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Piano Refinishing for the
Do-it-yourselfer

Here are some tips for refinishing your own piano. Piano refinishing can be a difficult and messy job but the results are often amazing once you clean off that old finish & find beautiful Walnut, Mahogany or Oak veneer underneath.

The veneers that were used in the older pianos were usually much thicker than what you find in new pianos. The veneer on new pianos is so paper thin that it will be practically impossible to refinish them if that becomes necessary.

However, usually you will find in older pianos that there is plenty of veneer to work with. This makes it easy to sand out marks and gouges without sanding through the veneer. Here are some guidelines to follow in piano refinishing:

  1. Preparing your equipment.
    First of all you will need a suitable place to work. If the weather is warm enough it is best to work outdoors. That way you minimize the risk of inhaling any harmful fumes from the finish remover or the new coating that you will be putting on. You will also be making considerable sanding dust which you do not want to breathe in. If you need to do your piano refinishing indoors, then a garage would be fine but make sure you allow for plenty of fresh air.

    Next, you will need some basic equipment for handling the piano. If you are refinishing an upright piano, it is best if you can lay it on its back on a piano tilter. I have plans available for building your own piano tilter so that one person can easily tilt a piano onto its back. This makes it much easier to strip, sand & finish the sides of the piano.

    Another item that you will need is a stripping tank. This is simply a container that you can use to catch the old finish as you remove it with stripper. It can be placed under the ends of the piano to catch the old finish as you scrap it off. I can also provide you with plans for building a suitable stripping tank.

    Some other items that you will need are stripping gloves to protect your hands. That finish remover can really burn if you get it on your skin. You should also wear good protective clothing and a face shield. You certainly do not want any of that stripper to get in your eyes. Find some old rags for cleaning off the piano after you have removed the old finish.

    A wide scraper is very useful for removing the finish after it has been softened by the finish remover. One thing to beware of. Make sure that you round the corners of the scraper with a file. This prevents the scraper from gouging the veneer. If you gouge the veneer when you are stripping the piano, it will take a lot of sanding to remove the marks. Get yourself a wide paint brush for applying the finish remover.

  2. Applying the finish remover.
    After taking the piano apart as much as is possible, apply the stripper to the surface of the wood and let it work for a few minutes. When you start to see the finish bubbling up, you can scrape a layer off into your stripping tank. It may take several applications to get all the old finish off. Make sure that you remove all of the old finish because once you start to sand the piano any old finish that is still on the wood will clog up your sandpaper and could make scratches in the veneer.

  3. Sanding the cabinet.
    It is important to do a thorough job of sanding the cabinet to remove any imperfections in the veneer. Some damage may have to be repaired by filling the damaged area or even replacing some veneer.

  4. Applying the stain.
    It is usually necessary to stain the wood to even out the color. Always test an area first to see if the color that you are using in your piano refinishing gives you the desired result.

  5. Apply the finish
    There are several different methods of applying the finish. It can be wiped on, brushed on or sprayed on. Your method of application will depend on what kind of finish you are applying. Usually the best results are obtained by doing your piano refinishing with a spray gun but if you do not have spray equipment available, then you will have to wipe the finish on or use a brush to apply it. If you are brushing the finish on the piano, you will need to work in a dust free environment because a brushing finish dries a lot slower than one that is sprayed on.

If you follow these tips, your piano refinishing should go fairly smoothly.

If you would like a more complete manual on piano refinishing, please click here.

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