Piano tools

Questions about tools and jigs you want to buy/build/modify.
Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

I recently worked on a Piano.

I will post some pictures of the rebuild, but I felt the best way to start was to show and discuss the tools.

There are several supply houses and places that sell tools on the internet.

Some of the tools are essential. Some are not needed unless you are doing extensive extra work, that is rarely needed.

Tuning hammer is essential. A hammer with a heavy shank and a handle that you can easily grip is important. The lightly built hammers are not as nice to use. A comment I saw about tuning was that you want the strength of a black smith, and the control of a surgeon. I agree with the comment.
Tuning hammer.JPG
The only way you can tune a piano, is with mutes. You have to isolate a single string at a time.

The center section is muted with a felt strip which is tapered.
Muting felt strip.JPG
Muting felt in place.JPG

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Other types of mutes are used for the rest of the strings.

Rubber mutes, wooden mutes with suede covers, and a nylon "Paps mute" are available. Every now and then you will find that one works better than another for a certain section.
Rubber mutes.JPG
Rubber mute in use.JPG
Rubber mute in use.JPG (50.65 KiB) Viewed 8243 times
felt mute in use.JPG
felt mute in use.JPG (37.77 KiB) Viewed 8243 times

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

The Paps mute is useful for the higher range of strings. It can be slipped between the hammer shanks, but needs to be placed a note above or below to avoid interference with the hammer swinging forward to strike the string.
pap mute.JPG
The top mute is a wooden stick with suede on the tips.

The lower mute is the Paps mute.
pap mute in use.JPG
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Pap mute in use 2.JPG
Pap mute in use 2.JPG (34 KiB) Viewed 8243 times
It can be positioned to isolate the middle string, or either of the side strings. If it is placed between 2 sets of the triple strings, it will let you tune the other 2 strings in unison.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Wire cutter with a hardened edge is essential for cutting the piano wire.

The wire literally will produce a spark sometimes as it is cut. The cheaper side cutters will be destroyed quickly by piano wire.
music wire cutter.JPG
My cutter is not the most expensive, but it works.

The best cutter seems to be a Starrett music wire cutter. The new cost is in the $350 range. Used Starrett cutters are sold on Ebay for much less.

This is an essential tool if you are doing much work with piano wire.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Button sets are needed to replace all of the little rubber buttons and stoppers that are on pianos.

When you refurbish a piano, it is nice to get all of the little details to look nice.
Rubber buttons and nails.JPG

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Regulating tools--These are available as individual items, but are best purchased as a set.

This has a couple of screw drivers, and multiple odd little tools. These are for adjusting the key action, and the backstops, dampers, and bending wires in the action.

I rarely use some of these, but sometimes they are the only tool which works well for parts of the action.

Old pianos will play much better when the keys and the action are adjusted correctly.
regulating set.JPG
regulating set.JPG (44.29 KiB) Viewed 8241 times

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Voicing tools--Voicing is the process of shaping the hammer, either hardening the hammer (usually not needed) or softening the hammer to change the character of the tone produced.

The piano is designed to have the hammer hit at 1/10 the length of the string. This will produce a certain set of overtones. If the hammer is old, and has a lot of deep ridges in the felt cover, it will sometimes buzz or give odd tones. The hammer should be reshaped. The deeper felt will be hardened. If you soften this, it will change the tone.

Another issue with voicing, is getting the bass section and treble section so there is a gradual and pleasant sounding transition from one range to the next. You accept that bass strings vs tenor section vs treble section will sound different, but you want a gradual transition. The sound depends on the string length, whether the string is solid or wound, hammers, and soundboard, and bridge design. Voicing is done to improve the sound.

The first step is to make sure the old hammer does not have extreme grooves, that it is flat against the strings as it strikes all the strings at the same time. Next you try to get the gradual transition in tone from section to section.

The softening can be done by putting water or alcohol on the hammers (I don't do this) or using a voicing tool which is a handle with needles. (Use a tool with just 1 or 2 needles. Using 4 needles at a time requires a lot of force, and you will probably break something or damage the mechanism.)
voicing needle 1.JPG
voicing needle 2.JPG
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Hardening can be done by using dilute solutions of lacquer, or ironing the hammer with a heated brass tool.

I have not used the lacquer, and I would avoid something that is not easily reversed.
Hammer hardening tool.JPG
This is used by heating and then ironing the felt. (I have the tool, but have not used it!)

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Key clamps are needed if you are doing much repair on old pianos. The need to keep them clamped firmly and flat until the glue dries is essential for working the ivory.
Key top clamps.JPG
Chipped ivory can be replaced with other used ivory. A small chip can be repaired by scarfing in a small pieced using Cyanoacylate glue.

A badly damaged set of keytops can be replaced with plastic fairly easily.

DO NOT file the ends of the ivories down, and pretend that it make the keytops fine. It is a very poor choice.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

The mechanism has multiple small hinges. They literally move hundreds or thousands of times in a single piano performance. Over a few years, or decades, they move millions of times.

The hinges need to move smoothly, silently and with little resistance, yet high accuracy and durability.

Quite an engineering accomplishment!
Bushing hinge picture.JPG
Bushing hinge picture.JPG (25.21 KiB) Viewed 8240 times
This hinge shows a metal clip for attachment. Often, the center part is a wooden piece.
Bushing tools.JPG
The brass pins are polished, and there are multiple sizes.

The wood parts have the small hole where the bushing material is place.

The felt bushing is placed by taking a strip of bushing material, the end is cut to a taper, then the skinny end is pulled into the hole. The bushing material then forms the "bushing". A small drop of glue is placed on the outside of the bushing material, and it is pulled further into the wooden material. After the glue is set, a razor blade is used to trim the excess busing material away.

The little reamer, file and burnisher are used to ream, file and burnish the felt bushing and the hole the wooden parts.

I admire technology, and think this is a very clever method of creating a hinge.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Paper punchings--The keybed needs to be level. It is made very carefully with high quality boards (often maple).

The pins are placed, felt is placed, and then small paper punchings are used to get the keybed flat. These are not expensive, and a set of punching will do at least a hundred pianos.

On an old piano, sometime the felt punching will be moth eaten to the point that the keybed is not level.

Leveling the key bed is an important step. Don't ignore this step. An irregular keybed will annoy the performer. A keybed with irregularity looks terrible.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

I will post more later. I have to go to work.

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Barry Daniels »

Good stuff Steve. I went so far as to acquire a set of tuning tools many years ago but was stopped by the lack of instruction and the fear of all the little parts. Never did take it on.
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David King
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Re: Piano tools

Post by David King »

I've found that a little bottle of action lube can work wonders on a sticky hammer shank or whippen.
I'd never seen that little scissor mute before, that would be indispensable with a little console piano.
Pianos were pretty evolved by 1900. A piano was the single largest expenditure a family at the turn of the century was likely to make. The piano was soon to be replaced by the automobile. A new grand still costs more than a new car.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

An action cradle is needed if you are working on the action very much. I made this from scrap iron and pipe and a couple bolts and scrap wood about 35 years ago. I use it pretty much every time I work on an upright piano. There are times you can do so much more with the action out of the piano and much more quickly.
action cradle.JPG
In addition to working on the keybed and the strings and pinblock, you would like to have the action where you can easily get to the hammers for hammer replacement, voicing and replacing dampers, and replacing or repairing any of the hinge mechanism which is worn out.

When I did the Steinway rebuild, I probably had the action in and out of the piano 20 times.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

A less used tool, is for extracting the hammer heads and butts from the action.
Butt extractor and clamp.JPG
This consists of a clamp which is placed on the shank, and the tool presses against the hammer head and pulls it off.

It works well.

It needs room to work and taking the hammer heads off while in the mechanism is more difficult.

I used this tool to remove all 88 hammers, and had 1 shank that broke.

Unless you are doing hammer replacement or repair, you would not likely need this tool. However, it is very efficient at what it does.

Steve Senseney
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Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

I replaced the hammers on this piano as they were quite bad.

The bass part of the piano has the hammers at 14 degrees slanted left.

The tenor part starts with hammers at about 12 degrees to the right, changing angle to zero degrees at about key 50.

When I ordered the set, I ordered incorrectly, and the tenor section was drilled at a continuous angle all of the way.

After thinking about this for a while, I filled the holes with the shank material (hot hide glue) and redrilled these.

To do this, I needed a jig.

I copied a jig I saw sold through a piano company.

Piano hammers have a "rake" angle. They are slanted down a few degrees. This is in addition to the left or right slant, or straight position.

Here are several pictures, that I hope explain what my jig looks like.
hammer drilling jig 1.JPG
hammer drilling jig 2.JPG
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hammer drilling jig 3.JPG
hammer drilling jig 4.JPG
hammer drilling jig 5.JPG
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The center portion can rotate. The screw in the back maintains the angle position.

The one later photo shows me holding a hammer with a shank in place. This allows me to align this with drill bit to get the angle correct on the hammer.

The first photo show that the holder is slightly angled to get the "rake" angle. This can be adjusted by the screws which hold the block of wood.

A little spacer block is present to keep the spacing correct.

The drill is a standard drill bit, but I ground the end flat, and slight made spurs on the edges.

To keep it from drifting, I use a piece of scrap wood with a hole already drilled through to make sure it does not drift when it starts cutting at an angle.

I used my fingers to hold the hammer heads in position.

As the angle gradually changed and the carriage rotated a little, the hole in the hammer moved a little. I used a couple of strips of masking tape to change the position slightly.

This entire carriage was screwed down to the drill press plate.

It worked very well.

Next time I will order the hammers undrilled through the entire piano.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

hammer drilling jig 6.JPG


This is the picture with the adjusting tape.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Tuning pins--The issue of loose tuning pins--

If you have a single (or a few) that need tightening, you can pull the pin, and insert a sliver of hard wood to make the pin tighter. You can use an oversize pin in the problem hole.

Don't use the chemical tightener or the cyanoacylate glue unless you are ready to toss the piano in the dump.

Pinblock replacement on a grand piano is fairly commonly done. Uprights have pinblocks that are harder to get to and replace. It is not commonly done.

To remove the pins, you take your tuning hammer (or use a power tool) to "screw them out". This is the method for removal.

To place new pins, you clean out the holes carefully so there is no dust or debris, and the pound them in.

You really don't want to screw them in, as this grinds down the wood surface some and you lose a little of the ability to maintain tension, and the dust created probably lessens the ability to hold the pin tight.

I removed the pins as they were quite loose. I replaced them with a pin that was a size bigger, and chrome plated. They don't rust, and they are nice and shiny.

As I tried place the pins, I had trouble getting them hammered in, and had to screw them at least half of the distance.

When you order hammers, they come in various lengths and weights. Order carefully.

When you order pins, they some in different lengths and sizes. Order carefully. Go for the shiny pins.

After you remove the strings, replace the pins, then you restring the instrument. The Steinway needed gauge 13 to gauge 18 wire for the tenor and treble sections, in 1/2 size increments.

As you string the piano, it is important (and looks nice) to keep the coils pulled up tight, and the spacing of the strings needs to be correct.

A spacing tool and coil puller is pictured. I made a smaller necked coil puller as It was hard to have the commercial tool and the tuning hammer on the pin at the same time.
string spacing tool and coil tightening tool.JPG

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

I still have a bunch of other tools I will show.

Key weights--
Key weight 1.JPG
key weight 2.JPG
These would be used to adjust the balance on the keys. I have never used these.

This is a hinge pin tool for driving pins out of the hinges for repair.
Hinge pin tool.JPG
hinge pin tool and hinge.JPG
This tool works, but I rarely use it, and it could be replaced by a small nail in a piece of dowel.

Steve Senseney
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Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 2:45 pm

Re: Piano tools

Post by Steve Senseney »

Oval tuning pins were used before the present square head pins. I bought this to work on a square grand which I had for a while.
oval tuning pin head.JPG
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I did use this, but probably won't ever again.

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