Re: Piano Salvage Help
Response To:
Piano Salvage Help ()

John K Jordan
I've taken several old pianos apart completely. There is little useful to a woodworker unless the case is some spectacular veneer and in good conditions. However, some old pianos were made from mahogany which might be worth saving.

The white piano keys for a long time have been made of some wood covered with plastic. Many decades ago the part you touch was covered with a very thin slice of ivory. You can usually tell because they will look yellow now since ivory yellows with age. The glue also tends to get brittle and the ivories fall off. They are of little value except to certain scrimshaw artists and to piano technicians who salvage spares to replace missing and broken ivories on heirloom pianos.

Most of the black keys are a small piece of black wood glued on top of the long wood key proper. Some are dyed hardwoods and some are black plastic. I understand it's rare to find true ebony. Even if they used ebony it might be dyed black since even ebony is often not jet black.

Most of the rest of the piano is not worth salvaging, IMO. I always saved the hardware (wood screws, brass and steel rods). I saved some of the non-wound mid and treble strings and some of the tuning pins. The rest I took apart with a sledge hammer and crow bar and took to the dump.

Be real careful when handling the cast iron frame (plate, harp) which is under a lot of pressure (tension) from the strings. I read there can be 16 tons of pressure in a typical piano. Mine is a concert grand which might have 30 tons of pressure. People have been injured. Best to release the tension on each string first with a tuning hammer (a tuning wrench). The cast iron may be worth a small amount for scrap depending on the weight (maybe $30-40?)

You might contact a local tuner/technician and ask if they want any of the pieces. If it's a player piano that still has the movement it might well be useful for parts to a player piano rebuilder.

If you know the make and can read the number inside the piano (often on a label) you can probably look it up on the internet and find the age. Long time ago I rebuilt the work parts of an old player piano - took me a month (it's still working), replaced the strings, hammers, bridal straps, felts, etc. Quite an exacting and tedious project. I looked it up and it was made in the '40s.


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