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#2106027 - 06/22/13 12:39 AM what finish is on my piano?
berninicaco3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/13
Posts: 103
Loc: iowa city, ia
Just acquired a 1936 5'6" mahogany kimball grand piano.

While I wait for the bass strings to arrive,

I want to start repairing the few damaged spots on the finish.


I can do my how-to reading elsewhere (unless you care to respond in detail), but just to begin with, what IS the finish likely to be in the first place?

Would it be french polish? I can read up on how to repair french polish. I've already done a little bit in the past.

But I know nitrocellulose had also been invented by this time...

It is a satin finish. Crackling in some areas, like the music stand (maybe sunlight exposure). Damaged in particular to the right of the music stand in a spot: I'd suspect drinks were set down there.

I am NOT going all the way. Just want to repair/ refinish those spots that are glaringly damaged. In the case of the spot by the music stand I'll strip just that 1x1' surface and refinish just that surface. I'll try to color match as best as possible. But perfection can be saved for another piano. I'm just trying to put a little effort into making this one presentable.

So to begin with, at that vintage/ brand/ description, what kind of finish do you think it is? Shellac, nitrocellulose, something else...


Edited by berninicaco3 (06/22/13 12:40 AM)

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#2106040 - 06/22/13 01:12 AM Re: what finish is on my piano? [Re: berninicaco3]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 20740
Loc: Oakland
If it dissolves in alcohol, it is a spirit varnish, similar to shellac or french polish. If it takes lacquer thinner, it is lacquer.
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#2106058 - 06/22/13 02:08 AM Re: what finish is on my piano? [Re: berninicaco3]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1455
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
It is most likely nitrocellulose lacquer. Since it shows crazing (cracks), most likely it will wrinkle on you if you try to apply a fresh coat of lacquer. This is because the crazed finish is the result of the continual drying of the finish so much that the tension within the surface film exceeds the elasticity of the finish. And when you re-coat, the solvents release this tension which wrinkles the whole thing up just like if you applied stripper.
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#2106081 - 06/22/13 03:55 AM Re: what finish is on my piano? [Re: berninicaco3]
berninicaco3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/13
Posts: 103
Loc: iowa city, ia
I divested myself of most of my chemicals from when I was last into woodworking,

but I had some isopropyl alcohol for disinfecting.

Now, for french polish (which I've done before but really never mastered), I used everclear, which is nearly-pure ethanol. So I appreciate that the effects might not be identical.

At first it didn't seem to do anything. It certainly did not melt the finish, in the way I know everclear melted french polish that was maybe say only a month old. Then again, it's the wrong alcohol and the original finish has had a long time to harden up.
The isopropyl alcohol definitely made the surface sticky, however.

French polish/ 'spirit varnish' then ?



Edited by berninicaco3 (06/22/13 03:55 AM)

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#2106158 - 06/22/13 11:15 AM Re: what finish is on my piano? [Re: berninicaco3]
berninicaco3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/13
Posts: 103
Loc: iowa city, ia
and just for convenience, over ordering shellac flakes for $25/lb (what happened? I recall $9/lb not so very long ago..)
would this product from lowes work?
For color matching, I can look into very moderate use of aniline dyes.

http://www.lowes.com/pd_208964-90-704H_0__?productId=3434544&Ntt=zinsser&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Dzinsser&facetInfo=

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