This time last week we were immersed in the guts and bolts of the piano. By about this time we had reduced the piano to this:
These pictures were taken before the harp tragedy, but that deserved a post of its own. Fear not, gentle readers, there is no more tragedy in the story from here, though there is hard work and sweat. Even mid-September in Florida is sauna weather. We did have a fan, but it still felt like working in a convection oven.
We had to remove what seemed like hundreds of tuning pins. Each hole represents a tuning pin which was screwed in tightly enough to hold hundreds of pounds of string tension. Each note on the piano is made by two or three strings being struck by one of the hammers. Terry can give more detail about this, but each tuning pin was well seated into the hole and we were about a third of the way through when Jack suggested using the drill and Terry fashioned a tool on the grinder which would work to remove the pins. I had ordered piano tuning wrenches, but they still haven’t arrived. They still would have been manual tools, so the solution using modern electricity was much better.
I still need to count how many strings there really were in the end.
At the end of this step, we tilted the piano back upright and this is what we had:
The destruction part of the project was finished and we could start seeing the desk. It was time for a jubilant break.
Terry let you know how the piano angels were watching over us during the transformation. The reason the progress of this blog has been slow the last couple days is I am still in the recuperation process. All my muscles are sore, and my role in doing any of the hard work was minor stabilization and moving some small, light items. Terry was the primary mover with all the heavy items with help from Jack and our neighbor, Tom. I know that Terry has to be feeling many more aches and pains than what my minor contributions earned me.
It’s only now in looking at the picture I took that I notice Terry’s open-toed shoes and my ER nurse’s heart palpitates over the risk to those feet from heavy objects, saws, and a myriad of other lurking dangers. The piano angels did their jobs very well.
There was some blood involved as you can see in Terry’s wrist abrasion here.
As the project nurse, I did apply topical ointment. Most of my role as a nurse mostly involved worrying over potential dangers. I did have my priorities in order and I would not have photographed any gaping wounds, protruding bones, or other gruesome events. I am glad that none of my former credentials as a Certified Emergency Nurse were needed in a meaningful way.
I deeply appreciate all the blood and sweat that Terry put into this project, and thankfully there were no tears.
I thought I would post some things that we have learned though this project.
- Pianos are easy to take apart. ( They come apart easier if you study how they are put together )
- Pianos are heavier than you think. ( between 400 – 600 lbs )
- If you plan on taking apart a piano, Make sure you have some help readily available.
- If you want to save the harp, make sure that you completely un-string it first.
- In order to remove a harp you have to also remove all the string pins, which I might add, have up to 120 lbs of torgue. Meaning, you are going to need some strength to get them out.
- There is relatively 18 tons of tension on the harp when all the strings are tight. If you don’t remove the strings before you unbolt the harp it could explode/implode. ( I read this on a different blog, after the fact. I of course, tried to pull the harp out without removing the strings by using brute force. This was before I knew that the pins holding the strings are sunk two inches into the sound board behind the harp. I have no idea how the harp didn’t kill us when it snapped in half! )
- The string guides are glued to the sound board. ( That being said, once the harp is removed, you should be able to remove the string guides with a chisel. Theoretically, without too much damage to the sound board.)
- The sound board should be sanded before you start putting the desk together. DUH!
- Making a coffee table out of a piano harp looks very Steam punk cool, but that table with legs, glass, strings and pins included is going to weight as much as a refridgerator and will have sharp edges. )
We got a good look at the harp and the piano’s maker information.
We had the harp exposed, so Terry and Jack carefully laid the piano on its back supported by a couple of long boards.
Terry proceeded to remove the several huge bolts supporting the harp underneath the strings.
Now we thought it was time to lift to the harp, so Terry and Jack got on either side of it and lifted. There was groaning (from the piano mostly) and then a sudden loud crack.
What none of us had realized was that each of the tuning pegs was screwed tightly into the sound board and a special raised piece of wood which kept the harp level. The first thought was that the sound board was damaged, which would eventually be covered on the upper part later.
We were so wrong! It was the cast iron piano harp which had partially snapped and was now bent!
Part of the sound board had pulled away with the strings amid a cacophony of piano strings wailing their last notes.
I remember the pinging of the strings as they were cut and a bird’s nest of strings left limp on the soundboard. They removed the now loose bottom of the harp and this is what we were left seeing:
Later, on closer inspection we could see where the harp had already been cracked and had even rusted along the crack. We had not ruined a usable piano, we had given a defunct and useless piano new life. With that crack the piano could never have been tuned properly and was a money pit for anyone who wanted to try. No guilt over ruining a usable piano!
We still have keys, pedals, hammer assembly, and other bits for future side projects. The ancient strings are in the recycling bin.
Goodbye, incredibly heavy harp table. Farewell, piano harp side project.
Before construction can begin, the ground must first be cleared. Before a piano can become a desk it has to give up being a musical instrument.
Where to start, and how? This had to be dismantling and not destruction. The bottom face of the piano was first to go, revealing the bottom of the cast iron piano harp and the attached strings in their lovely cross-hatch pattern. The pedals poked coyly from the bottom edge of the piano. With just a few deft turns of a wrench, Terry had them free!
Now to the upper parts of the piano. The hammer assembly came out easily with just a few screw removals. Once that was gone, the keys just lifted out of the tray.
We found a few pieces of the missing ivory from the keys, saved in my little box of special extra pieces.
The hammer assembly:
Though not seen in this picture, the hammer assembly has a beautifully lettered piece identifying the piano and will come into prominence later in the project.
Next we remove the keyboard tray and the rest of the interfering parts of the piano.
Now the beautiful piano harp is visible.
I think we took a break at this point, and I’m going to reprise that break now.
I lost a post I had written about yesterday’s work. I will be going back and finding it and posting it or re-writing it altogether.
The news as of 3:30 this afternoon is that it is finished! It is sitting proudly and beautifully in the garage with the finish drying. I didn’t even remember to take the picture of the two of us exhausted and sweaty in the Florida heat in front of the finished product. We’ll take another garage picture of us together with the desk (it’s no longer a piano!!!) before we move it into the house.
I have a workday tomorrow preparing it’s instillation into its permanent place. For those of you who know me well enough to know that my current desk is full of little decorations and mementos, you know that this will be a big job. The items there remind me of family, friends, and special times, or they just please me. These little mementos helped me a lot in regaining some of my memories after my brain surgery. Those of you who know me really well know that turtles are heavily represented among these items.
I am thrilled with what Terry has made, and he will be signing and dating it tomorrow at my insistence. I’m only posting one picture (from yesterday) today because I want to post pictures with commentary documenting our progress when I’m not too exhausted to write coherently.
It’s Sunday morning and Terry and I are both feeling in our muscles the effects of the work we did yesterday.
Jack and I both took lots of pictures which will probably get posted Monday or Tuesday depending on my recovery after today’s work day.
Coffee is brewed, and Terry is on his way over to continue this marathon transformation. Kudos to this hard working and artistically creative man!
Since there is nothing I can do right now except plan and dream I have been allowing my imagination free reign. I am so appreciative of Terry doing this project for me. I want this project to be as special and beneficial for Terry as it is for me.
As I gazed at the image here, I decided to to a little further research on this type of table made of the piano harp. This is a two to three hundred pound item made of cast iron. It has to withstand about 20,000 pounds of pressure from all the strings being tight and tuned.
I found things like this:
This one has a removable top and drumsticks to play on the strings:
There were a few examples for sale and the prices range from 2500 to 4000 dollars.
Terry is driving an older model truck and I am hoping that a table like this out of the piano harp we have here can become the down payment on a newer truck for Terry.
I know one of my first jobs as a helper will be doing some harp cleaning. I wonder if experience cleaning harps would be helpful as a qualifier to get into heaven if things are still undecided at that point?
Terry and the piano arrived this time yesterday. I heard the rumble of the moving van and Jack and I raised the garage door to see Terry, the two movers and a huge truck. The back of the truck door raised like a curtain to reveal a small (relative to the size of the truck) item wrapped in a quilt. After much rumbling, there was a lovely piano in my garage. I was given a small box with some pieces in it: a piano hammer, several ivory key tops and a short piece of wood facing with drilled holes on each end.
I will be treating the key tops very respectfully because they are real ivory and perhaps they will become jewelry. The loose hammer looks like it would be happy turning into a keychain.
I have a thing about keychains because when I was a flight nurse I would get my Dad keychains from where ever I went. They were small and easy to find. He had quite the collection before many of them were lost in the great fire of 2004. The ones from Paris, London and Berlin survived, though a couple of my favorites were lost.
But back to the piano. It is resting comfortably in the garage. Ike likes sniffing it, so maybe it lived with another pet before. It definitely has a history. I am researching the serial number to find its exact age. The company, Waltham, is long out of business so it isn’t simple like a currently operating company would be. There is an expensive book which contains all the information, but I don’t need that much knowledge. Hopefully, in the next post I will be able to report solving the mystery of the piano’s age.
The future desk in its current incarnation:
Terry contemplating all the work ahead:
Terry and I happy at the completion of this first and most important step:
The piano is here and so now this project turns from theory to practice.
Photo credits to Jack Bush