Toronto Piano Tuning

by Jamie Musselwhite

Toronto Piano Tuning

by James Musselwhite

Reconditioning the Action and Keyboard of a 1920 Heintzman Upright

Before I begin, let's clear up some terminology. Reconditioning is a restoration that renews a piano (or parts of a piano) by cleaning and/or repairing the existing parts. It may also involve replacement of some of the parts. Rebuilding is a restoration that replaces whole mechanisms.

For example: In the following piano, if I put all new parts in the action, that would be rebuilding. Instead, I replaced the worn parts only. Most of the action is original. That's reconditioning.

Here's a photo essay describing the steps in restoring a beautiful old piano's playability.

(You can click on a picture to enlarge and zoom in.)

Here's the keyboard as it arrived in the shop. The green tape is holding the Ivories that have become completely un-glued. (Most of the ivory key tops are loose.)

Here's the key frame without the keys. The fornt rail punchings (the green discs) were replaced by an earlier tech. Underneath the punchings are paper discs that regulate how far a key depresses. I found it a little sad that someone replaced the felt but not the paper.

Here's the key frame without the keys. The fornt rail punchings (the green discs) were replaced by an earlier tech. Underneath the punchings are paper discs that regulate how far a key depresses. I found it a little sad that someone replaced the felt but not the paper.

Here's the frame after cleaning, and after the replacement of all the felt.

Here's the frame after cleaning, and after the replacement of all the felt.

After the keys were cleaned in the glass-bead blasting chamber, I reglued the loose ivories. The first step is always cleaning - you never want to glue dirt onto the key!

After the keys were cleaned in the glass-bead blasting chamber, I reglued the loose ivories. The first step is always cleaning - you never want to glue dirt onto the key!

Originally, the keytops were glued on using a cotton wafer of gauze that had been soaked in a mixture of hide glue and titanium dioxide. Now, with better glue, I start by painting the key body with white-out. This is because ivory is translucent - you will see the colour of the wood or the glue underneath the keytop.

Originally, the keytops were glued on using a cotton wafer of gauze that had been soaked in a mixture of hide glue and titanium dioxide. Now, with better glue, I start by painting the key body with white-out. This is because ivory is translucent - you will see the colour of the wood or the glue underneath the keytop.

The ivory is then glued to the body using Weldbond glue which dries clear. The clamp I'm using used to belong to my grandfather - It's older than the piano! Some techs may not like that I'm using such a strong glue, but if the ivory ever needs to be replaced it can be cut off. (I actually removed a set of ivories using a fine saw and reglued them onto a new piano!)

The ivory is then glued to the body using Weldbond glue which dries clear. The clamp I'm using used to belong to my grandfather - It's older than the piano!

Some techs may not like that I'm using such a strong glue, but if the ivory ever needs to be replaced it can be cut off. (I actually removed a set of ivories using a fine saw and reglued them onto a new piano!)

All of the loose ivories were reglued, and marked with a piece of tape so I knew which ones needed to have the excess glue removed.

All of the loose ivories were reglued, and marked with a piece of tape so I knew which ones needed to have the excess glue removed.

There's a photo missing here: After cleaning, the black keys are greyish because the oils have been removed. To make tham black again, I rub them down with a solution made from Vinegar and steel wool. This process is called pickling. It is a time-honoured way of staining woods without using a stain.

If you use a black stain on the sharps, you then have to lacquer them. It looks good at first, but after the finish wears off through playing, it looks terrible. Pickling works on a chemical level - it last for decades, yet it doesn't actually stain anything. The solution is clear! (excuse the pun.)

Here's the cleaned, reglued, and polished keyboard.

Here's the cleaned, reglued, and polished keyboard.

An old Balance Rail Key Bushing.

An old Balance Rail Key Bushing.

The next step is to replace the red felt key bushings. The bushings allow the key to move, but keep them from wobbling side-to-side. 

Because the bushings are glued in with Hide Glue, they steam off very easily.

Because the bushings are glued in with Hide Glue, they steam off very easily.

The old bushing removed.

The old bushing removed.

A caul is inserted in the empty bushing slot while it is still warm from steaming. This ensures that once the key cools and dries, it is a uniform shape and size.

A caul is inserted in the empty bushing slot while it is still warm from steaming. This ensures that once the key cools and dries, it is a uniform shape and size.

The process is then repeated for the Front Rail Bushing underneath the key.

The keys are left to dry overnight.

The keys are left to dry overnight.

Using a different caul, new felt is glued in, using a modern version of Hide Glue that is just as removable.

Using a different caul, new felt is glued in, using a modern version of Hide Glue that is just as removable.

Now, on to the Action:

The Action as it arrived in the shop.

The Action as it arrived in the shop.

First the action is disassembled. Here's a closeup showing the Bridle Straps.

First the action is disassembled. Here's a closeup showing the Bridle Straps.

All of the assemblies removed except for the Whippens and the Dampers.

All of the assemblies removed except for the Whippens and the Dampers.

Here's a closeup of one of the Action Brackets.

Here's a closeup of one of the Action Brackets.

All of the parts were cleaned, and then the old felt was replaced before re-assembly. This is the pedal lifter rod that fits underneath the dampers. At the bottom of the picture is the Regulation Rail. It has all new felt as well (the little turquoise discs.) 

All of the parts were cleaned, and then the old felt was replaced before re-assembly. This is the pedal lifter rod that fits underneath the dampers. At the bottom of the picture is the Regulation Rail. It has all new felt as well (the little turquoise discs.) 

Here are the Lifter Rods back in place. Notice the new red felt in the bracket (center far-right) When the glue is dry it will be trimmed to size. 

Here are the Lifter Rods back in place. Notice the new red felt in the bracket (center far-right) When the glue is dry it will be trimmed to size. 

Here's a shot of the same Action Bracket shown earlier, cleaned, re-felted and back in place.

Here's a shot of the same Action Bracket shown earlier, cleaned, re-felted and back in place.

All of the Graphite lubrication was replaced (The shiny black surfaces).

All of the Graphite lubrication was replaced (The shiny black surfaces).

The re-assembled action.

The re-assembled action.

Replacing the Jack Springs.

Replacing the Jack Springs.

The Action all ready for new Hammers.

The Action all ready for new Hammers.

First, every other hammer is cut off, the shanks are cleaned and a tiny slot is cut into the end. The slot gives a place for extra glue to go when the new Hammers are glued on. This makes sure that they are all on the same level and not a little higher due to excess glue.

First, every other hammer is cut off, the shanks are cleaned and a tiny slot is cut into the end. The slot gives a place for extra glue to go when the new Hammers are glued on. This makes sure that they are all on the same level and not a little higher due to excess glue.

The new Hammers are glued on.

The new Hammers are glued on.

Then the rest of the hammers are removed and the process repeats.

Then the rest of the hammers are removed and the process repeats.

NEXT: Stay tuned for the Finale!