Monday, August 29, 2011

Piano desk conversion - First you take it apart.

 Chris calls me up on his cell phone all excited at this estate sale, trying to describe this item. So we decide to buy it and restore it for resale.

It started life as a square grand piano sometime around 1845 to 1860 in the workshop of Stoddard & Sons in London.

When it arrived in the studio we did a survey of what we had.

The veneer was missing in some places and in pretty flaky condition in others, with bubbles and cracks, and a few repairs done with non matching woods, disguised under a heavy layer of almost black pigmented shellac.

The real veneer is Brazilian rosewood. No longer available due to conservation issues. It can not now be legally cut or imported.  No problem. Chris found a luthier that had turned to other business and purchased from his stock of Brazilian rosewood, a few sheets sufficient for repairs.

The carcass was shrunken by about 180 years of abuse from central heating and moving at least once across the Atlantic. The shrinkage caused problems with the veneer.

Then the Piano guts were removed possibly around 1920,  and a series  of drawers and cubby holes were installed to convert it to a desk.

Follow the next posts to see the process of taking it largely apart, correcting many of the faults, replacing and repairing veneer, and finally re-polishing it to resemble the look it had in its youth.
In the next post I will show the lid and its hinges. All the brass hardware seems to be original and there are traces of the original gold plating on much of it under all the filth of ages after we cleaned them in the ultrasonic bath.
The bits that formed the desk modification are to the right. Also are some of the grill work cut from solid rosewood with a fret saw. Some bits of the fretwork are missing, and the red cloth under it is absolutely filthy and has holes.
Since we are not a museum, nor is it an original equipment piano, we do not feel constrained in reworking some of the modifications. We are not going to return it to being a piano, we have neither the expertise, nor the desire to make a piano.

After carefully undoing the screws and some nails used to install the desk bits, we stored the hardware in little labelled cups. See one of my previous posts for everything you could possibly want to know about the use of screwdrivers.


In the photo to the right you can see the original label conserved by the modifiers, now inset in the pull out section of the desk. The green bit is leather. Dirty leather.
 William Stoddard & Sons. By Appointment to etc. etc. We will be able to read it more clearly when we clean it up a bit. (Very carefully.)
 The fret work is in little mahogany frames that are probably not original, but we think the fret work is, and the piano organization in those early models was with the keyboard offset to one side. Which means there are several structures not original to the piano case work.
 Here are some of the drawer details. Mahogany faces on what is probably deal (bass wood) or poplar. I think it is deal. More probable to the era when the modification was done. The dovetailing on the drawers is on late nineteenth century style with very narrow wedge bits. Skilfully done but the drawer bottoms are pinned in place with 20th century finish nails from probably the 1920's. Which means probably an old timer did the work in traditional craftsman manner.
 The fret work is pretty thick, and cut from solid rosewood about a quarter inch thick.
The filth of ages on the red cloth, some of which is felt, the rest is some fine cloth, maybe silk.

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