Current Work

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.





Kawai Howard Grand Piano For Sale

September 9th, 2020

I am pleased to offer this fully reconditioned 5′ 10″ grand piano. Upon completion of reconditioning work in my shop, I have enjoyed playing it immensely, and and the piano has received rave reviews by other pianists.

The piano was originally manufactured by Kawai, in Japan, in 1968. This was a decade before the wide acceptance and dominance of Kawai and Yamaha in the U.S. piano market. For this model 550, Kawai licensed the Howard name for marketing through U.S. Baldwin dealers. It is vintage Kawai throughout.

Restoration work has included:

  • Refinishing: new satin ebony finish. It’s subtle beauty will fit into any decor.
  • Restringing: installed Mapes “International Gold” piano wire and Mapes custom copper wound bass strings. As part of the process we installed new plate bushings and nickel plated tuning pins.
  • New hammers: installed premium “Blue Point” hammers from Renner. They have been voiced for an exquisite tonal response.
  • New knuckles: installed new Abel knuckles. This has enabled like-new precise regulation of the Kawai action.
  • Touch weight refinement: fine-tuned touch weight to concert specifications. Pianists can enjoy even, controllable response throughout the dynamic range of the instrument.

This piano is ready for a new owner.  My work objective is to satisfy a  discriminating, advanced pianist, while meeting an attractive price point.    At 5′ 10″ in length, the piano is larger than Kawai’s current model  GL-30 (5′ 5″) and smaller than the GL-40 (5′ 11″) .   For those current models, pricing is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000.   We invite you to compare the piano to new instruments of this class. 

This lovely,  reconditioned Kawai is offered for sale at $10,500.   Price includes the artist bench shown, in-home tuning, and standard delivery along the Wasatch Front.   

Utah State sales tax is applicable to purchase.

Shown by appointment. Call or text 801-896-4123. Email tuner@mcguirepiano.com

Price: $10,500

More photos: 
I am without a recording studio, but with this casual recording, I hope you can catch some of my enthusiam for the expressive qualities of the piano.





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 & 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: https://www.familyhandyman.com/woodworking/wood-joints/building-cabinets-with-biscuit-joints/ )
 
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.




Hammond Glider TrimOSaw Model G40B

April 20th, 2019

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

April 15th, 2019

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.

 Context:   11 mm knuckle below.  11.7 mm Renner parts above.




A new grand piano lid

February 7th, 2019

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.





Repair Skills Workshop

January 14th, 2019

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.

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