Facelift for an Old Church Piano




Introduction: Facelift for an Old Church Piano

Probably one of the most abused pieces of equipment in any church are the pianos that are mounted on rolling platforms and moved from room to room.  Every time they are moved through a door they tend to get banged up, beat up, and scratched up.  Over the years (and decades) the scars really begin to show.  Once a piano begins to show these scars, people don't seem to worry about banging it up even more.  After all, it is just an old beat-up piano.

The piano in this Instructable was being used in my wife's Sunday School room, and one day I decided to try to make it a little more presentable.  Please note that this piano wasn't a priceless antique -- it was just a cheap old beat-up piano.  Although it functioned just fine, as you can see from the photos, it looked like it had suffered through a lot in its life.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Materials and Tools Used

Because this piano was going to require a lot of wood filler, I decided against using a stain and varnish.  I was afraid I would never get the wood filler to match the grain (and stain), so I decided the end result would look better if I painted this piano black.   Again, this piano was not some priceless antique.

The materials and tools used were as follows:

- screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers (to remove the top, front, and bottom panel)
- orbital sander
- paintbrush
- large vinyl tarp (to protect the floor)
- shop vacuum cleaner

- wood filler -- LOTS of wood filler!
- sandpaper (150 grit, 220 grit, 400 grit)
- oil based satin black paint
- masking tape
- old newspapers

I also had supervision......lot's of supervision as you can see in the photo!

Step 2: Protect the Part That Makes the Music!

First, remove all panels that are removable.  For this piano that included the top and front (as one unit) and the lower front panel.  I thought about removing the keyboard cover, but decided to leave it in place.  Each piano is different, but it is not difficult to figure out how these panels come off.

Once the panels are removed, use masking tape and newspapers to cover all the open space from the removed panels and the keyboard.  Be fastidious in sealing these areas, because you don't want dust from sanding (or paint) to get into the part of the piano that makes the music!

Step 3: Filling in the Missing Pieces

Before I began sanding, I got my large can of fresh wood filler and begin filling in all the missing chunks of wood.  Where I needed a build-up of more than 1/8th inch, I built the filler up in layers, allowing each layer to harden (and shrink) before adding more.  In some places I had to build up layers that were around 3/8ths inch thick.

Once all the chips, dings, and missing chunks were filled, I was ready to begin sanding.

Step 4: Sanding, Sanding, and More Sanding....

When you paint over an existing finish, the purpose of sanding is two-fold: (1) you obviously want to make the surface smooth, and (2) you need to break the glaze of the old finish so the new finish will adhere to it.

For large flat surfaces, I broke out my trusty orbital sander, and fortunately, a piano has a lot of large flat surfaces!

For smaller flat surfaces, and where I had to use wood filler, I block sanded these areas by hand.  I began with 150 grit paper, then moved to 220 grit, then 400 grit.

After sanding, I carefully vacuumed the dust from behind where the lower panel mounted, and from all exposed surfaces, including the tarp I had placed on the floor.

Step 5: Painting

Because I had to do all the work on this piano inside a classroom, spraying the finish was not an option.  The finish would have to be brushed on.

Before painting, I carefully wiped down all surfaces with mineral spirits to remove all the dust and to remove any oils deposited from my hands.

Then I got out a set of the best brushes I had and began applying the first coat.  I let this coat dry for 24 hours and then lightly sanded it with 400 grit paper, wiped it down once again, and applied a 2nd coat.

Step 6: Completed!

Twenty-four hours after applying the final coat, I removed all the masking tape and newspapers, reassembled the piano, and reattached the hardware.

This piano should be good for another decade or two, and hopefully when it once again gets beat up, someone else will come along and refinish it!

This was a simple project, although it did take many hours to complete.  All-in-all I worked on it off and on for about four days, including the time required to allow the paint to dry.

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Rope & String Speed Challenge

      Rope & String Speed Challenge
    • Wearables Contest

      Wearables Contest

    8 Discussions


    4 years ago

    When I was first learning how to play piano I practiced all the time. Then eventually I got good and was able to play songs for my church! I can definitely appreciate an aged piano ... those were the best. Thanks for showing how to give a face lift to an old beauty.


    This turned out so awesome! Can you guys get it tuned, or is it beyond help in that regard?

    I recently started renovating a house and now I'm looking around at my mom's house and at the piano that she has and loves that she bought 20+ years ago, which is now scratched to heck from kitten feet, and I keep finding myself thinking: I could totally refinish that.

    Her piano is significantly different from this one, still an upright, but it has a lot of carved shapes, and the legs are rounded and carved on a lathe. I wonder how terribly difficult it would be to get the sandpaper in there. Like yours, there are many flat areas that can easily be done with a power sander, but there are also several verrrryyyy small little crevices. Any ideas for sanding tight spaces?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    If you can get it outside, I'd first start with a chemical stripper. Sanding round spindly shaped things is never easy, but I've had luck with using strips of sandpaper (reinforced on the back with duct tape) and sanding sponges. I recently refinished an old spindly high chair (every part had been made on a lathe), and found sanding sponges to be a lifesaver. Good luck with your project!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice. Was that a more satiny or flat finish for the paint or stain? A nice gloss might hold up better.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It was a semi-gloss finish -- should be more durable than a flat finish, but probably not as good as a gloss. Was afraid the gloss might look too glossy. Thanks for your comment.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    One possibility would be to add some clear coating that would make it shinier. That would make it look really nice.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    and I bet it sounded a lot better after it was painted.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice Job!

    My Wife did something like this to a piano a church sold -- in much the same condition.

    She went to Lowe's to buy paint and made the mistake of telling the guy what the paint was for. He was so disturbed that she would paint a piano he refused to mix it up for her. She finally got someone to help and the piano came out great.

    Can't hold a tune, but looks great. Maybe there was a good reason the church sold it . . .