Damage to Finish
A friend recently asked me to look at an old piano that was damaged by a fire on the surface. The damage is to the top surface making up about 1/4 of the top, and is confined to one removable section of the top. I’m not sure what the finish is, but the finish appeared to melt a bit and run in fingers down the front. A piece of veneer has popped loose, but the veneer around the whole is secure. I read in my copy of FW No. 149 about repairing damaged finish, but I would like to get some specific advice as to repair options before helping tackle the problem.
I have a digital image that I have circulated to a couple of folks at FW but they suggested posting the problem here. I can email the image if needed (about 400 KB)
Send me that photo. If the finish was on a high end piano, it is probably a varnish or laquer.
Let take a look at the photo.
Before your friend wastes time and energy restoring the piano get an opinion from a piano tuner about the overall condition of the instrument. If the fire caused internal damage or if the the instrument needs major work because of its age, it may not be worth the trouble to restore the finish. It is typically cheaper to buy a used piano in good shape than to restore an instrument that needs major work especially in this case when the exterior is also damaged.
Pianos have several hundred felt and leather parts that eventually break down from age. Also, the tuning pins and strings can rust badly, making tuning difficult or impossible. Exposure to heat, smoke, and presumably moisture from fighting the fire may have caused significant damage to the piano's action that isn't obvious.
If the piano is covered by fire insurance, it certainly should be checked by a professional tuner first, since there could be more money owed to repair or replace the instrument.
Thanks JohnW, The damage appears to be only surface and they had their piano tuner take a look and the instrument workings seem fine. It is a family hand-me-down so they would like to keep this piano.
From the picture, it looks like you're burned into the veneer. This is a major problem. I would take a hand scraper (card scraper) and try scraping it off to see if you can get through the burned part without going through the veneer.
To try to figure out what the finish is, start with alcohol. If the alcohol will take off finish, you have a shellac finish. It that doesn't work, try paint/varnish thinner next. If that doesn't work try lacquer thinner. Don't do the lacquer thinner first, but last. One of these will dissolve the finish and tell you what you have.
If you can't get through the burned area without going through the veneer, you'll have to re-veneer and refinish. From the picture, it doesn't look too promising.
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