Because one of our daughters has been playing piano since she was 7, we decided to put away her keyboard and finally buy her a real piano. Being a one income family, we found a used one on Craigslist that looked fairly decent and played well. However, once we got it home, we realized that we didn’t really inspect the piano as well as we should have. Because the lid was up at the seller’s home, we did not see the poor condition of the wood, all over the piano. Before our daughter could play it, we realized we had to do a complete piano restoration.
The piano had been in a smoker’s home for over 15 years. It was obvious that the smoke had caused yellowing of the keys, a distinct odor, and a tarry buildup. When we got a good look at it, we could see that this instrument wasn’t properly cared for, cleaned, or maintained. A few attempts had been made to refinish it, but nothing was ever completed.
The only solace I had, once I saw the reality of the piano’s condition, was that my husband is excellent in carpentry. We could see the beautiful grain in the wood and knew that a little elbow grease and love would shape it into great condition.
After sanding a bit of the lid to see how much work we had in store, we both knew that this would take hours of work.
The satisfaction of getting a good deal on a piano nullified itself when reality set in. We had a lot of work to do!
Before we even started stripping and sanding, we learned how to slide out the piano keys and clean the inside. Now, I’m sure most piano people won’t recommend this, but since our piano is so old and was so terribly dirty, I wasn’t going to wait for guidance. I couldn’t live with a piano in the house that smelled of smoke, not to mention the dust and dog hair inside of it. After removing the entire keyboard (including the hammers), we vacuumed as much as we could. Everything that we could reach, was cleaned!
Throughout the piano restoration, I found a hidden serial number within the piano. With a serial number and a manufacturer, a person can get the age of the piano. When I looked it up, I realized our piano was made in 1922! So much history in one piece of furniture. We were amazed at its condition for being 94 years old.
After cleaning, it was time to work on the lid. When we realized that there was too much varnish on the wood to sand, we applied a paint and varnish stripper. Pounds of varnish, tar, odor, and age was scraped off this lid. It was a tedious, time-consuming process, not to mention rather gross. Once the lid was varnish-free, the entire top was sanded both by orbital sander and by hand.
Unfortunately, I have no photos of us working on the lid. That was because while my husband was working on the lid, I started cleaning the piano keys and parts of the inside that I could reach. Black soot covered my rag with every swipe. It was as if no one had ever cleaned this piano. The yellow piano keys whitened up a bit and lost their gritty feeling. Cleaning something this dirty was oddly very satisfying!
Once the lid was done being sanded, we moved to stripping the rest of the piano. We had to refurbish the rest of the piano too since the sides had drip marks that couldn’t be cleaned off with any cleansers.
During the piano restoration, tarps were placed all over my living room as it became our work space. Then, just as we did with the lid, we stripped the varnish off the piano first. It’s kind of hard to get an appreciation of how messy this job was, but take my word for it. Globs and globs of black goo came off with the stripper. It felt so good to get down to the bare wood.
When the stripping was complete, it was time to sand. We opted to sand the sides and legs of the piano by hand in our living room. Using 3M ProGrade Precision sanding sheets because of their ability to last longer, we started with 100 grit and finished with 220. When sanding was complete, we wiped down and vacuumed the sides to clean up the dust, then rubbed it down with paint thinner.
Overall, we were super pleased that this 94 year old instrument had wood that was in such good condition. We wanted to stain it a darker color to cover up any imperfections in the grain. When the wood was finished with stain and polyurethane, this was our finished project! So pretty!
Here’s the before/after photo:
All that was left at this point, was to clean the inside and try to polish the pedals and the feet. Sounds easy, but we actually left the hardest part of the piano restoration for the end.
Click here for the final post on finishing the piano.