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Removing Ivory
#2955808 03/09/20 03:58 PM
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What is the most suitable way of attempting to remove ivory key coverings without damaging them?

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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2955818 03/09/20 04:17 PM
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Heat. Preferably damp heat. A clothes iron on a damp piece of cloth to loosen it, and then pry off against the grain of the wood. But there are no guaranties that there will not be damage.


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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2955973 03/10/20 05:19 AM
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Thank you BDB.

I am thinking of offering to replace the ivory key coverings on a nasty little Challen baby grand in the school where I am teaching at the moment. They are variously chipped, missing, or replaced with non-matching plastic. If careful, I could save some useful ivories for later use, and the school would get a much better-looking keyboard.

But I don't know if I can be bothered doing all the key thickness reduction to take the new plastic key covers!

Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956038 03/10/20 10:28 AM
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You do not need to reduce the thickness if you relevel the keyboard. However, if the tops of the keysticks are not reasonably flat, you will have trouble gluing the new tops on.

As with all restoration, you need to balance the cost of the job with the cost of replacement. There is usually no sentiment attached to institutional pianos, so I will often find replacements for them that people want to give away, instead of doing uneconomical work.


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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956058 03/10/20 11:36 AM
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With regard to re-levelling, would you increase the height of the sharps at the balance rail (and corresponding increase at front rail to keep dip correct), or decrease the balance rail height for the naturals (with corresponding front rail adjustment)?

It's just an idea I am playing about with. I would do the work at no cost to the school, and get to keep the ivories. It's a horrid little piano with a D-Type Spring & Loop action. Those actions were fitted to a lot of the smallest grands, in the UK industry. It was gifted to the school a few years back, and is a bit of a white elephant. It has local connections.

I try to do a little free piano work in each school where I teach. Budgets are so tight these days; even if they get the pianos tuned, there is no spare cash for the extra things the pianos need.

Last edited by David Boyce; 03/10/20 11:37 AM.
Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956066 03/10/20 12:04 PM
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The important thing about key height is that the keys need to fit under whatever is above them.

I did a set of keytops for the high school near me last year. The had been replaced with celluloid some time in the past, so it was not difficult taking them off and leaving a smooth surface. The hardest part is always the fronts, which tend to stick unless the heat is exactly right. It is a Baldwin concert grand from the 1920s, so it was worth doing. There are several old pianos in the schools around here: A Steinway B at another high school, that got some restoration a few years ago, another Baldwin D of the same vintage at a middle school in poor shape, and a Kimball concert grand in the central storage area. But there are a lot of pianos that it just does not make sense to restore.


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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956160 03/10/20 06:12 PM
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As made in the factory, the keys are cut from one board, which means that the keys are _level_ at _their_ bottoms_. When the naturals are covered with a thicker key top and re-leveled to the accidentals, they become "thicker at the bottom." They must go down deeper to maintain the original key dip. Meanwhile the accidentals stay the same, so the front key punchings of the accidentals are higher than the front key punchings of the naturals. Thus you may discover that the natural keysticks block on the accidental punchings before the natural keys have reached bottom in front.
If you plan to regulate the piano for even dip and aftertouch, it is advisable to reduce the key thickness to accommodate the new key covers.


Ed Sutton, RPT
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Durham NC USA
Re: Removing Ivory
Ed Sutton #2956169 03/10/20 07:56 PM
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On the other hand, the balance rail pins are not in the same place for black and white keys, which keeps the white keys above the black key punchings.


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Re: Removing Ivory
BDB #2956183 03/10/20 08:57 PM
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Originally Posted by BDB
On the other hand, the balance rail pins are not in the same place for black and white keys, which keeps the white keys above the black key punchings.

Not always


Ed Sutton, RPT
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Durham NC USA
Re: Removing Ivory
Ed Sutton #2956186 03/10/20 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Ed Sutton
As made in the factory, the keys are cut from one board, which means that the keys are _level_ at _their_ bottoms_. When the naturals are covered with a thicker key top and re-leveled to the accidentals, they become "thicker at the bottom." They must go down deeper to maintain the original key dip. Meanwhile the accidentals stay the same, so the front key punchings of the accidentals are higher than the front key punchings of the naturals. Thus you may discover that the natural keysticks block on the accidental punchings before the natural keys have reached bottom in front.
If you plan to regulate the piano for even dip and aftertouch, it is advisable to reduce the key thickness to accommodate the new key covers.


This has been my experience as well.

You might get away with not reducing thickness but you will have to get creative with regulation.


Jean Poulin

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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956194 03/10/20 09:26 PM
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The chances of this making a significant difference to justify spending more time on a pro bono job are too small to worry about. Worst comes to worst and it is a problem, trim the front rail punchings on the black keys.


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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956210 03/10/20 11:48 PM
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Years ago I built a key planing jig from plans by Bill Spurlock that I got from Terry Farrell. It works with a router, and the planing job goes very quickly. If you think you’ll ever want to plane another set of keys, it’s worth setting up to do it well. An efficient planing process ends up being less hassle than messing around with creative key height setting.


Floyd G RPT
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Re: Removing Ivory
David Boyce #2956295 03/11/20 08:17 AM
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Thank you for your comments and suggestions folks.

When I have done this job before, I've been able to use a good circular saw in the college where I used to work, to 'plane' the keys, removing the crumbled old plastic tops at the same time. I'm too long out of the college now to go back in and ask for that favour, but I may be able to investigate what's available in the school's Technical department.

I really would much rather reduce the thickness of the keysticks than mess about with balance rail and front rail punchings.


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