Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 55 – Sunday, September 26 – Stain in the Rain:

Goals: Finish (maybe) the staining; finish (maybe) painting the harp.

Music: Art Farmer’s “Farmer’s Market”; Chico Freeman’s “Destiny’s Dance”; Bill Frisell’s “Have a Little Faith”; Errol Garner’s “Concert by the Sea”.

After raining a good portion of the night and with a light sprinkling in the morning, it was obvious I’d be taking a big chance if I decided to do any staining yesterday. Thing is, there was only one more coat left to go, and I couldn’t wait to finish, so I made up my mind to move the car out, turn on the ceiling fans (which I installed when we were still playing poker in the garage), and even with the high humidity, go ahead and stain the lid.

And so I did.

Since this was the final coat, I had to be careful how I did the edges and make sure I didn’t get any marks on either side, so I put some masking tape on the sawhorses and got my fingers pretty dirty picking up the half dried boards to touch them up after I applied the final coat. The lid panels do not look perfect. They never were going to, due to the defects in the veneer, both antique and recent, and some of the repairs being more obvious than I had hoped. I am of a mind, however, that when the panels are completely dry, they should be able to be waxed and polished and that should make them look pretty good. Whatever, they look way better than when I started.

Same goes for the harp. I hadn’t planned to repaint the whole thing, but once I started touching it up, I could tell the paint color of the brush-on paint from a can was just different enough from the spray (same maker, same color: Rustoleum Gold) that I would need to go over the whole thing. It turned out a little uneven, but it gives the harp a rather classic effect of having been burnished and unevenly polished. Like the lid panels, it had a hard time drying in the moist air (it was not warm enough to turn on the air conditioning), but it did get dry enough by the late evening to pick it up and prop it back against the wall.

I’m thinking that with the staining, varnishing, and painting finished, I ought to be able to replace the harp, and if I want, even go ahead and string the piano. I’m double-checking with my piano expert to make sure I haven’t overlooked anything, but I think one evening this week, that is what I’m going to be doing. I should even be able to string the piano before too long, even though the keys and such are not ready yet. (That’s the next area I have to focus on.)

Yes there is still quite a ways to go, but we are definitely getting close to the completion of this project.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A brief interlude and plug for Craigslist

I don’t know how many of you have ever bought or sold anything on craigslist, and I don’t own stock in it or it’s would-be majority owner (e-bay), but I’ve got to tell you: craigslist is da bomb!

Since making a conscientious decision to declutter my entire life of unnecessary people, things, theories, beliefs, and habits, I’ve been pulling stuff out of the closets, attic and garage of our home, most of which I was only vaguely aware of us owning, and much of which I hadn’t seen, touched or thought about in years. A sampling: First 8 volumes of OMNI magazine; volumes 2-6 of WIRED magazine; ninety pounds of weight plates; a Black&Decker Edge Hog; magazines for learning Japanese; about 200 vinyl LP’s; A microphone (?); two artificial Christmas trees.

There’s more, but all that stuff I mention above? I’ve actually found people who would buy from me. Part of it is, my prices are usually very, very reasonable. Part of it is, there are actually people who want/need this stuff. The Japanese magazines? Lady’s daughter is studying Japanese. Edge Hog? Guy had one for years and it broke. Mine needed a new blade, but he had an extra one, anyway! The records? Guy with 4000 records wanted more and I had some he didn’t. OMNI magazines? Big sci-fi, William Gibson fan. (He ended up getting the leftover WIRED’s after I sold half my collection to a guy in Arizona.)

I’ve sold most of my philosophy books through amazon. I sold my two nudie books of Brooke Shields and Madonna on e-bay. I’ve made right around $400 in just the last month, selling what is to me, junk. And you should see my garage! I can actually get in and out of all the storage areas.

Check out craigslist.org today. And while you’re there, buy some of my stuff!

Days 53 and 54 – Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19: MOTHER OF ...

Goals: Stain the damn lid; work on the inlay.

Music: Eldar’s “Live at the Blue Note”; Bill Evans’ “Complete Village Vanguard Recordings 1961” (all three discs); Bill Evans’ “Portrait in Jazz”; Art Farmer’s “Portrait of Art Farmer” and “Blame It on My Youth”.

This was to be an unexciting entry, anyway, so it is about a week late. My schedule was upset by having to serve on a U.S. District Court jury last week to convict a guy who trafficked in 15-year old prostitutes who were illegal aliens to boot. (Like I said: we convicted.)

Enough about that.

I’m one coat on one side of the lid from being finished with it. When I’m finished with that, I’ll be finished with staining except for any touch-ups I have to do on the inside after I install everything. I’m looking forward to that.

The mother-of-pearl inlay work is no fun. No fun at all. It is very tedious, very time consuming, very slow, very precise, and dirty work. I’ve inhaled so much old wood and varnish I’ve developed a dry hack that is pretty serious. To make matters worse, the mother-of-pearl that I bought looks new, while the MOP on my piano does not. I’m not sure how to spruce up the antique inlay or how to tone down the modern inlay. I’m back to thinking about scrapping the inlay board all together and installing something else. Or, I may go against Mrs. S’s suggestion and just go ahead and let the modern and ancient MOP mix on that board, for better or worse.

I just want to be done.

Next session will be completing the harp and completing the lid.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Regaining perspective

Attentive readers of this blog will have noticed that of late, I have not been nearly as enthusiastic about my piano these days as I was in the first few days (and weeks, and months) after I got the thing. The reasons are numerous and varied but it all comes down to perception and perspective, namely that, when I look at my piano, in pieces spread out around the dining room and bedroom, it just looks like so many pieces of antique junk. Repair efforts improve upon the general appearance, but nothing ever quite reaches the level of expectation generated by pictures of other restored pianos that are online.

But that changed Monday night.

I answered an ad on Craigslist selling an 1854 square grand piano. I made an appointment to go look at it after school, and it turned out the owner had another piano she was willing to part with as well, “buyer’s choice”. The first one, a J & C Fischer, was actually in pretty decent shape. But as old as it is, its structure is completely different, and since I was basically just looking for parts for my piano, it wouldn’t do as it didn’t have the same kind of parts. The other, a Chickering, was more or less exactly the same as my piano. Neither one played. Both were missing key tops and strings. Both had pedal lyres that were completely disassembled and would require extensive repair. Neither had a sustain or soft mechanism that worked. Both were disasters on the surface, making we very nervous to look too closely on the insides. One was missing the prop arms for the lid (the Fischer), the other was missing one of the lid panels with the large one split on one end. The more I looked, the more I began to realize: by comparison, my piano is a gem. It’s got almost all its original parts. It worked when I got it. The keys were intact. All the mechanical parts worked. Nothing was missing or broken on the frame or exterior. And sure, I paid a lot more than the $500 that this young lady was asking for one of her pianos, but I got a helluva lot more piano than she had on offer. When all was said and done, I felt pretty good about my piano again, even re-energized, I might say.

I already know I’m not going to buy either of those pianos, but the owner did ask me to make an offer. So I plan to explain to her quite sincerely and in a straightforward manner, I’ll buy the whole piano for a few dollars, but I’ll buy the parts I need for just a bit more than that – basically charging her more (by paying her less) if I remove one of the pianos for her. I doubt she will like that offer, but she may surprise me.

But, the C&H Stone piano that I own? It’s much more of a gem than I realized. I’m lucky to have that piano after all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 52 – Sunday, September 12: Moving forward again

Goals: Finish cleaning up the three lid panels; repair any veneer damage; start staining if time allows.

Music: Eldar’s “Eldar”; Bill Evans’ “Conversations with Myself” and “Portrait in Jazz

I got my contact cement back out and began fitting the little chunks of veneer back in the holes they came out of. Some fit better than others. Some I had to fabricate from scratch. Some stuck to my fingers and got crushed or broken and had to also be fabricated. Some holes were too small to mess with putting in pieces of veneer, so they had to be filled in with wood filler. It was tedious, time consuming work.

While waiting for the glue to set and the wood filler to dry, I took my small, sharp scraper and removed most of the last of the old finish. Some of it was more stubborn than others, and the bits around the edge were pretty solid and even more stubborn, so I got out the Dremel and used it to clean up the last of the old finish. When I had nothing but bare wood, I sanded down the wood-filled and glued veneer. That left me about an hour before lunch, and with a good breeze blowing, I stained all of the sides that did not have any repairs on them.

It was a solid, productive weekend. This week, I’ll be using the evenings to work on the internal parts to get them ready, and next weekend I hope to tackle the mother-of-pearl inlay, plus continue staining. I hope it rains next weekend. I need an artsy-craftsy sort of atmosphere to have the right mood to work on the delicate stuff.

We’re getting close now. It will still be at least another month, but we are getting close. I mark my progress on the piano by the stuff I put away. This past weekend, I put away the sander, the varnish, the wood glue, and the wood filler. Although I can’t imagine what I will be completing next that will eliminate the need for any tools or materials, I hope there is at least one thing I can set aside next weekend.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Day 51 – Saturday, September 11 – Curses

Goals: Figure out what to do to make the lid portion look good

Music: Duke Ellington’s “Never No Lament” (disc 3), Duke’s “Newport 1956") (both discs)

Friday night, the management team and spouses from my company were having a send-off dinner for our boss of eight years. The topics ranged from golf, to fishing, to music, to the meaning of the letter ‘H’ in Japanese, to my piano. Several people asked how the renovation was going and when they might expect to hear it played. I told them honestly that of late, the project had not been going very well, and that I was leaning that when dealing with an antique piano, every time you make a little bit of progress, something comes and bites you in the ass. Typically, (I explained) when you try to fix something wood, it chips or cracks, and when you move something, a fitting or other part requires adjustment, screw holes don’t line up, wood doesn’t take stain, etc. etc. I recall I did not knock on wood at any point in the conversation. (I’m not sure the fiberboard of the Chinese restaurant’s table would have qualified anyway.)

So, on Saturday, I’m hard at work on the piano lid. I had been unhappy with the appearance of the first coat of stain, as I could clearly see the sander’s tracks in the old coating. So I decided to sand the hell out of the big board that was giving me the headache. Six pieces of sanding paper at three different grits and an hour later, I was left with a slightly more manageable mess, but I was not at all happy with how the board looked. The curse of retracing my steps is still not dissolved. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I did not want to take a step backward on this project, and that I shouldn't have done anything with the sander and just lived with the result. The curse of regret, again.

But the can of chemical stripper was calling to me.

I took out the stripper, applied a liberal coat, and scraped away most of my problems. The veneer came off in a few places, but I rescued the pieces for regluing later. I decided to do the back and the other two pieces with the stripper as well. And that’s what I spent the rest of the afternoon on. Here’s the result:

Three uncoated lid panels – shiny spots still need scraping, bright spots need veneer repair

One cut (thumb) and one missing skin chunk (disinfected very nicely with highly acidic tri-phosphate wash)

Some chemical burns when a panel almost fell off the sawhorses.

Things should go better today. I think the curse on the piano is finally starting to wear off.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 50 – Monday, September 6 – The Pain of Stain:

Goals: Keep staining

Music: Duke Ellington’s “New Orleans Suite

I carried all three of the lid panels out to the garage, lined them up on the sawhorses, and stained one side and all edges of all three of them. They dried pretty good after I brushed them down, but they’ll need another coat. They don’t look very good. Mrs. S. says I’m too close to the project and my sensibilities when I’m looking at the piano are “paralyzed”. She may be right. Personally, I’m no longer working on this piano for some future buyer. I’m working on it for myself. So, like I said in my most recent entry, I’m going to tolerate of lot of the imperfections in the interest of finishing up this project without undue delay.

The good news is, I’m playing and practicing a lot, both for my jazz improve course and for stuff my piano instructor and I have been working on. That is all the more reason to finish up the piano and hear it play again.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Days 48 and 49 – Saturday, September 4 and Sunday, September 5 – Never No Lament:

Goals: Get back in the swing of things, stain and seal the piano, get the lid ready for the same, stain and finish the harp trim, finish the harp.

Music: Duke Ellington’s “Never No Lament” (discs 1 and 2); Bill Evan’s “Everybody Digs Bill Evans

I’d be lying if I said I am not a little disappointed in how the piano is turning out. I can’t say it was wholly unexpected and that my disappointment is even surprising, just that my expectations were high and now they are not so.

I began finishing the piano, starting with the piece of veneer. Honestly, it looked really good until I stained it, but after staining, every little imperfection came out. I thought briefly about redoing the veneer, but that is too big a step backward that I just don’t want to take for the back of the piano. I mean, don’t get me wrong: before I put the veneer on, it was a torn up, scratched, water-stained, sun-bleached nightmare. It looks 2000% better than it did, but it looks only about 85% as good as I hoped.

So, I stuck with the plan and stained the entire piano, then I went back with the brush and added the texture and depth and removed the excess stain. Even with the windows open and the fan blowing, it barely dried in time to do a second coat the next day. The second coat improved the appearance of the veneer just that little bit more. It’s okay, just not great. I found it funny that I was listening to "Never No Lament" while pondering the piano's appearance. It's good I let those thoughts go.

At the same time I was doing that, I was also outside staining the harp trim. That was just a little tricky, but I managed to get it completed and they will probably be dry enough to handle sometime today.

When I had gotten the staining out of the way, I got to work on the three pieces of the lid. The first step was to make the hinge slots a little bigger to hold the new hinges I bought. That required some delicate cutting and carving, and sure enough, with the brittle old wood, one of the pieces gave up a chunk of wood between the hinge slot and the edge of the board, and that will require extra repairing. Cosmetic this, cosmetic that. I removed the rubber baby buggy bumpers from the holes where they had been stained and sealed over, trimmed the hinge slot edges, then sanded the heck out of all three pieces, including the veneer bubbles which despite my best efforts simply cannot be repaired, due to age and the poor condition of the wood. I mean, to be fair to myself, most of the problems I’m encountering are completely unavoidable. Sure this sounds like scapegoating and rationalizing, but I’m willing to bet at least 50% of the people who might have undertaken to refurbish this piano would have long since given up. Seriously. I’ve often thought about just gutting the damn thing (in this case, leaving it gutted), and making a desk out of it. Either that or I could just cut a bit of hole to slide my Yamaha keyboard in and make a fancy “antique digital piano”.

But no. (never no lament, never no lament...) People will understand that 120-year old things don’t look perfect and they will, I hope, focus on the nice new color, the clean looking harp, the bright copper strings, and the scarlet red felt, and the lovely sound, when all is said and done. Yes, the veneer has bubbles, some of which are over a hundred years old, but you’ll be lucky if you make it to that age and don’t have a few blemishes of your own.

Today I’m finishing the harp and starting on the long hard process of staining the lid. Right after I cut the grass.

Oh, and I have to find rubber baby buggy bumpers, or, these things.

If you know where I can get any, let me know. I need four of them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 47 – Sunday, August 22: Not much, but it’s something

(I'm about to get back into working on the piano. Here's an entry from the spell when I was hardly working on it, the last three weeks.)

Goals: Get back in the swing of things as much as the heat will allow.

Music: Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Kirkatron

This has been a recurring theme these last three weeks, but, it’s been hot outside. It prevents working on the piano top, doing any outdoor stain work, or opening the windows to do indoor stain work. And, stain work is the next thing that needs to be done. So I’ve been looking for the odd jobs that don’t depend upon putting the piano back together. I still have to touch up the harp (again, need open windows, probably), and about half the felt work on the keyboard (a job that can be done any time and doesn’t need special attention. Then there’s cleaning and staining the stool, and doing the fine engraving work on the mother-of-pearl inlay. That also requires outdoor work to keep the dust to a minimum, and even as hot as it was, I decided to give those last two a try.

My new engraving tools for the Dremel really work great. I was able to clean out all of the old glue from where the mother of pearl pieces had fallen off the decorative board. What I was finding, however, was that whoever did the original job use some kind of plastic resin filler that looks like mother of pearl, but isn’t. That drastically increases the amount of work that board is going to require. So, I spent about an hour cleaning that. Then I went to work on the stool. I cleaned up the stool for about an hour as well. I was dripping with sweat, so I stopped. I did not attempt any more jobs inside or outside on the piano.

So, as the title says, it wasn’t much, but it was something. I’m working on my piano, again, even if in a limited fashion.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where I’m at

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me just say that I have not forgotten that I have an antique square grand piano taken apart in my dining room (and bedroom, and garage). The problem – and yes, I’ve been using this excuse for weeks now – is the heat, because I have nothing but outdoor jobs that I need to do next: staining, sanding, engraving, etc. My original estimate for completion of this project was Labor Day. Needless to say, that isn’t going to happen. I’m thinking the end of this month might be possible if I really get going again, but sometime in October seems a lot more feasible. At least with the temperature getting down into the 60’s at night again (finally!), I should be able to get to some of the sanding and refinishing. That sort of work energizes me to work on the artsy jobs (felt work, engraving) to keep moving toward completion. Number one, though, is to get the harp back in. I just want that off the floor.

Without the desire to work on the piano, I’ve been concentrating on my playing. UAH actually decided to hold the jazz improvisation course with just three students, and we have to play every week, so I’ve been practicing. It’s amazing how much my playing actually improves when I’m practicing. Honestly, I was a little bit surprised. But as I said before, I’m really only trying to make sure I’ll be able to play half way decently when my piano is finished, because I’m sure anyone who sees it will want to hear it as well.

So, yes, I’m procrastinating a little, but don’t worry. Late-to-jazz will be getting more piano updates before long.

Finally, I need everybody to send me a couple bucks so I can buy one of these: