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Thread: Wood from old Piano - Good or Not?

  1. #1

    Wood from old Piano - Good or Not?

    Hi,

    Not sure if this is the correct forum to post this in, so here goes:

    I have a chance to pick up an old piano (aka FREE Lumber). I have not seen it yet, so I'm not sure exactly type of wood it is.

    But, not everything Free is good.

    Like pallets (last one I tried to use had twist nails in it. And over 50% broke off when I tried to pull them. I had to make small drill holes next to the nails and pull them out, one by one. Luckily that did not impact the project that I was using the oak for.
    If I had to pay for my labor, it would have been alot cheaper to go to the local store and pay full freight for the wood.

    Has anyone ever tried to reuse an old piano for the wood?
    What woods are most common?
    Is it good quality wood (furniture grade) or just low grade, or?
    Is there that much good, usable wood (this one is an upright)?

    Anything to watch out for?

    What does one do with the metal guts (any use or just scrap)?
    Are there any hazardous material in old Pianos?

    Any pit falls, other than breaking your back moving it?

    Or is this another FREE, but NOT worth it ideas?

    Thanks,
    Dan B.

  2. #2
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    I have considered taking old pianos from craigslist just for the ivory and ebony in the keys.

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Dan, most old piano's are mahogny, and the soundboard is spruce...there is some good wood but it will take alot of work with not so much useable wood
    Dave

    IN GOD WE TRUST
    USN Retired

  4. #4
    Dan,

    You might be able to cash the metal in but be extremely careful with removing the strings. There is a TREMENDOUS amount of tension in the strings and they can cause serious injury. I would suggest getting a tuning wrnech off of ebay and loosen the strings significantly prior to cutting them. And keep your face/body as fas back as you can when you do this. Having said that, if it look like there is some good wood, I'd go for it. You might want to call some scrap yards and see what you can get for the metal frame/strings/parts.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sam Yerardi View Post
    Dan,

    You might be able to cash the metal in but be extremely careful with removing the strings. There is a TREMENDOUS amount of tension in the strings and they can cause serious injury. I would suggest getting a tuning wrnech off of ebay and loosen the strings significantly prior to cutting them. And keep your face/body as fas back as you can when you do this. Having said that, if it look like there is some good wood, I'd go for it. You might want to call some scrap yards and see what you can get for the metal frame/strings/parts.

    ^^ This is SO true.
    "The element of competition has never worried me, because from the start, I suppose I realized wood contains so much inspiration and beauty and rhythm that if used properly it would result in an individual and unique object." - James Krenov


    What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say. -R. W. Emerson

  6. The bulk of the piano is most likely veneered. In the player I restored a few years ago the top and the keyboard cover were about the only solid parts.

    Don't know what the secondary wood is that the veneer covers though. Might be interesting to find out. But if you are expecting lots of solid walnut or mahogany look really close...

    -James

  7. #7
    I have taken apart an old piano. I used a grinder to cut the strings along the top while standing behind. With some care it isn't so hard to do safely. Great sound, boing, boing, boing.

    The sound board was very thin, 1/4 to 3/8 inch, but nice looking wood, spruce, very straight grain. The structure behind the harp (the metal part) seems to be maple in the critical places and a mix of hard and soft wood in the bulkier areas. I still have the larger pieces of maple. The outside of the piano was veneered. the wood behind the veneer was strange, looked like wormy chestnut. Definitely cheap wood.

    The harp itself was cast iron painted gold. I broke it up with a big hammer without much trouble (it was very heavy) and threw the pieces in the dumpster.

    There were very many screws holding everything together, slotted screws, a pain to remove. I had to do this to get rid of the thing. I am not sure it would have been worth it for the wood. If it is a grand and a nice brand it might be different.

  8. #8
    the ebony keys make good pegs in mortise tenon joinery

  9. #9
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    I think a piano has to be fairly old to have genuine ivory coverings on the keys, but that's one of the few places someone not in the know can get the real stuff. Great for key hole escutcheons and small inlays, but it can be tricky to cut so gluing it to a backer before sawing might a good idea. I don't know about the ebony, and when they might have stopped using it for the black keys.

    I'd think reclaiming any useful and/or valuable wood from the average piano might run close to the break even point, if that; there are some great curves and shapes, but they're pretty specific to a piano and you'd have a hard time converting them to another use.

  10. #10
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    Knowing the make of the piano,and if it is real old would help.

    Kohler and Campbell pianos had a soundboard of spruce veneers with a poplar core in their 1960's era uprights. Hopefully solid spruce in their grands.

    Chickering pianos,old ones,had the most choice black ebony on their sharps. The best ebony has the smallest pores.

    I am afraid just about all were veneered,though I did own an 18th.C. Astor that was solid Cuban mahogany.

    I took apart an 1830's piano that had been out in the rain for many years,and was ruined. It was a horizontal rectangular shape. Must have been English,because the bottom was made of about 3 layers of Scotch pine 1" thick,each. I was a teenager,and used the wood to make guitars (that was any good!).

  11. #11
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    Old church pews can be a really good source of solid mahogany boards of large size. Also easier to break up than a piano.

  12. #12
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    Dan, I took apart an old upright my wife had before we met. I found a newspaper clipping in it dated 1939, So I figure it was pretty old. As stated before most all of it was verneered also had some sort of plywood. I did save the keys and keyboard cover and some spindles and the top. But with the time I had in it I wouldn't mess with another one . Good luck, Craig

  13. #13

    Follow up questions

    1st - Thanks to evevyone who has replied so far.

    The paino is a mid to late 1800's vintage.

    It is sounding like a great way to spend a weekend , with very little benefit.

    I like Phil's idea
    "the ebony keys make good pegs in mortise tenon joinery"

    Also, thinks for the info on the string tension, very know that it was that great.

    I still have a couple of quesitions (not being an expert):

    1) The ivory - when was real ivory used on the keys?
    How would a novice tell between real and artifical?
    How do you remove it from the keys without braking it?
    I'm assuming it is thin like a veneer?
    It would be thin, old, and fragile?
    Is real ivory (from the keys) worth anything?
    Especially given all the work?

    2) The ebony - When was is used till?
    How do you tell that it is real Ebony,
    as opposed to a dyed black chunk of some other wood?

    Thanks Again.
    Dan B.

  14. #14
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    Dan

    Real ivory, from tusks that grew with the animal, has "grain", visible striations in it's surface appearance indicative of the layering process of its growth; the replacement materials, celluloid (?) and now plastic (?) don't have that distinctive feature. Another test is to put a lit match to a corner of the material once you've gotten it off; real ivory will scorch (and maybe smell a bit like burning hair), but plastic will just melt.

    The ivory scales I've seen are fairly thin, maybe a strong 1/16"; some might be thicker but I've never seen any that even approached 1/8". They're glued on and you can usually remove them by sliding a thin chisel underneath them. If the glue is really stubborn and the ivory is breaking on you, try some heat to soften the glue, which is probably hide glue.

    The only thing I could say about identifying the black keys is that any dyed imitation ebony won't be anywhere near as hard or dense as real ebony; your chisel will probably be able to tell you if you've got the real thing.

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