I wish, i wish, i wish i would’ve had someone guide me through the process of refinishing when i was young.  A friend of mine says “Good judgement comes from good experience.  However, good experience comes from bad experience.”  Hahaaaa and he also says “The difficult we can do… the impossible may take some time”.  lol… so refinishing has been years (read 15) of learning what NOT to do.  And in an ever changing world of finishing… (ie products are now switching from solvent base to water base) there is still a lot of trial and error involved. 

Why refinish old pianos? Well i consider pianos about the same size as small elephants in a living room.  So who wants to look at a crusty old elephant every day.  And besides, the manufacturers of yesteryear took GREAT pride in beautifying these instruments.  I remember this one time buying an old piano that they couldn’t GIVE away because it was so ugly.  Below is the picture of this piano.  I had NO idea that under layers of darkened ‘alligatored’ finish – where it becomes rough and bumpy – was this BEAUTIFUL wood.  Presently i’m working on yet another beautifully carved instrument (top left and bottom pics).

So if you want to get into refinishing… i just want to say that you need to know some facts.

1. 99% of pianos are veneered – meaning the decorative wood on the outside is only about 1/16″ thick.  Now before you start blathering on about how your piano is solid blah blah blah… i just want you to know that i’ve heard it all before.  And i’ve only seen 4 pianos in my life that are solid wood.  Decorative woods are generally not great structural woods.  So if your piano is beautiful… it probably is not the core wood but rather laminated to another firm wood like oak.  The oldest grand piano i’ve had in my shop dated 1855… and yep, it was veneered rosewood.  Believe it or not, they had the technology back then.  And i doubt whether many of you have older pianos than that.  FYI, it was a Broadwood 8′ straight strung piano – a 30 year newer version of Beethoven’s.  It’s now in a museum.

2. Piano finishes consist of layers.  What you SEE consists of 3 layers – veneer base, color coat and clear coat.  So our eyes see through the clear coat to the color layer on top of the wood (veneer).  When you refinish a piano, what is happening is that you’re actually removing the top clear layer (which has gone bad – cracked, chipped, alligatored) and with that quite often comes off most of the color layer down to the veneer. 

3.   There are ONLY 2 ways to effectively remove finish: chemical and scraping.  I have seen TONS of mishaps by people who think they can sand their way through the finish.  In 15 years i’ve NEVER seen a competant job of ANYONE who has successfully done this.  Why? Too high a grit paper (220-400) and the finish will melt with friction and clog the paper.  Too low grit (50-180) and it’ll not only chew through the finish but right through the veneer as well.  So how does one remove the finish? Chemical stripper (nasty stuff) is what is used mainly by furniture refinishers.  The alternative is to scrape off the finish using a scraper.  Scrapers will only get off about 85% of the finish and the remainder still must be done by chemical washing.

CAUTION: Please please please protect yourself if you ever venture into refinishing.  Use gloves and mask to protect your skin and lungs!

Well those are the basic facts about the finishes on pianos…stay tuned for more info on the HOW-TO’s of refinishing…