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Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
#3052363 12/03/20 08:58 AM
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I have a couple of pianos that I would like to clean up the finish on. They are both old ebony cases that have hazed with time. What methods are you happy with for bringing back a clean and lustrous finish to these? I am also considering getting hip with lacquer-sticks to touch up finish dings. How many of you are handy with them? Any information you'd care to offer?

Best,
Josh

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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052426 12/03/20 12:12 PM
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You can use the fill sticks to deal with the dings and larger issues. Then, I french polish with a thin layer of shellac. You save the original finish, the shellac can be easily removed at a later date without effecting the original finish, and the piano will look gorgeous, without any of the dangerous chemicals and having to deal with the spray equipment and room.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052435 12/03/20 12:38 PM
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Is there any shot you have a picture of what this looks like? Thank you either way!

Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052472 12/03/20 02:17 PM
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Not right now, but I can do a before and after sometime soon. I have to touch up a piano. It may be awhile though.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052480 12/03/20 03:05 PM
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100 years ago was the transition from alcohol-based varnishes to nitrocellulose lacquers. Also, European manufacturers tended to use thin French polish finishes while American manufacturers used thick finishes that were leveled and then polished. These differences will affect which methods you should use.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052596 12/03/20 07:41 PM
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While I agree that french polishing is an excellent touch up tool, it is not a skill you can pick up overnight. There is actually quite a bit to it. I would suggest that you start watching some french polishing videos on YouTube to familiarize yourself with the process. Then start practicing on stuff that doesn't matter. You are embarking on learning a skill that few people use any more, and if you master it will set you apart from all the rest. But don't fool yourself...its not as easy as it looks. The English Polisher on YouTube has many excellent videos on this, both for repairs and finishing.

I like using the wax fill sticks for dings and such. Much easier to apply than "shellac" sticks....longer shelf life too. (Shellac sticks don't last forever). There is much to this, but worth learning.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052670 12/03/20 10:42 PM
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If you are dealing with a lacquer finish that has not been kept clean; you will find the acidic slime from hands touching over time softens the finish, and there is no real repair possible short of removing the original finish and applying a new one.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052680 12/03/20 11:00 PM
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Yes, it is important to determine the type of finish you are dealing with, and it's true condition. Finishing, refinishing, and touch up are all fraught with "danger". It takes lots of experience to become successful at it.

If someone here on this list has that experience and wants to share it, that would be great.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052692 12/03/20 11:56 PM
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Its pretty easy to figure out if you are dealing with lacquer or an alcohol based finish. Just test it. But either way, french polishing over lacquer or shellac is an extremely easy process. The base finish is already there, so you are just adding a fine top coat to shine it up again. Basically you are polishing it by adding some material, instead of taking some away. Normally a lacquer finish is dead at that point. However using shellac, by using a french polishing technique, you can bring the finish right back to life. French polishing is something that anyone can learn, and it is a very forgiving process. If you somehow manage to mess something up, alcohol will take it right back off. Best part is there is no dangerous chemicals.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052755 12/04/20 07:27 AM
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If you do decide to go the French polish route be sure to use super blond shellac. Any of the colored shellacs can give the ebony finish a green cast.


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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052759 12/04/20 07:39 AM
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I use 190 proof vodka (a.k.a. Everclear) for mixing shellac. It can also be tinted as needed with inert dyes and tints available from industrial suppliers like Mohawk and numerous others.

What does anyone do to clean the existing finish before application? To get the grime and other junk off/out of it? We don't want to mix the crud in with the new top coat. I have used various strengths of ammonia and water, sometimes Murphy's oil soap, currently experimenting with car detailing stuff.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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New Hampshire Seacoast
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Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
P W Grey #3052776 12/04/20 08:50 AM
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Originally Posted by P W Grey
Yes, it is important to determine the type of finish you are dealing with, and it's true condition. Finishing, refinishing, and touch up are all fraught with "danger". It takes lots of experience to become successful at it.

If someone here on this list has that experience and wants to share it, that would be great.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

I agree very much with Peter here.

I used to work in a shop where we did a lot of refinishing. I was the tech and we had a dedicated refinisher, but I was involved with or observed many of the different processes.

One product we did use was "Wax Wash Remover" by Mohawk.

https://www.mohawk-finishing.com/products/wood-touch-up-repair/aerosols/wax-wash-remover/

There was another in liquid form that worked very well also, but I can't remember the name of it. Some kind of very light mineral spirit. Soap and water work very well also.

If you are going to apply new finish on an old finish, you absolutely need to know what the actual finish is and have it prepared and cleaned very carefully.

Some finishes are "hot" and will melt old finishes that are "cold" creating a mess and having to strip the entire piece. Lacquer is a "hot" finish that is solvent based. Poly is a"cold" finish. So you can't put lacquer on poly, but you can put poly on lacquer. (This is from memory so don't take my word for it but please do your research and like others said watch many videos).

All the best.


Jean Poulin

Musician, Tuner and Technician

www.actionpiano.ca
Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3052952 12/04/20 05:21 PM
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I have used Mohawk wax wash. Also plain mineral spirits. I recall one particularly grubby Steinway with lacquer finish...the only thing that would remove the crud was straight ammonia. Then I French polished it and it came out beautiful. It was natural wood, not ebonized. I have tinted shellac black to patch in re-veneered cheeks on an ebony finish.

You can do many things with shellac once you learn the ropes.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
pianodoctor57@gmail.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK0T7_I_nV8
Re: Cleaning up 100 year old ebony finishes
jkess114 #3053095 12/05/20 12:18 AM
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I've never had an issue with color in the shellac or a naturally colored shellac turning the piano green. I don't know what is going on there, but I usually buy reddish button shellac, mix, and dewax it myself. I add my own black, which is more on blue side. Together it makes a very beautiful deep black.

Shellac is amazing to work with. It is safe, you don't have to worry about the dangerous chemicals, it sticks to all the finishes out there, and it has a beautiful look AND feel. You can do it anywhere. It is a great finish. I wish more people would remember why we've used it in the past on so many kinds of musical instruments.


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