The Resurrection of an Unwanted Piano

Compagnie Concordia: Berlin.

I guess this started with a desire to try my hand at cabinetmaking. The desire has always been there however access to a workshop and tools seems to have eluded me for most of my adult life.

This ‘Chest’ is one of the end products of a journey that started 2 years ago. When I started thinking of this project I decided to use, wherever possible, recycled materials. I started collecting other peoples throw-aways and cheap furniture on ebay. However working with recycled wood is very difficult in many respects. I was never fond of the ‘Gluelam’ mishmash of odds and ends that seems to be so trendy today. Shabby -Chick is codeword for ‘didn’t have the patience to do it it properly’.

The approach lacks the ‘fine cabinetmaking’ aspects that I aspired to. However I quickly discovered that old upright pianos can be had for cheap in the classifieds. However there was a problem, the reason they can be had for cheap is they weigh a ton and usually require a truck to move. I had neither the means or the inclination to buy the whole thing, I just wanted to salvage the wood. So I contacted Piano removalists and restoration companies. It took a while but I eventually convinced a Piano Removalist to allow me to salvage a few. It was then that I discovered the sad truth about what happens to old pianos.

Inevitably people pay a removalist to take them away. And they get delivered straight into a dumpster. So my supply of old pianos began, I could turn up at the removalists and break them down for any parts I wanted. (Just to say, breaking down an old piano is not for the faint hearted.) But the wood is very old old, features beautiful walnut veneers and already comes in cool and unusual shapes. Most of the wood is Pine (of some sort) however there is also Oak, and the Moldings are Walnut. All of is is seasoned with the true patina of an ‘Antique ‘ and speaks of fine cabinetmaking in a way you simply do not see anymore.

If there was any item worth of recycling into new usable furniture, old upright pianos qualified with distinction. That’s not to say its easy to work with. The Piano I used to make this ‘Chest’ was made in Berlin, roughly In 1890. (from the scant information I can find)

Here are some pictures of what It probably looked like.

Compagnie Concordia2

Compagnie Concordia1TCompagnie Concordia0he item I broke apart was already damaged so it didn’t look very nice. And I didn’t take any photos.

So what do you make out on an old upright Piano? The simplest was to create a ‘Chest’, perhaps something that could be used at the foot of a bed for linens blankets and pillows. I had a good heavy base that held the keyboard and a front panel which happened to match. I had to create the back out of some modern timbers and a recycled wardrobe door. But everything else is authentic.

The side panels were actually the original front Bottom panel, which was cut in half. But the real (cabinetmaking) began with the Lid, This is a glued combination of original and 1 modern timber that was much harder to make then I ever imagined. Many mistakes were made and over the course of a year of occasional tinkering with it I finally managed to get something that actually worked.

On the way I purchased many cheap tools to help me make it, learn how to use them and grew an appreciation for the artistry that is involved in the process. Lacquering is another aspect. Most of the panels and pieces had some levels of deteriorating finish, all were painstakingly and sensitively sanded back. I liked the rustic history embedded in the old lacquer, and traditional shellac was used to bring it back to a level of rustic distinction. Working with shellac is in itself an art-form, but its very forgiving and I love the rich golden colour it brings to the wood. This is my first ever attempt at Cabinetmaking, I learnt a great deal making it, made many mistakes, had to re-do it twice, and after all that time here it is. Its not perfect, but Its entirely unique and has saved some amazing wood from the tip. I made my own (seal) all my furniture pieces will feature it. Perhaps in another 200 years someone will wander who made it.

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