Circa 1900 Art Case Antique Steinway & Sons Piano


Restored Nickelodeon

Piano refinishing and restoration serving the greater Washington DC,

Maryland, and Virginia Area since 1976


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Copyright by
Kevin E. Hancock, Inc. 2005-2022
all rights reserved

Twelve Steps to a Quality Restoration

• Proper Preparation


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In order for the piano restoration to progress smoothly, it is important to note the anticipated repairs, loose veneer, and placement of the hardware, felts, leathers, and buttons before tearing down the piano.  If there are cracks in the lid, they should be noted and scored with a fine saw, as once stripped, they might not be seen until a finish is applied.  The cracks will need shims glued into them to reduce the chance of the crack to re-appear.  Labeling the hardware will ensure the piano goes back together smoothly.  Noting these details will ensure the completed job will look like the original maker intended.

Proper Protection

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It is imperative that the musical parts of the piano be protected while refinishing.  The plate, strings, soundboard, key bed, and underside of the piano can not be subjected to removers, solvents, or finish overspray.  The action is removed and put in a safe place. The plate and strings are protected with multiple layers of paper and cardboard.  

• Thorough finish removal

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The parts are stripped with liquid remover through a flow-over process.  The case of the piano is stripped by hand with semi paste remover.  Once the finish is removed, all parts are solvent washed to ensure the boards are absolutely clean. 

• Accurate cabinet and veneer repair

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Proper cabinet repairs are a must for a quality restoration.  All loose veneer and cabinet damage are meticulously repaired before parts are sanded and readied for colorants and the finish. 

• Quality wood colorants


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Colorants are selected to enhance the natural qualities of the wood and to make the parts uniform in color without obscuring the beauty of the wood.  Dyes are often the best choice for the base colorant. Often additional grain is added to make different woods blend a little more then just a good color match. To add depth or warmth, a glaze might be used between coats.

• Properly filled wood pores

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All open grained parts are paste filled to provide a stable base for topcoats.  Paste filler is a far better material to fill the pores of wood compared to building sealers or lacquer in the pores.  A properly filled board will accept topcoats without absorbing too much finishing material.   

• Quality sealers and topcoats 


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I prefer a de-waxed shellac as a sealer.  This product provides a great base for building the lacquer topcoats.  Shellac provides an excellent barrier for contaminants that might be in the wood from old furniture polishes.  It also has excellent adhesion qualities you ensure the finish is well bonded to the wood. 

Clear color balances

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Occasionally, the color of the wood needs adjustment for blending the differences in parts.  Shading lacquers with dye are used for minor changes.  Pigmented glazes are used to highlight pieces and add a warm look. 

•Patient finish building

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Multiple coats of lacquer are applied and sanded between every other coat with 320 grit finishing paper.  The sanding is progressive and gets more thorough as the finish is built up.  This keeps the coating from being too thick, yet allows for the built to be smooth and level.  Ample drying time between coats is important to allow the finish to shrink into the grain of the wood and let the solvents evaporate. Between coats, a replica decal is applied to the fallboard and any necessary touch up colorants are applied.

Adequate drying and curing

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Once ample coats of lacquer are applied, the finish is left to cure for at least a week, usually two weeks.  This allows the coating to shrink and cure while allowing the remaining solvents in the finish to evaporate.  

• Rubbing and polishing the finish

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Traditionally, finishes were rubbed and polished to satin or semi gloss sheens.  I use the same approach to achieve the look the maker intended the piece to have.   After cutting the surface with 600- 800 grit finishing paper, I rub with multiple grits of steel wool, rubbing compounds and lubricant to achieve the finest look in cabinet finishing. 

• Assembly, hardware restoration, and detailing

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In order to replicate what the maker intended, the detailing that went into the making of a piano originally, needs to be reproduced.  On Steinways, for example, leather buttons were used where boards contacted each other.  Under the lid, there are leather pads that prevent the finished surfaces from getting scarred when the lid is closed.  These details are just part of what is applied to the piano as it is re-assembled.  

On many traditional pianos the brass hardware was polished to a satin or brushed sheen.  This look goes well with the qualities of a formal rubbed finish.  The brass hardware is cleaned and polished to this satin sheen before having a tarnish resistant lacquer applied. 

The felts are replaced on the fallboard, lid lock board and anywhere wood parts are attached to each other.   The music desk guide is lined with bushing cloth which will wear well for many years.  Bellymen felt is replaced where the plate contacts the stretcher.

Finally, the underside of the piano is cleaned and sealed before delivery.  When the piano is delivered from my shop, the restoration is completely done. The back and undersides of all parts are cleaned and finished. The finish is cured, the plate, action, strings, and soundboard have all been protected to ensure the piano not only looks wonderful, it will sound and play well too. There is not a detail that is forgotten.

Finished Mahogany Steinway and Sons Grand Piano

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Copyright by Kevin E. Hancock, Inc. 2005-2018 all rights reserved