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Can woods used in the manufacture of pianos be repurposed?

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Can woods used in the manufacture of pianos be repurposed?

Postby Joel Hatch » Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:02 am

I'm curious about the woods used the manufacture of pianos. I keep seeing pianos being given away for free and wonder if they can be repurposed and turned into other stringed instruments. The sound boards must be similar to the tops of guitars, mandolins, etc., the keys, especially from older pianos, are probably ivory for inlays and turners and the bodies of many pianos are manufactured form high quality woods that could be repurposed and used for sides, backs and necks. Is this more viable than the junk yard for unwanted pianos?
Joel Hatch
 
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Re: Can woods used in the manufacture of pianos be repurposed?

Postby Alan Carruth » Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:53 am

Most of the pianos you see are uprights. The soundboards are laid up from fairly narrow strips (4"-5" wide) with the gain running diagonally. They didn't pay as much attention to perfect quartering as we tend to these day with guitars. There tend to be lots of holes where things got bolted/screwed on. Getting the soundboard out of the carcass is a chore.

It's hard to say how much good B&S wood you'd be likely to get from salvaging a piano. A lot of what you see is veneer, which can range from the old 'standard' thickness of 1/28" (before it gets sanded down)up to maybe 1/8". Keep in mind the difficulty of removing even thick veneer without trashing it. would not count on getting much even from the thick legs.

Plastic key caps go 'way back. Do you really want to take the chance of getting a visit from Fish & Wildlife just to get some ivory veneer for inlay? Yeah, I know, that elephant died a long time ago, but ivory is ivory, and there's no de minibus exemption.

Good pianos will have ebony sharps.

I have salvaged a couple of uprights. In neither case was it worth the effort. About 30 years ago I went to a 'salvage' store that had just bought up a failed piano shop. There was a small Steinway grand in Brazilian rosewood, ca 1880? The soundboard was in good shape, and there were no cracks I could see in the casting. All it lacked was the action (all of the key mechanism), and strings. Details details. I must have spent the better part of an hour crawling around on that thing. The fluted and carved legs were made of mahogany, and expertly faux painted to look like BRW. The 1/8" sawn veneer still had saw marks on the under side, so getting anything thick enough for a back would have been hard, even assuming it didn't warp and check being steamed off. When I got home I called a piano tuner friend to see if he'd be interested. The effort of making a new action and re-stringing from scratch as well as restoring and refinishing the case, made it not a viable proposition. However, he said he would call the piano tech program at the school he went to, to see if they could use it as a student project. A couple of days later when I went back the piano was gone. I hope they did restore it: it would have made a beautiful instrument, and the kids would have learned a lot.
Alan Carruth
 
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