Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pallet Shelves for the Shop

Well, what's been going on since the piano you ask? A short trip home, and now enjoying some down time before starting summer camp work. With this time I've been sorting out the scene shop, junking some stuff, recovering from the ballet I had last weekend, and FINALLY after a year getting around to reorganizing it all as I'd like it.

This as included building some new shelves. While I've got a lot of lumber I need to get rid of for various reasons, I saved it and decided it was easier to use the pallets I already had stacked up in the shop. Since this is going to be paint cans sitting on it, it didn't need to be solid and I've built a solid top shelf for other stuff. The pallet on the floor you can see here surround by tape is because I've sprayed a yellow box on the floor in an attempt to hopefully get the paper deliveries I get stuck with dropped in that spot instead of all over.

The important thing for making something like this easier on yourself is to measure them and find some with matching rails. I had about 10 of them to choose from and those two were the only one with the same dimension, so I didn't have to match supports and add extra 2x4. That pallet of paper on the left is exactly what I was talking about. Right in my way, as usual.

While technically all of that rack is finished, except for a top long shelf that will run along that wall, I may still take it outside and spray it so it's all the same color. Partially because it's mismatched and because I want to use my new Husky air sprayer. We'll see what happens.

ALSO, construction on the new dorm addition/renovation are right on schedule, I snuck in this past weekend to look around and see what they had going on, the rest of the pictures are on facebook.

This is actually par of the old dorm that they've gutted to the bones.

I assume this will be the new entry way with a big open tower like my building as on the one side.

It's looking pretty nice. So far I'm just enjoying the weather and working at my own speed. Production meeting tomorrow for the Rapunzel tour we're doing this summer, then I suppose I'll work some more. Also, as a last thought, GO SEE BRAVE. Pixar rarely lets me down, but with this one they really knocked it out of the park. It was an awesome, fun movie. They continue to excel in bringing characters that can't speak to life and making it clear without the dialogue. This also holds true for the short at the start, it may be my favorite Pixar short to date.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Piano Desk Finale (part 3)

Part 1: The Piano Desk Project
Part 2: A Day from Hell

Well it was roughly a week's worth of work on and off and a couple of things changed but generally speaking I've reached a final product. One aspect I scrapped was doing a drawer under the desktop, the reasoning behind that is, the materials that were left after I had used the good pieces were mostly chipboard that had been laminated with nice stuff on the outside, if I were to cut into it, I'd have rough edges that I'd then have to laminate and I just didn't want the extra time and expense. In the future I may still add one, I'll have to see once I start using it as a desk if I need the extra storage. When last we met I had just declared victory over the cast iron piano harp after spending about a day and a half trying to remove it. That was tough boring work. After that I moved on to easy boring work, removing the finish from the piano. Now I didn't REALLY have to do this because it looked alright from the start but it had marks from paint on it, things carved in, and various other blemishes I wanted to get rid of. I also wasn't a huge fan of the color, so I started to sand pieces down. I used a combination of hand sanding, power sanding and stain/varnish stripper to remove everything.

A warning about the stripper, when I worked in paint we always warned people that unless you get the orange goopy "safer" stripper, it can be pretty caustic and you should wear gloves. I got a ton of the heaviest duty stuff on my hands and arms without even a tingle or burn. So I don't know if I'm just desensitized from years of working with chemicals or if it's a symptom of the over safe-ification of the country. In either case, having gloves couldn't hurt.
The varnish softens and scrapes off looking kind of like used oil or in some cases shed snake skin. it's nasty, having something to scrape it out on is important.

Here's everything sanded down. It looks like the legs had a little more do to but that was what it looked like. Now in this picture you can see the back panel, its clearly lighter in some places and still a little yellow in others. The yellowed sections still have a clearcoat sealing it in. I decided I didn't care enough to take it off and get that intricate so I gave the whole back panel a quick rough power sand and I'll show you why later. From here on out it's easy going you just need some patience. At this point you should pick a color of stain you want. I went with Jacobean since I wanted something really dark. I was really hoping for an almost black chocolate brown, but the water based mixed by the paint desk was really dissapointing. I'll stick with oil based stains thanks.

Like I said, just stain away, you can brush it on, you can rub it on with a rag, you can use a foam brush. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes (the longer it sits, the darker it ends up because more stain can soak in). I took the desktop off to get into the sides and back more easily. Here you can see what I was talking about. The back ended up with a great rustic look, you can see scratches from the sanding giving it a great texture and the areas that are more heavily sanded and varnish free soaked in the stain better. Again, partially to save time and because I really liked the sort of raw look this had, I didn't varnish this piece because it looked great as is.

Here you can really start to see the difference in color on the areas that got a heavy sanding (the top and sides) they took it much better and have a deeper reddish color to them. I think I only did one coat of stain on everything, but if you get done staining something and don't think it's dark enough, let it sit for 24 hours and go over it again. You can see the pedals here. I left them just because they are a nice look, they don't depress anymore since they aren't in tension anymore, but its a nice reminder of where the desk started. After this step I reattached the desktop and I was all set to varnish. I chose to go with a gloss finish because A: I like shiny the best and thought it would be reminiscent of the upscale glossy shiny grand piano type look and I thought it would be a nice contrast with the unfinished sections. And B: because gloss is the purest varnish. Essentially what happens with semi gloss and satin is that as you work towards a lesser sheen they actually add in material to dull it. So it's like adding milk to water until it becomes opaque. This extra material can actually cloud up later in the pieces life and dull the finish sooner and I don't like that. Also gloss is ends up the thickest, most durable surface.

Here we are before varnish. The top is still on hinges and flips open if for some reason I wanted it to. What I did with the old keyboard cover is use it for the middle shelf. I wanted to preserve a piece completely original, it just got a clearcoat so the sheens match up. It's still the original color and still has the logo painted on the front. The flat desk surface ended up a little like the back panel in that I didn't get it all sanded down perfectly but up close the color variation it has is gorgeous. I also cut a bottom shelf to sit above the pedals where you can see bare wood in this picture. I used the panel that was vertical in that position blocking off your view inside the piano and since it matched nicely on it's own, after I cut it I was done.

That leads us to today. This is after 2 or 3 coats of varnish. The key to a nice surface is twofold. First BRUSH it on. Don't use the cheap foam brushes and don't use cheap chip brushes, buy a nice natural hair varnish brush. It makes for a better application and it won't shed junk hairs onto it that you'll have to pick out. The foam brushes add too much in the way of bubbles that it's not worth it. The second part is, after every coat sand it lightly to take out all air bubbles that form. each coat after that will be smoother. What I tend to do is finish one surface and move onto the next, once I'm done with the next I go back to the first one I did and brush it all again lightly. That gives it time for the air bubbles to rise to the surface and then a light drag across the top after it's sat for five minutes breaks the bubbles and smooths the whole thing. Then let it sit. Ideally you'll need at least 3 hours, I like to let a coat dry for a whole day. It will depend on humidity and where you're doing it. As a rule let it sit for 3 or 4 hours and then you can touch it to see if it's tacky or if it's ready for another coat. I also say you need at least 2 or 3 coats. That's where you start to really get the best coverage and the smoothest surface. Sometimes the shine doesn't really show up till the second coat, then the third is what give it the nice glow.

 There's the original registration plaque that had been on the back of the piano. I left the outer frames for the keys in place because they looked nice and this seemed to fit just about perfect here so now it's on the front and you get to see the information about it. The picture below it is the keyboard cover shelf, with the Chickering logo that was so nice I just left it all. It's attached with a couple of L brackets into the bottom of it, that are screwed into the back and then then ends of it are supported by two pieces of wood so it's nice and solid.

And there you have it. A week long project refinishing a piano and giving it a new life as a desk rather. Saving it from the junk pile. Sometime next year when the innards get used in our art classes I'll post and show what the rest of it turned into and maybe even a picture once it's buried under my paperwork and living in it's new home on campus.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Filler Post

So this is a filler post, sort of. I figured since I'm bouncing off the wall, which makes no sense because I've been working on this piano project for 4-6 hours a day, I'd fill people in on what's been going on in life. Like I said, I'm working on that, it's almost finished, I just have coats of poly to put on it, which take 3-12 hours to dry fully so it's a lot of down time. My biggest problem is twofold. One, I'm done with school so I'm not teaching from 8 till 3 every day. The other part of the problem is knowing that I'm moving to Barrington at the end of summer, which is brutal for me because it's just like being in the town I grew up in. It's gorgeous, its quiet, it's a place you can walk around and sit out in at night. It is almost completely opposite of where I am right now. I'm anxious to move and be in a new place and unpack and redecorate and rearrange everything. The school owns kayaks, but to be able to do that I have to drive down there. 20 minutes isn't too bad, but I know that in September or next summer I'll be right there able to do it already. So this whole not being there already thing is sort of driving the crazy. I just described to Schyler on facebook that basically I run myself ragged during the year, so I'm always exhausted so once summer hits I'm like HEY! THIS IS AWESOME! for a couple of days. Then it wears off and my body wants to be doing things again, wants to be creative, wants to make something. The problem is that where we currently are in Providence that can't really happen, so I have to drive to Barrington to do it. Once we live there, if I get hit by this feeling at 11 at night I could actually go over to the shop and do something, my being productive could reorganize the shop, or bang out some furniture, or something. I'm just ready for change. I need a break from my break.

Ok, back to what I've been up to other than going crazy, and piano desks. Last weekend I had the ballet company of doom show up again (the same group that did Nutcracker in December). They were just as bad as last time and left the place a mess. So I've had it, I'm done and I said as much to the guy who does the rentals. SO I got an extra $5 an hour added to my pay for the event and I'll be getting an extra 10 if they come back again. BLARGH, I said I don't want them back, but knowing how things work, they probably will be. That being said I have a different ballet coming in next weekend. Things are already looking up for this group. They've gotten in touch with me already, have a guy who is going to do lights for them and it looks like all I'll have to do is sound, which should be an easy pay check. Even if they have other requirements, we're still almost 2 full weeks out and we're talking, so I'll have plenty of time to take care of it. And that's that for now.

Piano update in a few days, by then it should be done.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Piano Desk Project (Part 2 Day from Hell)

Part 1: Piano Desk Project Part 1
Part 3: The Finale

Another day down, very little accomplished. With how fast the first days worth of work went I had high hope for finishing up the breakdown quickly today. That was not the case. After 6 hours of work I finally had my one major goal for the day accomplished. With some research my knowledge of piano innards has probably tripled, I still don't know enough to speed up removing a harp. For those who were in my boat here's an explanation. I've found that (generally speaking) the cast iron piece of a piano with the strings attached is referred to as a harp, because essentially that's what it is. If you could tune it and keep it in one piece, outside of the piano you could set it up and sort of play it. Dates back to harpsichord days. Once you remove it all and take the strings off it's usually considered a "plate". Also, being cast iron... it's pretty darn heavy. This one I'm guessing was somewhere between 200 and 300 pounds.

So the first few hours were slow going, I was trying to figure out how it was all attached. Finally I got it laid onto it's back with the desk removed and had access to lift it straight out once I had it loose. There were about 30 giant lag screws and I removed all of them and it still wouldn't budge. I had been trying to keep all the strings intact if I could but that didn't happen, which ended up making this the more dangerous day. I had snipped a couple of strings in this picture to access the covered screws but it was still solidly attached. It was around now that I decided to try to loosen one of the tuning pins to see if I could just take the strings off without cutting it. That's when I realized they were almost 3 inches long and went into the wood, serving as screws to hold it all on. There were about 300 of them. The danger here is that now I knew I had to snip all the strings, some of them were under pretty serious tension, so if I didn't put anything on top to dampen the snap they would shoot about 30 feet out the shop door or until they hit something. Safety first here.

Now I started to remove the pins one at a time, but they are square headed so I had to use vise grips and spin one at a time. I did about 15 of those and thought "there has to be a better way" I sat and thought for awhile, I had already tried sockets, but they didn't fit because it was square. Then I had the idea to turn it upside down because a ratchet is square, and it fit! But I still didn't have a way to turn it any better. Then I had the bright idea that I could reverse a bit in the drill so it would fit the socket end, and magic, now I had a powered way to remove the pins. Thought it still took about an hour.

Here you've got square peg, square hole.

And here you have round peg round hole?

I just matched up the right size socket and put it in a a corded drill (if you're actually doing this you need the extra power)

About an hour later I finally had everything removed and the harp free. Then I could just lift it out, which was awkward because of the shape and weight, but not too bad compared to how tiring the rest of the day was. If it weren't so heavy it would be a great piece of something. I'll ask Nancy if she wants it for her class to use, but it's so heavy you can't have it stand up on it's own, can't hang it on a wall, can't do anything much with it except sit it on the ground and be glad you don't have to take out another one. With that out I decided to call it a day and stop working since technically the breakdown is done now. Anything else that get's removed will be because I want to change the shape or put in shelves or do something along those lines.

Here it is, standing back up, with the desk back in. The "lid" to it, the top piece on hinges actually fits pretty nice still and makes a good top shelf. I'm not sure what to do about the back still. I kind of life the curved soundboard pieces that are left over, and the curved holes from the tuning pins, but I may open all of that up to expose the support beams on the back and have it open completely

I like the look of the supports from the back and think that seeing those open from the front would look really nice. Pros and cons of that are:

A: it would lighten the whole thing even more which is good and
B: I think it would look nice

I'd lose the curved pieces.... though I'm not entirely sure that bothers me. The bottom is the cracked one that started this whole project and I cracked the top right corner of the curve trying to pry the harp up.

Something to think about. I'm also leaning towards stripping it all down and staining it an almost black brown, that would let just a show the wood grain on it, the downside of that is I'd lose the fancy script name, but I'm not sure how I'll be using that piece anyway. I'll give it some thought while I start to lay out the actual desk tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Piano Desk Project (Part 1)

Part 2: A day from hell
Part 3: The Finale

Here's the background, the school has 4 or 5 pianos, 2 of them are always in our practice rooms and aren't in great shape. We've got one of those however that simply can't be tuned anymore, the soundboard is cracked and there are various other issues with it that we decided it has reached the end of it's life. So, because we're a crafty bunch we've decided to save as much of it as we can. Which is where I come in. Yesterday I started to strip the piano down and take out the guts inside. All of the keys/hammers/etc everything I can pull out will go to Nancy and Janet and be used in 3D art pieces. The rest they've left to me. Once I get it all apart I'm going to turn the frame into a desk (which may be a little less work than I had originally thought, more on that later).

Here is where I started, around 2pm yesterday. I have a picture of the registration tag on the back, and I've saved it to reapply to the new desk when I'm finished, but I can't figure out how old the piano is. Partially because Chickering and Sons doesn't exist anymore, they were bought out by Baldwin, and Baldwin is owned by Gibson guitars, so there are a few layers of obscurity there and I can't just enter the number anymore and find out the details.

Though once I get back down to school I can check the serial number and have a general range that should  give me the approximate age of the piano and then I can do some more research.

This was an easy level to get to because all of the pieces here that are gone are made to come off. The face just clips in and out and the bottom section just slides in and out, the nice part is I think I'll leave the bottom open for storage which means the front panel will make nice wood to turn into shelf pieces or drawers.

Here you can see all the pieces I've laid out. I've got them sorted with all the hardware I've removed and even though I'm almost done breaking it down I'm 90% sure I could reassemble it all successfully and have it back to working order again if I had to. The keys here are on a sort of tray, it's part of the mechanism but once you remove a couple of screws the whole thing can lift out.

This is what the frame looked like at the same point in time. (almost) the green felt and frame are the tray I just mentioned. In the previous picture the keys are all resting back on top of that frame. The only pieces left to remove at this point really are the hammers which you're staring directly at, and the cast iron (that's where the weight comes from) Plate that the strings are attached to. I haven't really figured out how I'm going to remove that. It's screwed to the frame with big lag screws and some of them fall under the strings so I don't have access to them. I'd like to keep these all intact and not have to cut any strings so I may try to drill out the screws that I can't remove. If that works the only remaining hassle will be actually pulling the cast iron out. Though I may sit the piano down on it's back which would allow me to pull the iron out the top.

Here's what it all looks like with the key frame removed as well as the hammers. The hammer mechanism is pretty complicated but it also is one solid unit. So it's held in by a couple of thumb screws for adjusting (which will make nice pull knobs for drawers on it) and once they are removed the whole thing lifts out. I was actually pretty surprised at what a solid desktop it already makes. I thought I'd have to make a new top, but other than some screw holes in it, that is a solid smooth piece of wood. I'll sand it down and find some stain that matches the rest of the piano and the top may be done. I'll leave the rest of exact what I'm planning to do a secret for now since I haven't gotten around to testing any of it or sketched anything with measurements yet. I am however, confident that I'll be able to reuse about 98% of this piano. In this picture and the last you can see 3 strips of what I think is poplar which connects all the pedal mechanisms, I'll even be able to use those. The only stuff I'll be throwing out is some of the old hardware and maybe some small scraps once I start cutting pieces down. ALL of the rest will become art projects and so this whole thing will get a brand new life. I'll leave here with some final pictures of pieces. Everybody may have seen them on facebook already but I think I'll have to print and frame a couple for my office because of how they turned out. I only wish I'd had my real camera and not my ipod camera. Boooo.