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.

1 comment:

  1. It looks amazing! Great job! Still the coolest desk I've seen.