Monday, February 27, 2017

How to Paint Your Piano!

I have been promising more tutorials for a long time, so here they come! Bear with me though, as I am not so great at tutorials so far. Hopefully I will get better with practice!

Also, I am really going to try to keep the blog updated more frequently, however, keep in mind I am a busy mom, and my business is busier than ever. I'm sure I'm bound to fall off the blog wagon now and again. I'm sorry!

So, let's get started. This is how I refinish a piano. I have seen a lot of other tutorials, and they all do things a little differently. To each their own. My personal motto is "You will never regret doing too much prep work! You will, however, regret not prepping enough!" So, to some, my method may be a little over kill. I don't care. I want my pieces to last, regardless of what paint I use.

So, here is the lovely before of this piano. It has been in the family (my client's family) for a long time, and has taken some abuse. Mainly in the form of water rings. Kids! Use coasters AT LEAST! Haha! I say that because my kids get in trouble for this all the time! Not to worry though, this piano will be beautiful in no time!
Close up of water ring damage. 
So, first thing I do is start taking it apart. I like to disassemble the entire front, so I can get every piece fully, and also be sure to really mask off and protect the inner workings of the piano. This is a little different with each piano, but I just start by opening up the top (usually on  a hinge), and taking off one piece at a time until it's all off. As I go, I take pictures of the screws next to their holes, so I won't have any trouble putting everything back in place.

It seems like it will be easy to remember, but trust me, it can get confusing if there are a lot of screws.  If you have a magnetic dish to put the screws in, that's great! Comes in handy. If not, grab a ziplock baggy. This piano was missing a screw or two, but I found them inside the piano. Wahoo! You may find some treasures you've been missing. Most definitely some pennies! Every piano I have done has pennies! haha!

Then I remove the two outermost keys, just so I can fully paint the wood blocks next to them. Sometimes I have removed all of the keys, but I find it's unnecessary, unless the piano needs a lot of work inside there, more than the usual dust collection. The bottom piece usually pops right out, and you are done. Here it is all disassembled. The top pice is still on, just opened. I should have taken a picture closer up of the two outer keys removed, but they are off, and just laying on top of the other keys for now. This is a good time to clean up a bit. I like to blow the dust out with my air compressor, but you can vacuum. Just be CAREFUL. There are light, important things, like little felt rings, and you don't want to suck one up accidentally. ( Ahem. I may have learned from experience on my own piano...)

These are the blocks I was talking about, when I explained why I remove the outer keys. You will see the insides when you press these keys down, so i want them fully painted.

Now it's time to start taping off the insides for protection. I use paper, or plastic, or whatever I have, but I prefer paper, it's easier to work with. Make sure to mask off the wheels, and the pedals, as well as all the open parts of the piano.  (Yes, I had already masked before taking the last photo. It was kind of an after thought.)

Then I lay out all the other pieces on saw horses, or whatever I can find. 

Okay, now we are ready for the real prep work. First, sand. Yes, you have to do it! I know there are those that say you don't, but wouldn't you rather do it, than regret not doing it? Yes! So I sand everything possible with my power sander, whichever kind you have is great, and then I go back and hand sand in the details, and anywhere my power sander can't reach. I don't sand to bare wood, just give everything a good scoff, and make sure any loose finish is gone. I don't have pictures of sanding, so you'll have to take my word for it. 

Then it's time for a thorough cleaning. You can use tsp, or mineral spirits, or really any grease cutting cleaner. I opted this time to scrub it down with steel wool and a liquid deglosser. This will help with any spots that may not have been sanded as well, like in the grooves. Make sure you wear gloves meant for chemicals, or you may get burned. 

Once my deglosser was dry, I went back and wiped everything down with a wet, lint free cloth, and made sure it was all perfectly clean. Now, this next step is just preventative, because I have yet to paint a piano that doesn't have bleed through. Usually, I prime, paint, and cover any bleed through spots with shellac, but I have found that when I am painting a white tone, sometimes the shellac shows through as yellow when I distress, and I want to avoid that. S,o I am giving the whole thing a coat of shellac FIRST this time! Maybe I can save myself the bleed through. I use Kilz Primer, and it is supposed to be a stain blocking primer, but on pianos, I always have some sneak through anyway. Another reason to use shellac, is that there may be some texture variation, since there are places with bare wood (i.e. the water spots), and places with the old finish still. This will give everything an even texture before you start. It dries quickly, so you'll be able to get back to work fast.

I am using chalk paint, and I have prepped really well, so I can use primer, or not.  Chalk paint adheres really well, so I would feel fine skipping primer. However,  I am going light, and if I prime first, it will save me paint. So, time to prime! I'm going to be using my HVLP sprayer, but you can roll, or brush, or whatever you choose. Sanding between coats will help keep your finish smooth.

This is right after I sprayed the first coat of primer. It's still wet. It's important to point out that you'll need to push the pedals down while you paint the part just above them. Some pedals are taller than others, but you wan to make sure that you haven't missed any spots the pedals may be blocking. I managed to do a good job of painting my hand and my fitbit. You may want to wear gloves. ;)

Okay, after two coats of Primer, I let it sit over night and then I started painting. Unfortunately, I still had some bleed through to deal with, so I sprayed more shellac on the bleed through spots, and just continued to layer shellac and paint until I had it covered. I did two coats of paint all over, and then even more on the bleed spots. 

Once it was all painted, it was Saturday, so I let it sit until Monday, and prayed no more bleed through would come through! On Monday morning, I got right to work distressing. I like to distress all the edges and details, and really make them pop. then I just give the whole piece a nice sand with a really high grit, to make sure it's all silky smooth. Then dust. I blow all the dust off with with my air sprayer. It's fast and easy. Here are a few shots. Now It's ready to seal!

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For Sealing, Always use water based sealer for projects like this. The paints are water based, so it makes sense, but the biggest reason is that oil based will yellow. You do not want your white/cream piece to yellow, and even darker colors will change as the poly ambers.  If you like wax, you can use it. I personally don't. For this  project I used Varathane Spar Urethane. It's an outdoor water based poly.  I like outdoor because it's uv protected, and water resistant, which makes it a little more durable.

I went ahead and did 3 coats of poly, letting each coat dry a minimum of 2 hours. After that, I was done, and I let it cure over night before reassembling, and taking these beautiful photographs! (I say that with sarcasm, because these photos do not even come close to doing justice. I the lighting is bad, there are shadows, and I am clearly not a photographer! This piano really is stunning though! I swear!)

 Enjoy! Isn't it lovely? The bench is a whole different story, and I'll be saving it for another post. 


  1. Your work is beautiful!!! I love the look of this piano! It is the same style as the one that I have and one of these days, I would love to refinish it!!! It had years of "love" from many grandchildren before it ended up in my home and, while it has too many memories to ever replace, I would love to make it into something beautiful again. Love the tutorial!

  2. Thank you so much for your comment! I love well loved furniture with lots of memories. I would never replace it either!