Piano Progress

I think the majority of you agreed that since my little spinet piano isn’t some free castoff from Craigslist, but is actually a family piece with sentimental value, I should take my time stripping and refinishing it rather than slapping a couple of coats of paint on it just so I can cross it off of my to-do list. (Although the suggestion to paint it black was actually a very close second.)

So I spent yesterday in my studio (which I can currently use as a workshop since it’s so unfinished) stripping and sanding all of the removable pieces.

refinishing an old spinet piano - 1

I started by using a chemical stripper, scraping off the thick finish, and wiping it down with the After Wash. (More on that process here.) Then I used my sander with 150-grit sanding discs to remove the rest of the finish. As I finished stripping and sanding each piece, I wiped it down with mineral spirits to clean off the dust. The pieces you see above are at various stages of drying after being wiped down with mineral spirits.

The reason I started with a chemical stripper rather than just sanding is because on pieces this old, the top layer of lacquer is generally so thick that it takes a while to get through it with a sander, and it’s hard to sand it off evenly. So while one area under the sanding disc may still be trying to cut through the thick lacquer, another area may be through the lacquer and working on eating right through the veneer layer. I find that I’m less likely to accidentally sand through the veneer layer if I take the time to use a chemical stripper first to get through that thick layer of lacquer.

So here are the pieces that I stripped and sanded. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice they all looked. It’s not assembled yet since I still have to do something with the case, so these pieces are just sitting in place still disassembled.

refinishing an old spinet piano - 2

The only off-color wood is on the edge of the lid, and then on the two little brackets just under the lid. Everything else is covered in the same veneer. But wow, is it orange!

Here’s a better look at the edge of the lid and one of the little brackets…

refinishing an old spinet piano - 3

But the veneer itself is very pretty. I love the subtle grain in it. I have no idea what kind of wood this is, so let me know if you recognize it.

refinishing an old spinet piano - 4

So all of the removable pieces are stripped, and now I’ll move on to the case.

refinishing an old spinet piano - 5

I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to strip the case. It would have to be done in place, sitting right there in the music room, and even if I cover the entire floor with drop cloths, I’m so afraid that I’ll accidentally track some stripper onto the hardwood floors. Plus sanding inside is such a mess.

refinishing an old spinet piano - 6

Last night after I finished stripping the removable pieces, I texted a picture to my mom and told her I just wasn’t sure about stripping the case. She’s actually perfectly fine with me painting the case. But I can’t decide if I’m fine with it.

Every time I look for examples of that online (i.e., stained removable pieces, painted case), I stop dead in my tracks when I see this gorgeous Kimball console piano.

Kimball piano - two-tone gray and dark brown stainvia Piano Revival Project

I love the two-tone look, and I think that piano is so classy and beautiful. My mom loves it, too.

But does it remind you of anything?

100 year old upright piano with refinished walnut veneer and gray painted frame - after

I’m pretty sure that same Kimball piano served as the inspiration for my first refinishing attempt on the big upright piano. Obviously there are some pretty significant differences. First of all, those two pianos are totally different styles. I think that beautiful Kimball console is a little closer in style to my current spinet than it is to my first huge upright piano. Second, the stain color I used isn’t as dark and rich as the color used on the Kimball. And third, the gray on the Kimball is totally different (it’s actually stain and not paint) and looks like it has some sort of dark wax over top to bring out the details in the turned legs.

I love everything about that Kimball, but my big upright just missed the mark for me. Plus, I tried to make it go in a house with a green kitchen and lots of bright, bold (warm) colors. That didn’t work either. But I think something closer to the Kimball would work beautifully with my blues and teals.

I’ll have to really give some thought to the type and color of stain I want to use. When I originally planned to refinish the piano, I thought perhaps I could just strip it and then polyurethane the whole piano for a more natural color. But if I use a water-based poly, it’ll be that light orange color, which is just not pretty to me. And if I use an oil-based poly, it’ll turn really red, and I don’t want that either…

refinishing an old spinet piano - 7

To test that out, I just wiped some mineral spirits over the top  of the veneer. That will generally give you an idea of what the wood will look like with oil-based polyurethane on it. It takes about an hour to thoroughly dry and go back to the natural color.

So I think I’m going to try out the gray + stain look again, but this time I’m going to keep a picture of that Kimball right next to me the whole time so I don’t lose focus and choose some off-color stain or another ugly gray. And of course, if I end up not liking the case painted gray, I can just strip it and stain it to match the rest. At least half of the piano will already be stripped and stained.

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  1. Just my opinion here, but I think you should leave the case as the dark wood, unstripped, just cleaned up a bit and then apply a clear cover to the pieces that are stripped. I think of a piano as an heirloom piece, not a make over piece. It may be orangeish, or not the specific color you want, but I don’t think everything has to be so matchy matchy. Have a piece that is just it’s own 🙂

    1. I’m so with Nikki on this. I kept going back to that image and it’s just fabulous. Leave the case alone and don’t go so light. IMHO.

  2. I know you aren’t asking for suggestions this time, but it sure would look pretty with the sides painted black and the rest of it stained. Is there a reason your staying away from black with the piano?

  3. I agree that it looks like a natural cherry. I also agree that you probably don’t want an orange or red piano, so you will have to spend some time picking out the right stain. I literally have no experience with that, so it will be very interesting for me as a reader to see what you do. I do really like the inspiration photo, but won’t you have to strip the case in order to put that gray stain on it? Or would you just paint the case gray and not try to recreate the inspiration piano exactly? I do love the stain from the inspiration photo, but even that seems a touch red. This is tough!! I’m sure you’ll figure out something beautiful, though!

  4. I really like your plan. I’m betting the the original stain dulled the orange wood so would be bringing it back to what it once was and I love the idea of painting the case. It’s just a matter of finding the right gray.

  5. Looks like gorgeous mahogany. I suggest going to a dedicated woodworking shop to get advice about Gel stains in colors that will help to make it look more brown and less red/orange. And I encourage you to strip the case!!! The two tone painted look is not great in my opinion ! A beautiful finish on wood is so classy and will be a great look in your home that already has many different painted finishes. Yes it would be a labor of love and would require great care but so so worth it.

    1. I have to agree, I’m sorry 🙁 The two tone just doesn’t do it for me personally. I’m all on board for painting 100% of it, or staining 100% of it. The two tone piano just never stood out the first time around, and still doesn’t this time either 🙁

      1. I kind of get the sense too that you’re wanting to paint the casing for the fact its going to take extra work to strip it/move it. Almost as if it’s taking the easy way out? I’ve seen many mentioned about moving the piano. I understand it may be difficult to get it moved to your work shop, but I really feel as though you’re selling yourself short on this. I really feel as though it’ll be worth stripping the entire thing to get a real sense of what you’re working with. I don’t think you’d be disappointed in the long run if you put the extra effort. You’ve gone this far so far! 🙂

  6. Perhaps it’s Sapele (an African wood that mimics Mahogany). I’d suggest taking a piece to “For Woodworkers” in Waco, they should be able to assist you. Knowing the wood specie really helps when selecting a stain.

  7. Could you stain it black or grey??? Then you could paint the other parts black. I love your ‘funky’ spirit, but I think the piano, if painted should be black. Classic style for a classic piece.

  8. I just watched an episode of log homes. It was an $8 million mansion of all logs. The owners bought it and hated that all of the wood logs were orange. Workers sanded for months, then stripped and sanded again and the wood was still orange! The contractor stained all the wood with green stain and the logs ended up a beautiful brown!

  9. I have a older home full of mahogany and it has this grain pattern. It’s not red though, whatever stain they mixed gives it a slightly brown/gray tone. Glad you decided to strip and stain!

  10. The piano looks mahogany or cherry to me, probably mahogany. It’s really pretty. Why don’t you try staining it mahogany and see if it all matches. Just clean up the rest. Who cares if it appears restored, it’ll scream restored anyway if you paint part of it. Give it all a nice waxing afterwards and it’ll be done.

  11. That is luan mahogany. It pulls orange. Can best be tempered by a water based pwd stain such as Brown Mahogany (looks rich). You can get 1/8” luan mahogany plywood on which you can do different finish samples to help you decide what you want. It’s worth the trouble since this is such a special piece.

    1. It has taken quite a few comments to finally land on what this wood type is, but Jana got there. it is Luan Mahogany! It is a common wood, probably from Honduras, none the less a very beautiful grain. I have been refinishing wood since 1962 and have seven home restorations under my belt (two on the national registry and a riad in Essaouira Morocco). One was an Eastlake Italianate that was full of Mahogany. Another later owner re-grained some of the woodwork an oak finish. Ho Hum. But, I moved on. I hope you will do this piece in an all stripped, stained luster. So glad that you are not chalk painting it. This trend is scaring the life out of my 77 year old soul. So many pieces going to be trash after this fad goes away!

  12. why can’t you roll or slide the piano into your new workroom? you can get the slicers at lowes and they will not mark your floor. I like the grey painted case but you should at least strip the whole piano to get a better idea of the direction to take

  13. I think the wood looks like Cherry. It has a natural orange/red tone so it might be hard to find a stain that will cover that. If anyone can do it, you can. As for the part that isn’t stripped or sanded, I kind of like the color now. Could you clean it up a bit and poly it for protection and be happy with it? Good luck.

  14. Kristi, please finish stripping it (know it’s hard work) and refinish in a classic manner. Pls no two tone. The wallpaper has a lot going and the stain finish will be beautiful against it. Brown Wood stain goes with everything.

  15. I have two dressers that I inherited from my grandparents and they both look like that after they have been stripped and sanded, my dad says it a mahogany. It’s gorgeous, but boy is it orange. My first dresser I stained with a gray and the second on is still unfinished in my office waiting to inspire me. I really want to keep it “dusty” look of the wood but I know the second I take a poly to it the orange will come right out. So it’s waiting until I find the inspiration.

  16. I agree with many of the other commenters. Please take the time to strip the entire piano. Also not a fan of the two toned look in this case especially with all the other “movement” you have going on in the music room. Plus it makes it more of an art piece than an heirloom piece.

    Regarding stains I would suggest getting a variety of pints in different colors of General Finishes Gel Stain. I think you would be able to get the two different woods to be a pretty close match using them.

    I can just picture your piano beautifully stained as the centerpiece of your music room.

  17. I agree you should strip the whole thing. Not a big fan of the two toned either, although the inspiration piece looks good in that light. Painting just won’t give the same effect, even with waxing. I know you will find a way to counter the orange tone! May require mixing two or three colors to get a rich color.

  18. I am definitely in the camp of the “strip the rest of piano and stain it one color stain” group.

    Regarding the two parts which are different, lighter wood, you can see how they look when stained with the same stain as the main body of the piano. They will be a different color, but may look quite good as accents for the main veneer wood.

    if you don’t like that look, try faux painting just those edge pieces to make them match or come close to the look of the main wood on the piano. Then finish it all with your poly coats.

    While the two tone piano is cute, I personally do not think it will be a look that lasts through time. Since this is not just a piano, but a cherished family heritage treasure, you are planning to keep it forever. I think you will find that the classic stained finish will never go out of fashion or get tired looking.

  19. I agree with others who have said to go the extra mile to move it and finish stripping the rest of it! Although I do NOT envy you the task!

    Between the unfinished studio and the adjacent sun-room, it seems like it’s really just a question of needing help. Could you get family or even just pay someone to come over and move it for you?

    Personally not a fan of the two-tone look. I think it kind of works with the larger piano that you did before but for the smaller one, it just feels off to me. But it’s not my piano nor my home!


  20. Have you ever tried Howards Restore N Finish, Feed & __?____? I have had fabulous results. Absolutely astounded at how it lifts oxidation, dirt, orangeness, deals with knicks, etc. AND it is super simple to use. I just did the inside of a barrister bookcase with it. Also did parent’s entire 1950 clear oak modern bedroom set (a set my siblings discarded as ugly but now all want). Did a 1960 modern dining hutch, also turned out fabulous.

    It might be suitable for those sides. The company is super helpful about giving you tips for results, looking at pics to guide you.

  21. No grey, too busy two-tone. Really think you should strip it all and stain the whole piano one color. It is an heirloom piece and will look much nicer made to look as it was when first purchased. If you don’t want to strip the sides by yourself, invite your Mom over and work on the project together. She will love that. 😀

  22. My first thought was why CANT you take the piano into the workshop. You’re all one level now. Buy or make a flat dolly and roll it out. I thinkpainting the sides black and staining the rest would look beautiful. I won’t “read” as a black piano because of wood tone. I personally think going light on the sides would be a mistake. You want it tone the focal point of the room.

  23. I was very intrigued by this post and with the wood grain on this piece. I inherited a long, low credenza that has the same grain. I was told it was custom made and was used to hold LP records.

    I was thinking of getting rid of it, but now you have inspired me to look at it in a different way. Thank you!

  24. Is there a professional woodworker nearby who could come, pick up the piece, finish stripping it offsite, and then refinish it in the exact shade you want? It would be worth the money, IMHO.

  25. I would never have done anything to it, you always amaze me with your energy. I think it’s cherry wood. Why not keep the sides dark and stain the other parts a reddish cherry color? Just a thought.

  26. Hi! 🙂

    I absolutely love the look of the 3 wood tones and the raw wood that you revealed by stripping the parts you already have!😍

    If it were mine, I would keep the sides of the case stained as it is and just clean & condition it with a little lemon oil. I love to see the gently worn places on an heirloom piece… to me it evokes a sense of the history of the piece and is a reminder of all the hands that have used it, or in this case, played it through the years.

    Then I would just wax the raw wood parts to protect it… if you’re not crazy about the orangeyness, you could add a little brown paint to your wax to buff on those pieces to help tone down the orange. But I definitely think the different tones of wood make it very interesting to look at, and their placement makes it look intentional… it’s perfectly imperfect!!☺️

  27. Could you touch up the sides with stain on edges where scuffed and stain the rest the same dark stain? The most visible parts are stripped. After all, that was the original stain color – a dark mahogany the style of the era.

  28. So glad you stripped the piano and I so hope you strip the rest! The two tone pianos just don’t do it for me. Pianos are so classic/classy and I want the look of them to reflect that class.

    I would also be concerned about my floors. I would use some thin plywood under the piano with drop cloths on top. I would also drape plastic in the doorways when sanding to contain the mess.

    Finers crossed you go this direction 🤞🤞🤞

  29. My one thought is that if you really like the look and feel of the finish on the inspirational Kimball photo, then I’m afraid a paint finish (partial or full) will always miss the mark for you. The effect of the grey stain is different than the paint; the sheerness with the grain showing through makes it feel… lighter maybe? More dimensional? The flat paint makes for a heavier, less interesting finish. With the two photos next to each other I can really see the difference.
    It’s not a case of two-tone good or bad (who cares what my opinion is when I’m not painting your piano!), but the two-tone you seem to be responding to most positively may still require you to strip the existing case.

  30. 1: Looks like dead on mahogany grain to me.
    2. I honestly think fully stripped and stained looks best. A nice, rich, elegant color.

  31. Pretty positive that’s mahogany. I have an old mahogany piece that I’d like to stain a warm chocolate brown and having a hard time getting the orange out. Most of what I’ve read suggesting dying it green or yellow and then staining with a walnut stain, but I’m afraid if I mess that up it won’t be so easy to undo! I might go with a walnut gel stain. Good luck with your piano!