why I jumped back to the ‘B’s even though I’m almost finished with the ‘C’s in my collection).

I’ve got to see a man about my piano on Friday, as he’s bringing the tuning pins, the spoon bit and the soundboard shim chisel for my piano, so I thought I would take advantage of an evening home alone to get the piano parts organized and everything cleaned off of it so it can actually be worked on. But I had another brief, but disgusting, set back: cat pee.

One of the perils of owning three cats is, they sometimes express their independence in “unique” ways. And none of our cats are particularly prone to these nasty behaviors, but every so often, something unexpected like this happened. I won’t belabor the point. The mess was contained on the floor protecting tarp, and although the clean up job was relatively easy and straightforward, the smell lingered. This is merely a point of reference: all projects like these are prone to be affected by outside events, and they do cause delays, however momentary and tolerable. (But, oh, the smell!) (That’s also one of the prime reasons I don’t keep tools and parts on the floor anymore.


I vacuumed all the surfaces of the piano carefully. I sanded and steel-wooled the visible portions of the soundboard as well, and I think it is about as close to finished as it is going to get. I started to look at the cracks and shims and seeing what will need to be done there, but that is going to be the main subject of discussion with the piano expert on Friday: shim installation. So, all I did was sand and clean, sand and clean, in preparation for today’s meeting and for this weekend’s installation of shims and veneer. The other main tasks will be to put felt on the legs and re-install them, and take the Dremel to the harp and get the last of the old paint and rust off. I could even spray paint the harp, now that I think about.

Forward, we go.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 32 – Monday, July 12 – Organizing:

Goals: Get some stuff in order and free up some work space

Music: Terry Gibb’s Dream Band’s “Flying Home

I wasn’t going to have much time but I wanted to be productive, so I set out just to get everything straightened up and stacked so that I could have some space for working, as I’m definitely going to have to do some sanding and veneer work soon and I need as clean an environment as possible. I pulled a folding table that I normally use for poker out of the garage and put all the damper and hammer assemblies underneath it with the various sundry parts of the piano. Then I took all the keys off of piano body and put them back in order on the table. (That’s the best possible storage method for them as it occupies the least amount of space.)

After that, I glued a couple key tops that had peeled up again and worked a little bit on cleaning up the soundboard.

That was basically it. This weekend’s work is going to be dirty, so I’m going to have to get the dining room entrances sealed off with plastic again to keep the dust down, but it’s going to be awesome, anyway. But after I finish the veneer and soundboard and replace the legs, I’ll be prepared to declare having crossed the halfway point in the piano refurbishing project. A lot of the work that will be remaining will be detail work that will take time, but not much effort (I hope).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 31 – Sunday, July 11 – Inside, where it’s cool:

Goals: Reassemble the pedal lyre, begin work on the veneer on the back.

Music: Serge Chaloff’s “Blue Serge”, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, The Best of Chick Corea.

I put the pedal lyre back together. I glued felt to the inside, sewed two pieces together for the pedal fittings, glued pads to the base, meticulously reviewed my photos of disassembly to ascertain which wood plugs that hold the pedals in went where, then put everything back together. I pulled out the brass rods that I bought and grabbed my Dremel and cut the lengths needed for that and the damper lifter bar. I’m taking them to work to have them cleaned up a little before I install them. I still need to make some rods for mounting the pedal lyre to the bottom of the piano, anyway.

Then I set to filling the missing chunks on the back of the piano with wood filler. I was trying to avoid having to sand the back surface, since it will be covered with veneer anyway, but I think I’m going to have to level it out before putting it up. I’ll talk to my experts on veneer and see what they say. I may be able to get away just putting it up, but after my shortcut on the harp turned into a disaster, I’m a bit reluctant to take any more shortcuts on any major portions of the renovation project.

Next step is to clean and organize. I’ve got all the keys laid out on the piano frame, but after I get the veneer on, I want to put the legs back on (what a space saver that’ll be!) and move my sawhorses to the garage for working on the wood top pieces. So, I’ll need to set up a table or something to put all the keys out on, along with all the other parts that are cluttering up the floor.

I think my Labor Day target completion is feasible, as long as I don’t have too many more setbacks like the harp episode this past weekend.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 30 – Saturday, July 10 – Two steps forward, two steps back, one more forward:

Goals: Finish painting the harp. Start work on the veneer patch on the back.

Music: Gary Burton and Keith Jarrett and Throb: Gary Burton; Bona Fide’s “Royal Function”; Serge Chaloff’s “Boston Blow-Up!

First step forward was taking a wire brush fitting and my drill to the harp and getting off all the dust, rust, crap, and most of the paint. My original intention was to get all the way down to the metal, but I quickly realized that the bottom layers of paint and corrosion were not going to come off without some serious work and/or stripping chemicals. Since I got everything actually looking pretty decent, I figured painting over it was the way to go, so once I reached a certain level of cleanliness, I was ready to paint. (This was all done about two weeks ago.)

Second step forward was painting the harp. I did the underside in black and since nobody is going to see it, possibly ever again, I got it pretty clean, wiped it down and spray painted it black. It looked good. The top side I had to mask the pins and agraffes, and I spray painted it a caramel bronze. It looked really good, but too dark. I made up my mind to spray paint a second coat of bronze gold.

What I thought was the third step forward, and this was the first work actually done on day 30, was spray paint the harp gold. It seemed to be coating nicely, sitting pretty on top of the caramel bronze, getting shiny and bright. I was just about finished spraying the whole thing when I noticed a small patch of paint, maybe one inch wide and three inches long, just bubbling up. Huh, that’s weird, I thought. I watched it and waited to see if it would go down, but it didn’t. First step backward.

I grabbed a rag and wiped at it. Big mistake. It completely tore up and left an uneven patch. Crap, now what am I going to do, I asked myself. I started to think of ways I could cut my losses and make the paint look acceptable, when I noticed another small patch bubbling up, maybe one inch around. I didn’t wipe it. Then I noticed another patch, and another, all bubbling up, crinkling, and looking like crap. Well, wiping didn’t work, but leaving the paint like that isn’t going to work either, I thought, so I wiped at all the spots.

Big backward step, that.

There was nothing for it. The new paint was obviously interacting with the old to create this disaster. I couldn’t figure why, since the first coat went on with no trouble. Maybe the heat, maybe the humidity, maybe something got on it while I was storing it in the garage. Who knows? I decided, everything had to come off, all the way to the metal. New paint, old paint, rust, crud, everything.

Knowing there was no way in hell I could get all that off just with a wire brush and a drill, I pulled out my can of paint stripper. I covered the harp in paint stripper and scraped, and scraped and scraped. I used the wire brush, the scraper on the end of the brush, and a putty knife. I scraped and scraped and scraped. I put on another coat of stripper and scraped some more. Finally, I hosed the harp down and washed it with tri-sodium phosphate solution and let it dry in the sun. It looks good. It is essentially clean, but there are just one or two more spots that need to have paint removed. No way am I making that mistake again.

The picture shows the big step forward.

For kicks, compare that to when I pulled it out of the piano a month and a half ago.

I have to buy another wire brush and some primer and more paint, so I guess on day 31 I’ll tackle the veneer instead.

All future decisions on what action to take will be based solely on secure steps forward. Less frustration, more progress!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What does Terry Gibbs have to do with my piano?

I heard Terry Gibbs’ Dream Band on the radio the other day playing “Jumpin’ at the Woodside”, and I was smitten. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever heard him, and I was absolutely stunned. Of course, the first thing I looked up on the internet showed me that Bill Holman had written some of his charts, so it was no surprise then why I liked the sound of the Dream Band, which is obviously one of the hottest big jazz bands ever to have existed (I think). Right before that, they played some Miles Davis from Walkin’ and that, too, was awesome. So, I was thinking about buying a Terry Gibbs compendium, but I found that it was comprised of works from only four different CDs that were available at reduced prices that would bring the four-CD lot in at only a few dollars more than the compendium, so I decided to buy all four of them. In the process, I picked up Davis’ “Relaxin’”, another one of the ‘in’ series that suddenly so impressed me. What’s all this got to do with my piano?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 29 – Monday, July 5:

Goals: Finish the legs, touch up the other wood parts needing refinishing, maybe some felt work.

Music: None (just worked outside for a short time)

The legs are essentially finished. The one leg that I patched will need some more stain/finisher on the patch portion, but other than that, everything else looks good on all the other legs. Likewise, the pedal lyre is completed but needs some more stain on the wood patch. Even after one more coat, it still looks like it will require one or two more.

The harp is painted and dried, but as I said in an earlier entry, it’s just not the right color. I left it alone for the time being.

The only other “work” I did on the piano was ordering some shim stock, a shim tool, and some regulating felts and punchings. I won’t need anywhere near the quantity I ordered, but since I also picked up some spare parts on e-bay, I’m thinking of continually building towards the next refurbishing project.

If I’m going to be serious about this, though, I’m definitely going to have to find some decent work space. The garage is just not adequate due to the amount a debris blowing around in there and the heat and humidity in the summer. It would be easy enough to heat in the winter, but three or four months out of the year, it would not be feasible to work out there. I’m seriously toying with the idea of removing our two water heaters and replacing them with a tankless water heater. That would not only save me some space, but it would save me some money, too. Then I could think about making that nook into a piano workspace. Tearing out one or both of the closets might also be an option.

Then again, maybe I need to finish my first piano project and see how that goes before I get too much farther ahead of myself…

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 27 and 28 – Independence Day and the day before that:

Goals: Just trying to move forward.

Music: Tony Bennett’s “Jazz”; Kenny Burrell’s “Midnight Blue”; Peter Brotzmann’s “The Complete Machine Gun Sessions”. (There was no music on July 3 because I was working outside and only briefly. And Christ, Peter Brotzmann’s work is crap. Don’t buy it unless you need something to piss off a roommate or something.)

On Saturday, I pretty much took a break from working on the piano. I finished up the keys, which was an intermittent job, gluing the white tops back on the key arms. They are all as secure and as flat as they are going to get. Then, late in the afternoon, I took the loose wood pieces – the legs, the lyre, the music stand, the front board and the soundboard trim and washed them down with Murphy’s oil soap. I was amazed at how just washing them got a ton of dirt off and made them look that much better. As soon as the legs dried, I glued the fabricated leg piece onto the leg that was missing a chunk. I wanted to use some brads to hold it down, but it kept slipping, so I left the bradding until the next session.

Today, I decided to tackle all the cosmetic stuff. So, I put two brads into the leg chunk to hold it in place and filled in and around it with wood filler. It is as secure as it is going to get.

I then set about finishing the legs. I wasn’t sure what the legs would look like if I just stained over their current poor quality finish, but I figured with it being a strong oil-based chemical, I had a decent chance that it would even everything out and look pretty nice when I got through with it.
I think you can tell from the "after and before" picture (after on the left, above) that I was right (although I won’t know until everything completely dries). I finished the legs and the lyre, but forgot to do the music stand and fascia before I cleaned my brush. I’ll still have to stain the piano anyway, so instead of going back and staining some more, I tried the nasty furniture re-finisher on the soundboard trim. It improved it, but I think I’m going to buy something fancy and replace it anyway.

Then I spray painted the harp. The color that I chose to match the screws I bought was indeed very close to the screw color, but it was far too dark for it to be the final color of the harp. I’m going to have to buy some brighter gold or brass color paint and redo it. I’m going to try and go over it lightly to leave some of the dark metallic color showing through.

And that was it. Tomorrow, I will definitely do some more work on the piano, but I have to go back to work the day after that, so we’ll probably take it easy during the rest of the week, at least until the weekend. After all, I’ve got to take Mrs. S. out for her birthday (Wednesday).