The Process of Restoring a Piano
If you have ever considered refinishing a piano, you probably started by doing some online research. It’s not exactly a niche that tons of people have experience in, so you need to find someone that’s been there, done that.
Part of the problem with a piano is that there are a lot moving parts and separate panels that have to be taken apart to do the job properly. Keeping track of the keys, hardware and which panel goes where can make or break the final product, so you might want to label each element.
If you have a piano that’s been in the family that you want to restore, then you have no choice but go with what you have. However, if you are buying an older piano to refinish, try to find one that is in decent condition.
You can sand it down to bare wood and re-lacquer, but an easier way is to paint it. I’ve seen some beautiful pianos that were painted colors like antique white or a dark brown, and this eliminates stripping the varnish with nasty chemicals and then scraping.
You still have to take the piano apart to paint it, and this post gives some tips on best practices once you have disassembled it:
Piano Refinishing 101
Cover the entire guts of the piano with paper and tape. It would be a disaster to get completely done with the painting process to find that you didn’t take enough time to protect the most important part of the piano. You must carefully tape off the front, the back, the bottom, the pedals…etc.
In a well ventilated area, Prime the Piano with KILZ spray primer. For the entire piano, including the panels, I used 4 cans of primer. As you can see on the side of the piano, you will notice the stripes of the primer. I did a few coats of primer (waiting until it is completely dry in between) to cover up those stripes.
Read more here: Piano Refinishing 101
Going from a dark color to light requires a LOT of paint. In the above article, the author used seven cans of paint before it was fully covered with an antique white finish.
If you do decide to go the route of stripping the old lacquer and keeping the bare wood, then the process is much more lengthy and detailed. This video provides information on what it takes to re-varnish the old wood:
There’s something so beautiful about restoring the old wood. When stripping off old varnish, you will need quite a few supplies if you choose to do it yourself.
Here’s a list of supplies provided by a professional piano restorer:
Piano and furniture refinishing for the beginner
-1 gal. 5F5 or comparable methylene choloride paint & varnish remover (5F5 is in a square light blue can; other brands are OK if the main ingredient is the same)
-1 qt. lacquer thinner (may also be called “epoxy thinner”)
-1 qt. denatured alcohol (may be called “solvent alcohol” or “shellac thinner”)
-1 pkg. green stripping pads, 3M or equivalent, medium or fine coarseness
-2 putty knives, approx. 1-1/2” and 4” in width
-(optional) 2 narrow scrapers, one pointed and one with rounded tip for scraping inside curves or carvings. You may use two cheap potato knives and file or grind the tip of one for this purpose.
-3 or 4 old coffee cans (lids not necessary but helpful when the can is full of goop.)
-2 cheap bristle paintbrushes for applying stripper, approx. 1” and 3” in width
-refinishing gloves for hand protection
-plenty of old newspapers
-paper towels, preferably a good absorbent brand like Brawny–at least one full roll
-workbench, large table or sawhorses for spreading out piano parts
-blocks of scrap wood (optional), for raising your pieces above the table, thus preventing your work area from getting too gooey too quickly.
-screwdrivers of various sizes: at least one small and one medium to medium-large, flat blade. Some newer pianos may have phillips head screws, but most do not.
-about 10 or 12 small or letter-sized envelopes (for keeping track of screws as you disassemble piano)
-trash receptacle or paper shopping bag for disposing of gooey paper towels
Read the full post here: Piano and furniture refinishing for the beginner
Is refinishing a piano worth the effort? As you can see, taking off the finish and starting from scratch is quite a project. That’s probably why many do-it-yourself types choose to paint instead.
The cost of having someone else do the work for you is also prohibitive. According to this company, it costs anywhere from $2,000 to $7,500. Unless the piano has extreme sentimental value, you can buy a used upright piano for much less.
I would LOVE to refinish my piano, which was my grandmother’s and she got it used in 1904. The pride of restoring a family treasure has to be worth it’s weight in gold.