1885 Knabe Upright Piano
for the Story
"Hold mouse over pictures to see progress"
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"
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
At long last, the piano is ready for sealer. The piano will be
sealed with a de-waxed shellac sealer before lacquer topcoats are
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,
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
Here are a few finished pictures. The only items
missing are the pedals, which are out being brass plated.