McGuire Piano Blog

A Singer Sewing Machine is not a Piano

September 18th, 2020

A singer sewing machine is not a piano. But I accepted the challenge of restoring a sewing machine cabinet that had been badly water damaged. Water and veneered pieces do not go well together. That’s especially true for old veneered panels that were glued with hot hide glue, which is still completely soluble in water decades after it has set.

Normally, folks wouldn’t come to me with a sewing machine restoration project, but friends being friends, it can happen. And who am I to say that I’m not the right guy to restore the family heirloom for a friend? So I said what I say, “Sure. I can fix that.” But I knew that it was quite a project.

The sad little cabinet that arrived in my shop.
The delaminated veneer and panels simply could not be salvaged.

Fortunately the cabinet below the top panels was largely undamaged, so on the bright side, my task was limited to recreating the top panels. Some clever work went into the creation of this hideaway machine, and it would take some clever work to recreate it.

My first order of business was to create two oak veneered panels. While the original was a hardwood panel veneered with oak, I chose to use modern materials for the panel core, while trimming it in solid oak. Unfortunately, I could not duplicate the thickness of original panels with medium density fiberboard (MDF) of standard thickness. That’s where another friend came in handy! My friend Justin volunteered to grind some MDF down to my specification of 0.585 inches using an industrial thickness sander at his workplace. It’s nice to have friends! My favorite veneer supplier sent me some very nice oak veneer.

Gluing the veneer in my vacuum press set up.
With two stock router bits and a bit of hand shaping, I came very close to the original edge profile.
The original edge profile

From this point, a number of careful steps were needed to shape parts for the hide-away.

I’m getting close! Projects like this are amazing to execute, because the risk cost of a mistake multiply as each step is completed. I’m getting close, though!

The old is new again:

Just like Grandma would remember.
What was, and what is.

Schilling & Sons: Case repair

July 20th, 2020

Amateur movers frequently damage the lower corner of upright pianos.  Shown here is my approach to repairing this damage on the Schilling and Sons piano.

The starting point. Typical damage to an old upright piano from amateur movers. Orientation – piano is laid on its back on a piano tilter.


The left tape shows the area that will be cut out for in-fill. The parallel pencil line on the right tape shows where the router guide will be clamped to achieve the cutout as marked.


The router guide is clamped to the case side. I’ll use a 3/4″ straight cutting bit. The outside cuts will be made with care, assuring that the router base is flat against the case side. This is the tricky part, since their isn’t as much surface for the router base there. The cut next to the guide is done from top to bottom (left to right). This assures that the rotation of the bit is pulling the router base into the guide rather than pushing it away. Thus we get a clean straight cut.


The area after routing. Multiple passes at increasing depth were made to maintain careful control.


This repair could be made with any hardwood base and a suitable veneer face on top. I had some nice mahogany hardwood, so I decided to do it without veneer, but solid wood instead. Here shows how the stock was re-sawn on the bandsaw. The recess cut in the piano side was approximately 11 mm. I setup the bandsaw to cut approximately 13 mm. Thus I had a comfortable excess for thickness sanding to final dimension.


The Promax thickness sander. I did not measure the actual thickness, but with successive passes I compared the thickness of the board to the recess in the piano side. The fingers know flush! Within a couple thousandths of an inch.


After creating a straight cut on the table saw, grain is matched to the extent possible. Note that the darkest grain lines up pretty nicely.


For glue-up, there wasn’t a practical way to clamp. I relied on the tight fit and the adhesion of the glue.


The good fit and glue line


The repair after trimming


The repair after stain and a light spray of lacquer. With the grain lining up well, this repair will not be noticeable without getting down on the floor to look for it. It gets my passing grade.



Schillings and Sons: Completion

July 20th, 2020

This piano is ready to go home again.  It is performing well and looking good.  Final tasks were case renewal with my favorite tool for old finishes:  Howard’s Restor-a-finish.   Also, I made a good repair to lower case damage that was incurred in a move at some point.

A satisfaction test.

Repairing an Oops on an Upright Piano Foot

June 13th, 2020

The starting point

After sanding a flat surface, a hardwood block is glued to it. I used cherry, because it was close at hand.

The hardwood block is trimmed with a flush-cutting hand saw.

Trimmed and sanded

New mahogany veneer is applied to the outside and end of the foot.

Stain to match is applied.

Before and after

Schilling and Sons: Replacing Dampers and Hammers

March 23rd, 2020

Schilling and Sons – Pedal Board Replacement

March 23rd, 2020

While stringing, I leaned lightly on the pedal board, and found myself with a problem!


The board was remarkably weak. close inspection revealed that the crack was started years ago, as staining is evident within the break.   The board also showed evidence of “worm holes” – which I suspect are actually holes from boring larvae.  The board was likely weak when installed back when.

In any event, my approach was to replace the entire board with a new piece of solid mahogany.   Fortunately I was able to source a nice piece locally.   By using solid hardwood, I was able to avoid veneering.

Schilling & Sons Pinblock Work

February 14th, 2020

As noted in the previous post, the pinblock in this piano had separated from the back posts.  Previously, a repair had been attempted by boring through the pinblock and bolting the block to the back posts.   While the piano was unstrung, I used the existing bolts  to close the gap further, and then inserted low-viscosity epoxy into the gap for a solid composite construction.

Showing the closed gap and epoxy fill after sanding

This was the first time for me to do this procedure, and a bit of a learning experience, because epoxy ran in directions I did not anticipate.  While working at the back of the piano and monitoring drips there, I did not anticipate epoxy running out through the tuning pin holes.  The photo below shows my corrective actions after discovering the mess.   I first inserted ear plugs, then realized that the old tuning pins would also stem the flow.

Note to self: Next time, do the epoxy application before removing the tuning pins!

The epoxy flowing through the tuning pin holes wasn’t really a big issue, since it was my intention to restore this pinblock by filling pinblock holes with epoxy and then re-boring. This also was a process I had not previously used.  In theory this will result in tight fitting pins of uniform torque, without resorting to oversized pins — or replacing the pinblock.  I’m pleased to be using this technique for this piano, since I’ll be seeing the piano regularly in the future: this is an unpaid project for the family.   I feel free to experiment!  The photo below shows the pinblock with this epoxy fill complete.

Pinblock holes filled with epoxy

Following the fill of epoxy, I let it cure for a week before reboring.  To achieve uniform results, I chose to use a double-boring technique.   Initially, I bored with a 1/4″ drill bit (0.250″).   Within that process, it became clear that double boring was a good idea.  The epoxy was brutal.  While boring the 200+ holes, the drill bit was good for 15 to 20 holes, and then required re-sharpening.  The photo below shows my setup for boring at a uniform 7 degrees.

Initial boring of the pinblock with an undersized drill bit.  The drill guide has detents at 5 degree increments.   The guide was set to 10 degrees.   The base, riding on the pinblock and v-bar was set to -3 degrees for a net 7 degree bore angle.

After the initial boring, the pinblock was sanded and re-lacquered.   Final boring was done with a letter J drill bit (0.276″).  This boring was very smooth and easy-going.  I completed these bores freehand just following the initial bore.   Number 2 tuning pins were tested in the first two bores with good results:  smooth turning pins with 120 1b-in of torque.  I’m encouraged by the result.  I’ll know more later!

Open faced pinblock: bored, lacquered, and ready for restringing.


After all that, it’s nice to see stringing complete.



Rebuild of Schilling and Sons Upright

January 28th, 2020

Sometime around 1959, in Raymond Washington, I had my first piano lesson. It was on this piano: Schilling and Sons #93032!

Schilling and Sons Upright Piano made in 1926

The Shilling and Sons piano was a product of the Lester Piano Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This piano, #93032, was made in 1926. My mother acquired the piano sometime in the 1940s. My sister Carol, my sister Nadine,  and I all learned to play on the Schilling and Sons. Then in 1972, Mom thought she should have a smaller piano for her dining room. So she bought a spinet piano, and as part of the purchase, she arranged free delivery of the Schilling and Sons from Raymond to Carol’s new home in Vancouver, Washington.  Carol’s three girls: Angela, Heather, and Tiffany all learned to play on this piano too.

In 2008, at the age of 91, Mom left the Raymond home to live in a senior apartment near Carol’s home in Vancouver. Carol selflessly provided near daily care and support during Mom’s time there. In 2011, with gratitude (and a bit of showmanship), I gave Carol a modern baby grand piano for her birthday. I made the surprise piano delivery, from Utah to Washington,  while Carol was on the East Coast for a week. Then I spirited the Schilling and Sons off to Utah to be rebuilt. As it worked out, procrastination and the lack of a plan for that piano meant that it has just been waiting on me these past eight or nine years.

But then, in 2019, the very house we knew as home in Raymond came on the market, and Carol surprised us all by buying it as a family vacation home! It was then obvious what the next stopping point for the Schilling and Sons piano would be!  I anticipate returning the piano to its home in Raymond this Spring.  It is thus that procrastination has ended and the piano rebuild has begun. The work I have outlined for the pianos is this:

  • Restringing including new Mapes bass strings
  • New hammers from Ronsen Piano Hammer Company
  • New dampers
  • New hammer butt assemblies
  • New key bushings
  • Ivory detailing
  • Case polish and touch-up
  • Full regulation

This video documents the starting point:

(Perhaps I could have improved it with tuning?   Maybe not after 8 years in dry Utah.)

(Yes, I can play.   Here’s more what it will sound like! Thanks for the lessons, Mom.)

I began work by destringing the piano, and securing the pinblock.  This is a three-quarter plate piano.  These pianos have a propensity for the pinblock to separate from the back posts.  That had occurred with this piano many years ago.  In fact, as a child I remember my dad working with Mr. Peck, the piano tuner, to drill through the pinblock and back posts to pull it together with through bolts.   The job was done while the piano was under tension and the result was less than satisfactory.  I remember Mr. Peck saying the next year that he had hoped for better tuning stability.   While the piano was unstrung, I epoxied the gaps in the pinblock attachment.   The gap closed up considerably while tightening the previously installed through bolts .  I’m expecting a good result in tuning stability.

In preparation for stringing, I removed the bottom board and restored its components.   I found that the board was split.   I joined a new piece of hardwood to make it structurally what it was in 1926.  Photos below document the work  on the bottom board and associated trapwork.

Bottom board beginning point


Completed work on the bottom board


Detail of pedals at beginning

Detail of pedals after cleaning and polishing

More to come.   Stay tuned!

Repairing the bottom board of an upright piano

August 10th, 2019
The bottom board of the piano was completely split rendering pedals unusable:
This board split along a glue joint.  (the board was joined from three boards at the factory some hundred years ago)  The board probably would have survived, except:  sometime in its history, the muffler rail for the center pedal was removed.   The center pedal then would flop to the floor.   Some enterprising soul screwed the back of the pedal to the board.  Then a healthy force on the pedal caused the board to split.  Oops.
The board was re-glued  along the broken joint.  The glue joint was reinforced with biscuit joinery.   (Here’s an article on biscuit joinery: )
The board was sanded and sealed with shellac:
Pedals were polished, and trap work was refurbished and reinstalled:
To avoid the problem of the drooping middle pedal, I installed a spring so that it would operate (without breaking the board),  But the middle pedal is a do nothing pedal!
Note:  the screws in the two outside pedals hold them down to simplify the installation of the bottom board in the piano.   They will be removed after the board is installed.