Piano Restoration

by Sara Clark
Pianos need regular attention to keep them tuned and in good condition.

Pianos need regular attention to keep them tuned and in good condition.

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Restoring a piano is a skilled and painstaking job, but it can be hugely satisfying. The process generally consists of up to three stages -- repair, reconditioning and rebuilding. Repair consists of fairly minor work, such as fixing broken pedals or missing strings. Restoration involves upgrading the piano to a better condition, but doing as little new work as possible to preserve the original state. Rebuilding involves putting the piano back into a "factory new" state and can include major work and overhauling all parts.

Common Problems

Wear and tear on a piano can affect furniture qualities (loose joints of legs or broken hinges) and musical qualities (broken strings). A common problem area is the desk, or music rack. The desk is normally the most fragile item on the piano, and overloading it with heavy books will damage the hinges. The lid and case of the piano can dry out and crack in bright sunlight. To help prevent this, polish the piano regularly with polish containing beeswax, lemon oil or a specialty piano polish. Grand pianos also have a tendency to wear at the legs and lid hinges.

Cleaning and Polishing

Clean your piano regularly by wiping it with a clean, damp cloth. Polish wooden surfaces with a fine dry cloth to maintain the piano's sheen, and every other time apply polish. Never use polish on the keys, and keep the lid shut as much as possible to prevent the keys from fading. Minor scratches on the case can be removed by rubbing gently with fine steel wool and then applying several layers of beeswax polish.

French Polishing

More serious scratches on the wood of the piano should be treated by French polishing. Prepare the surface by sanding with a fine-grade sandpaper and then rubbing with steel wool and paint remover. If the prepared area looks lighter in color than the original surface, apply wood dye. Prepare the polishing pad by dripping specialist French polish onto a cotton wool pad and then wrapping the pad in an old handkerchief. Make sure that the bottom of the pad is completely flat, with no creases. Squeeze the polish out through the cloth, and rub it over the area to be polished. Apply several coats, letting each coat dry before adding the next.

Broken Strings

Piano strings are made from a steel core wrapped with steel wire. Broken strings should be attended to promptly, or they will cause uneven wear on the hammers. Broken strings can sometimes be repaired by tying in a section of new wire using a tuner's knot, or they may need to be replaced totally. Piano wire comes in different gauges, and it's important to choose the correct gauge to match the other strings before making the replacement. Occasionally, if you have an obscure make of piano, you may have to have a string custom made.

Repairing Broken Hammers

Hammers are subject to a lot of wear and tear and can loose their felt or even break. To replace the felt, remove the hammer by taking off the strap and removing the screw. Place it in a vise and reglue the felt if necessary. Drill two narrow holes into the felt, and bend a piece of steal wire into a "U" shape. Push the wire through the hammer, and twist the ends together to secure. If the hammer itself needs repair, it should be sent to a professional restorer, who will use the old hammer as a template to make a new one.

Photo Credits

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