Circa 1900 Art Case Antique Steinway & Sons Piano


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Shoninger Upright Transformation

1885 Knabe Upright Piano Transformation
January 2013

To view the entire photo gallery of this project check out the: Knabe
Restoration Gallery

Higher quality "Finished" pictures. (Large file size)

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   This beautiful Knabe upright found its way into my shop without the resource for musical restoration.  The technical aspects of the instrument were extremely worn and needed complete restoration.  The costs of such a restoration far exceeded the value of the piece.  The idea of this piano becoming another lost piece of Americana relegated to the landfill just could not happen.

   The idea of giving this piano a second life intrigued me quite a bit.  The absolutely exquisite cabinetry in rosewood solids and veneers begged for restoration.  The idea of transforming the cabinet into a functional piece of furniture seemed to be the best hope for the piano.  This piece is destined to become a bar/server.

   My goal is to convert as much interior area of the cabinet into functional server for our family room.  I want to keep the exterior in its original form as much as possible so that it will remain looking like a normal piano.  A few modifications will be necessary to make it more user friendly.  The upper "fret-work" panels will be hinged in order to access the interior storage area.  The keys will be removed to make room for a serving area, and the lower chamber will be modified for additional storage.


The process will begin with the complete dismantling of the piano.  All of the internal components will be removed, including the action, pins, strings, plate, and soundboard will be removed.

With the strings and pins removed, it is time to address remove the 450 pound plate.  I borrowed an engine lift to lift the monster, but soon discovered that the plate was installed before the sides of the piano were glued into position. We tried to cut away small areas of the internal parts of the case to remove the plate, but we soon found that the plate would not come out of the available opening. This meant that I would either need to remove ( by breaking) the side of the piano or cutting the plate.  The nearly half inch thick plate was a formidable foe of the sawzall, but after 4 new blades and about an hour of cutting, the plate was ready for the recycling center.


With the plate out of the way, I am now able to size up the available space for interior cabinet storage. Unfortunately the space was small.  With just over 6" of depth in the cavity, I knew I would need to cut away much of the beams and pin-block to free up more useable space. I wanted to keep the unique decal and serial number on the pin-block, so I removed all but about 3" of it.

By cutting through these 6" thick beams, I would be able to almost double the available space for cabinet storage.  The upper cavity would clear the way for a 50" wide, 16" tall, and 11" deep area.

With a interior "box" in place, I can see the room the upper area will provide and move on to the door hinge challenges.

The beautiful front fret-work panels were originally fastened from behind the front frame.  In order to access the interior of the upper chamber, I will need to modify them to open outward.  I'd prefer to keep these panels in the rear of the opening, instead of hinging them to the front of the frame. Knowing that I will have to cut the original rosewood panels, I made up test panels to figure out the best hinging possibilities.

The pivot bar option proved to be a unique concept, but presented the quandary of the door being in its own way.  Because of the location of the pivot point, the door would ultimately block too much of the limited opening.

The next option was an offset hinge that would maintain the preference of keeping the panel "within" the  frame opening, while pivoting completely out of the way when opened.  I will consider "antiquing" the hinge in opposition to the bright brass.  With the hinging decision in hand, I will cut and hinge the rosewood panels.

With the fretwork panel in place, I scored the perimeter in preparation for cutting and fitting.
February 2013

The fallboard will need to disappear into the case to reveal the bar top area.  I use a "full extension" drawer glide mounted to the inside of the case, for the component to be fastened.


The lower chamber of the piano/server has a few interesting challenges.  While the area has worthwhile cabinet room, it tends to be a little tucked under the keybed.  By taking the face panel and slicing it in half to make doors, they will be quite wide (27").  I need to get them to recess into the cabinet.  By installing "pivot glides" on the doors, they will be able to slide into the cabinet about 10", so to not be in the way. 


This will allow room for the cabinet box in this section to slide forward on drawer glides for easy access.


Back to work on the Fallboard area.  With the slide in working order, I have dimensions for the drawers. The drawers will be revealed when the fallboard is in the opened position.


Each side of the original keybed of the piano has what is termed the "Cheekblocks".  These block would be reused as a filler block on each side of the new drawers and work area.  The blocks need to be modified  to conceal the fallboard tracking.

Once fitted, the blocks will be veneered in rosewood to match the fallboard and drawer fronts.

The drawers are to be fairly plain and simple.  They will be veneered in rosewood.


With the drawers and cheekblocks veneered in rosewood, the work area is coming together nicely.


March 2013
A little bit of Fun

I've always had a fondness for secret compartments.  I guess that writing about it kills the secret, but the little boxes were a lot of fun to construct. The completed drawers in the midsection left a few inches of unused space in the rear of the cavity.

I started with a chunk of the removed back-beam to the piano.  I planed it to dimension.  I then ran the piece on the table saw to plow out the core.

 Adding ends and a lid, gave me some cute little stash boxes that hide behind the drawers.


With most of the cabinet modification behind me, it is time to strip the case of the piano and start cabinet and veneer repair.

The cabinet of the piano has the typical cabinet veneer damage.

Loose and missing veneer repair are quite completed, including shimming cracks, injecting glue and clamping bubbled veneer.


April 3, 2013
The lower section of the piano has unused pedals.  I couldn't resist giving the pedals a chore.  After a lot of "leverage and pivot" experiments I was able to develop a mechanism to connect to the pedals, so that when depressed, the lower cabinet would extend.  The challenge was to make about 1.5 inches of pedal movement up and down, to move the cabinet forward about 10 inches.

Currently, the piano is taken apart, so I do not have pictures of the device in action from the front side of the piano.

Final veneer and cabinet repairs are under way.  Sealer is just ahead.


At long last, the piano is ready for sealer.  The piano will be sealed with a de-waxed shellac sealer before lacquer topcoats are applied.

The work surface will be finished with a more durable and water resistant polyurethane coating.


The leg columns of the piano are not rosewood, though originally, the Knabe company added faux graining to the "less expensive" wood to emulate rosewood.  Some of the faux grain was gone, so I replaced it with dark dye and a modified brush.

The back panel to the lower chamber is made from maple plywood.  I added some grain to the panel using the same dye and technique.

Multiple clear topcoats are applied to the piano.  As the finish build, touch up colorants are applied to cover blemishes and veneer repairs.  

With most of the finish applied, the piano will sit for a week to cure in preparation of a thorough sanding before final coats are applied.

While is is no longer officially a piano, I still wanted to apply a copy of the original decal to the fallboard.  After all, it still is a piece made by the Knabe company of Baltimore, MD.

After about a day of meticulous sanding, final coats of satin lacquer are applied.


April 15, 2013

At long last, the piano/bar is ready for assembly.  After polishing and lacquering the brass hardware, all of the pieces are brought together.


Here are a few finished pictures. The only items missing are the pedals, which are out being brass plated.





To view the entire photo gallery of this project, check out:
Restoration Gallery

Higher quality "Finished" pictures. (Large file size)


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