Quality is a collection of small details. And for every piano, the first thing the pianist encounters is the keyboard. For a high-end piano, the look and feel must be superb. Inviting.
I enjoyed taking the time to ensure that the replacement sharps for this keyboard were second-to-none in fit and finish.
The new sharps are made of natural ebony and supplied by PianoTek Supply. I was thrilled with the craftsmanship and uniformity of the product. Fitting the the new sharps to the old key sticks proceeded as follows:
Remove old sharps with steam and leverage.
Scrape old keystick as needed (the old hide glue joint made this effort minimal).
Glue new sharps, centered on old keystick.
Bolster old keysticks with veneer applied with hot hide glue to allow the nice uniform sharps to be the ruling dimension (the old keysticks are not of uniform dimension).
Sand veneer flush with the new keytop (this assures that pianist cannot ever feel a rough edge).
Dye keystick sides black.
Clean and polish new sharps (I used Howard’s Feed and Wax for a light wax finish)
The picture below shows bolstering the keysticks with veneer, prior to final sanding and finish.
The soundboard was tapered (diaphramized in Steinway terminology). First contour lines were routed into the board, and then the board was sanded to the contour lines on the stroke sander.
Profile of countour lines tapers the board from 0.26″ to 0.33″
The video shows use of the stroke sander to achieve the taper by sanding to the contour lines.
Ribs were shaped to a radius of 60 feet, then glued to the soundboard using cauls and compressed air clamping pressure. The photo below shows the last rib in the cauls. Typically I clamped 3 or 4 at a time.
After the ribs were glued, a radius was planed onto the ribs. This is a craftsman touch. Few will ever crawl under the piano to inspect this detail.
An update on the Rebuild of Stieff 28334 has been a long time in coming. I’ve been disappointed with my inability to focus energy on the project! But progress has been made.
Cauls for gluing ribs to soundboard. Note the concave or convex shape for top and bottom cauls. These are sixty foot radiuses.
Prior to working with the actual ($$) new sound board, a sound board mockup was prepared using inexpensive quarter-inch plywood. This step was taken to work out the bugs in the system before working with the new spruce board.
For the mockup, I used some clear fir as ribs that was available at no cost. The picture below shows a jig with a 60 foot radius for shaping the topside of the ribs.
Below, the mockup progressed with the ribs fitted to the frame.
The mockup continued by gluing “ribs” to “sound board”. A few issues were noticed, and I was glad that I did this mockup, so I could proceed with confidence. The cauls use mill hose pressurized at 30 psi. I’m doing four at a time, and progressively moving cauls to a new position as glue dries.
Below is the completed “trial soundboard” which fit well when placed back in the frame.
I expect to have more time for the rebuild in November, after I finish the rebuild of a fine, old Emerson upright. Customers come first! In the meantime, with the sub-contracted finishing, work does continue! Below, I’m doing the solo work of loading the plate (200+ pounds of iron) into my trailer. It’s going to Heritage restorations for re-guilding.
The return trip brought home the case of the piano. The case has received a factory new (or better) hand rubbed lacquer finish. A work of art! The picture below doesn’t quite do it justice, but you’ll get the idea!
I am grateful for my customers, and they are taking my time! The Stieff Rebuild is not moving along, but the soundboard has arrived. The custom made soundboard was built by Erwin’s Piano Restorations. I asked the Erwins to make three identical boards, as I have two more Stieff pianos of the same model. With this level of commitment, progress will continue!
The Sitka Spruce soundboard panels are beautiful, and one is just stunning with impressive flare in the grain.
The piano was prepared for its trip to the refinishing shop. It’s there now. I anticipate its return late in August. New Wessel Nickel and Gross leg plates were installed. This makes the piano more predictable for movers, and certainly safer for everyone. One of the original leg plates was broken.
Some photos of interest:
The router jig that I used with a straight cutting bit to cut out the recess for the new leg plate. WNG sells a nice template and bit system using a top guided router bit. Not wanting to invest, I worked a little harder.
Leg plate and case plate installed. The old hardware is displayed alongside the new. Stieff used an unusual cast iron plate that twists on. On the right, note that one of those castings had broken some time in the past. The new plate diameter is a quarter inch smaller than the old. After this photo was taken, I filled the gap with epoxy.
Cleaned up the inner rim, paring away old soundboard residue
Week 15? Yes. I made no progress on the project for the past 10 weeks. Oh my. Interruptions were a lot of customer work, a week at Renner Academy, and reconditioning of a Yamaha P22 for resale.
But on with the story:
I had the time this week to do the major tear down of the piano in preparation for case refinishing, soundboard replacement, and pin block replacement.
Here are photos of interest:
Nice bass strings. It’s a shame they have to go for the sake of the project.
Mapping old soundboard crown prior to releasing string tension.
Steiff used plate height adjustement screws at each plate bolt, instead of dowels. I’ll be using Mason & Hamlin plate bolts which allow for height adjustment during assembly without removing the plate.
Recording the position of bridges relative to the case, per techniques described by Nick Gravagne
Cutting out the pinblock with help from a 16″ Makita circular saw. Looking carefully, you’ll see a shoe plate attached to the saw, controlling the position of the cut.
The pinblock cut was finished with a hand saw, and the last bit of glue joint was broken out. Subsequently the 2 mm of material remaining on the stretcher was carefully removed by moistenting, heating with an iron and peeled off with a chisel.
Preparing for soundboard removal. Glue joint was weakened with vinegar. It popped right out with a little dancing on its bottom. Check out the massive rim on this piano!
It was a vacation week! Terri and I enjoyed a few days in sunny California, and since we were near Modesto, we paid a visit to the shop of Dale Erwin. Dale was a gracious host, who shared his knowledge and enthusiasm for rebuilding and belly work. It’s great to have him as a collaborator. Dale will be supplying the soundboard panel for the Stieff. I plan to do the ribbing. Here’s Dale with a soundboard he made for a Steinway D:
While we were on vacation, FedEx was not. A package of handmade tools was waiting for me on my return:
A collection of hand made tools from Dana Mazzaglia
These tools were made by Dana Mazzaglia. All are used in piano belly work. You go to the head of the class if you can name each and its function.
Despite the vacation, I did squeeze in some time to do work on the key-side resurfacing jig. It’s quite the jig. If these photos do not reveal the ultimate plan … hang on. All secrets of my conniving mind will be revealed. But basically the jig will allow re-dimensioning the width of the white keys to a uniform width with a uniform spacing. A significant step forward in obsessiveness (which I think is justified: the keyboard is the interface for the musician, and these details build success).
Shown below are a few photos of progress on the key side resurfacing jig:
Earlier, I completed woodwork and cleanup on the keyframe. This week, I installed new WNG keypins. I installed 88 keypins for the center rail, but just the 52 pins for the whites on the front rail. This will allow me to cut through the area of the sharps key pins when resurfacing the sides of the white keys. The front rail WNG pins are made with a small diameter insertion shaft which apparently matches current European standards, but requires bushing for classic American applications. This required re-boring the front rail holes for nylon bushings, and subsequently boring the nylon bushings for the insertion of the key pin. That obviously was quite a bit of extra work, but produced a really nice result.
Key bed pinning with Wessel, Nickel and Gross pins
I prepared a phenolic blank for subsequent use in a jig for resurfacing the key sides. More details will follow. I established 52 equal spacing by subdividing the total width of the keyboard. This was facilitated by creating 64 spacings — something that is easier to divide than 52. Click the photo below for two more related to this preliminary setup for the key surfacing jig:
I had considered doing ivory repair on this piano, but in the end I decided that there were just too many cracks, chips, and mis-matches for me to be satisfied with the appearance. On the other hand, the ebony sharps are in near perfect condition. For those, I plan to strip, re-stain, and finish with a hard wax. This week I performed preparatory work for key top replacement. My basic procedure is described in this article.
Radial Arm Saw Upgrade
For the key work I will be establishing or re-establishing uniform spacing of key heads. I’ve admired the work of others as they have addressed this detail. I’ll be applying carefully sized veneer layers to the sides of the key heads to achieve this uniformity. For the work, I’ll be creating a jig to use with the radial arm saw. More details will be forthcoming. But some serious time went into getting the radial arm saw station ready for this precision work. The prior table for the saw was inadequate in several ways:
The front edge to fence dimension was too shallow.
The total length was just 6 feet
The table had a perceptible sag in the middle!
I created a new flat table using torsion box construction. The table is 8 feet in total width, which will support a keyframe jig on either side of the blade. The depth from front edge to the fence is now 530 mm, which will support the full width of a keyframe.
This finely engineered saw is both special and remarkable. It was purchased new in 1952 by my Dad, Harvey McGuire. It was used in his shop until his passing in 2001. 1952 was also the year of my birth, so this saw and I share quite a bit! Happy 63rd birthday, old saw!