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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sometime around 1959, in Raymond Washington, I had my first piano lesson. It was on this piano: Schilling and Sons #93032!
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.
More to come. Stay tuned!
As luck would have it, I’m now the proud owner of a Hammond Glider TrimOSaw. These saws were manufactured from 1928 until the 1960s. They were made for printshops, where they cut lead and wood type blocks for handset type. The particulars of creating and setting type of the era elude me, but the accuracy and features of this saw do not! It is amazing and will find many uses working with small parts.
The saw is a small sliding table saw, with precise calibration and 7″ carbide saw blade with a 0.010 inch kerf. As a printer’s saw, the micrometer cutoff gauge is calibrated in picas and points. A pica is approximately 1/6 of an inch and a point is 1/12 of a pica. The micrometer gauge has detents at each point and one-half of a point. Doing the math, a half point is 1/6/12/2 = 0.007 inch. Each click on the micrometer gauge knob advances the cutoff stop 0.007 inches. Doing some research on print measurements, I found that pica widths were not completely standardized. I found that the pica layout on this machine resulted in 6.03 picas per inch. For the metrically inclined, on this machine a pica is 4.21 mm, and a half point is 0.176 mm.
Naturally after getting the saw up and running, I wanted to have a look at the accuracy it can achieve. My test was to trim a block to a width of 4 inches. 6.03*4 = 24.12 or 24 picas and 1.44 points. I set the guage to 24 picas and turned the dial another 1.5 points. The result was fantastic: a block that measured 4.002 inches. I don’t know if you can get excited about that, but I can.
Pianos have lots of small wooden parts, and this saw will be at home in the shop. My recent post about trimming knuckles showed the process on the Delta Unisaw. I had in mind to do it on this saw, but I didn’t quite have it up and running when it was time to trim the knuckles.
I bought the saw from a printshop in Ogden a few weeks ago. My intuition and a few internet clues suggest that the saw was made in the 1950s. I replaced the old three phase motor with a new 1 HP single phase motor. I was able to acquire a new blade for the saw, made to Hammond specifications, by The Blade Manufacturing Company of Columbus Ohio. Also included in the purchase but not pictured here is the very nice work hold-down clamp which is designed to hold very small pieces with clamping pressure very near to the blade.
Here’s the owner’s manual borrowed from vintagemachinery.org: Hammond Glider Saw User’s Manual. I love the drawings, knowing that they were all done by hand. Another lost art.
Knuckle trimming! I was pleased with the way this worked. I’m replacing knuckles in a 1918 Knabe. The shanks at the knuckle slot are 11.0 mm +/- 0.1 mm wide. The Abel knuckles are 11.7 mm +/- 0.1 mm wide. I made this sweet little jig to trim the knuckles to a width of 11.0 mm. (modern shanks e.g. Renner measure 11.7 mm in width)
11.7 mm knuckles on the left. 11.0 mm knuckles on the right.
The trimming jig. The screw at the bottom of the bore allows for micro adjustment.
Ready for trimming
The jig set in the stopped miter gauge.
0.7 mm shorter.
The trimming operation.
I recently acquired (very inexpensively) a 6′ 4″ Knabe grand piano made in the 1950s. The instrument is in good rebuildable condition. The case is in horrible condition, having lived in a school for many years. I decided that to bring the piano back to its glory, that a major woodworking project was needed. I will be re-veneering the entire case to give the piano a like new look.
The lid of the piano was a special concern, since the edge profile was severely damaged. Ultimately, I decided that I would build a new lid for the piano. The photo series below tells the story.
This project stretched my skills as it took me into new turf! The nature of the project was one of continual refinement to the materials. As such each step increased the risk cost value! So at each step, my stress increased as did the potential for ruin! Lots of time and dollars here.
I recently hosted a repair skills workshop at my shop on January 12, 2019. Twelve piano technicians, members of the Piano Technicians Guild, gathered here for coaching on the repair skills tested in the Registered Piano Technician exams. Many of the participants worked for the entire day. There was lots of knowledge sharing all around.
This weekend our house is transforming into a recital hall! We are pleased to be hosting a Christmas piano recital for Tiffany Bailey’s piano students tomorrow evening. I always love hearing other talent perform on my piano, so this is going to be especially enjoyable. The piano is a Steinway model A3 from 1922. I recently installed new Ronsen Weikert felt hammers on the instrument.
To prepare, Justin DeJong helped me move the normal furniture into the garage. We glided the piano over from the northwest corner to the southwest corner where it could be seen from two wings of the new recital hall. This “gliding” was accomplished with my shop-made three-wheeled piano transporter.
Terri McGuire has been adding her touches with Christmas decor. It’s good to have a master of event planning on the job!
The recital hall will look a bit different with 30 chairs and people! More pictures to come of tomorrow’s event.
I do love my job, especially when it’s clear that my objectives are met. My objectives? … enabling the joy of music for my customers.
This 1905 Heine upright came to my shop as a neglected and beat up piano, but with “good bones”. For this piano, we erased years of wear with cleaning, repairs, and reconditioning.
Today, when I saw the customer fighting the tears, expressing joy in the result, and telling family stories of the music and the piano … then I know my objectives were met.
Technically this is the work performed:
- New keytops installed (many ivories were damaged or missing)
- New key bushings installed (giving the pianist a feeling of firmness and security when playing)
- Cleaned, stained and polished sharps (preserving the authenticity and beauty of the original ebony)
- Installed new dampers (the originals were worn and hard, preventing them from performing their function)
- Reshaped shaped hammers (improving the tonal qualities of the piano)
- CA glue treatment of pinblock (restoring the torque the tuning pins need to do their job)
- Action repairs (just making everything work!)
- Regulation, tuning, and voicing (the icing on the cake. Now the touch is smooth and responsive. The voice of the piano has clarity and uniformity)
- Clean, polish, and touchup the case (the pictures tell the story)
- Refinish keybed rub-rail (lots of door jamb damage went away)
Is it everything I want in a piano? NO. Is it everything the customer needed? Clearly, YES.