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.
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.
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!
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.
Shop-made 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 paused for a moment in my work this morning to realize that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. Practicing the crafts of piano restoration fits me in such a fine way. This morning I was doing key work on an 1880’s Knabe grand, and while I applied my skill to restoration, I could pause to admire the work of craftsmen from 130 years ago.
James Michener is credited with the following:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing.
I’m grateful that I can often reside in that zone.
The Janssen Piano Company of New York made about 160,000 pianos from 1901 until 1964, when it sold to the Conn company. I service a number of Janssen console pianos from the 1950s that continue to be good instruments that are loved by their owners.
Today I tuned #134626 from 1956. As I began, I knew that I would like it. I liked it even more when I took the time to read the “Janssen Creed” inside the lid.
Many pianos of quality are made today, but where do we see this type of statement? Sure, we might say “this was just marketing,” but I see it as a personal commitment to quality. Today we have ISO, CMM, Six-Sigma and scores of other process control and corporate accountability systems. And we’re making excellent pianos. But in 1956 we had personal commitment and worker accountability, and we made excellent pianos.
In the 20 years that I lived with my father, how many times did I hear: “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well!” The answer can only be “countless times!” I know this to be a fact, because those words constantly return to me 43 years later.
Yesterday I tuned a hundred year old McPhail upright piano. It was an absolute pleasure. A rare thing to say about a hundred year old piano. With the exception of new dampers and new bridle straps, the piano had all original parts. It had been maintained over the years, but what was really inherent in the piano was the careful workmanship imparted in a Boston factory so many years ago. The quality came through. And once my work was done, it was a joy to play!
While enjoying the job, I took a moment to look at McPhail’s declaration of its commitment to quality, which was displayed on the plate of the piano:
The inscription clearly reads, “Made on Honor, Sold on Merit”. I can only hope that my own work would meet the standards of McPhail in 1915. If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.