When I meet a potential customer


When I meet a potential customer looking to refinish their piano, I often make the analogy to them of me feeling like refinishing a piano, especially an older one can be compared to unwrapping a gift. What job can feel better that that?  As the old finish is removed we are almost always pleasantly surprised at the beauty that lies underneath that old dark finish , or a finish that is obscured by old polish buildup, scratches or generally cloudy appearance from age and handling. On some pianos areas like the arms and keyslip will get gummy or sticky. The old varnishes darkened with age and often obscured the amazing fine decorative veneers that most pianos were encased in. I’ve had some customers upon delivery exclaim in pure joy- “Wow! Is that really my piano?!” Nowadays we mainly see black shiny ebony mirror finishes or basic wood patterns , and sometimes even materials printed to look like wood and then lacquered over. Rarely the fine woods and veneers they used in the early twentieth century are used anymore.




Pianos require a unique approach to refinishing. Because they are an important musical instrument, they need a gentler hand and more care and attention to the inner workings. Certain chemicals that general refinishers use can actually damage and cause harm to the playability of the piano and the stability of it’s tuning so it’s important to be sure your treasured instrument ends up in the right hands. Often we come across pianos that may have been done at home or a refinisher may have made short cuts and this creates difficulties when interior repairs need to be done. A typical scenario would be someone who strips the piano without removing parts and then sprays a finish on it, causing the parts to be bonded together. It’s more common than you may think!! At Pianovations our first step is to remove the action and ALL the parts that come apart. These get done individually piece by piece, so that when needed they can be easily removed down the road. It also looks cleaner and is the way it SHOULD be done. Every screw that’s removed is labelled for what part it came from so it fits back to it’s original condition. We cover and tape off the inside of the piano to protect whatever may be left within.Thankfully with the older pianos the finish becomes quite brittle and is often able to be mainly scraped away on most flat surfaces. This is a bit of a skill that takes a some time to master to avoid digging into the wood and keeping the blade sharp and flat. For me, the less chemical based strippers I need to use, the better. Once the finish has been scraped then I will go over it with stripper and steelwool or brass brushes to be able to remove the finish still stuck in the pores. There’s no way around it – stripping is a messy job! I work fully covered and with long rubber gloves as well as a full respirator and expect my assistants to do the same.

The next step once your piano has the old finished cleaned off is for it to be sanded. I used a pneumatic orbital sander than minimizes scratches and is very efficient at getting the job done.  Often the old finish won’t show how bruised the wood may be underneath and great care must be taken to ensure not sanding through the decorative veneers, as they are very thin. My mentor always told me – go with your gut and feel the wood. A few burn throughs at the beginning of my career taught me to heed that advice! I like to try and remove as many blemishes as possible, however sometimes the marks are too deep and this is when we would have to fill them with wood filler. Once the wood is all smooth and uniformly sanded , then I handsand with the grain to ensure a good surface for the stain and Lacquer.

How do I pick the colour?



Usually even before your piano is stripped and sanded I have taken a part of , either the side keyblock or the keyslip[the long thin piece that runs just below the keys] and I will use this to provide you with a stain sample. I generally give 3-6 choices of colours depending on what information you may have already provided me about your decor and colour schemes. You also have a choice between a low lustre sheen, semi gloss and high gloss sheen. The great majority of people choose the semi gloss as it shows off the wood the best without too much glare. It is my choice also. Once you make your colour choice then I proceed with staining.  The next step then is top coating as well with a clear lacquer.

Another matter to note about someone who is a general refinisher is that they usually do not have access to any companies that supply replacement piano decals. Most, but not all decals, can be reproduced so that we are able to have a beautiful new name brand decal installed on the name board and then coated over to protect it as they did originally.




We sand,clean and polish all brass/plated parts, hinges, screws, knobs….The pedals and decorate pedal/kick plates if need be, will go to a professional chrome plater so they look like new!!

Brass pull knobs on piano before and after polished



Once the piano has been coated and dries for a few days we begin reassembly. We replace any old felt or loose and worn cabinet screws and replace and install the proper buttons that have usually gone missing or are dried out and crushed from use.


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