I always said I’d be in Greensboro for five years then move on…I never actually believed it, but it’s true.
Five years ago I was lucky enough to be hired by John Foy as the action rebuilder in his shop, John Foy Piano Restorations, Inc., a job that I was ecstatic to have landed. From John Foy I learned a great deal about piano actions, their regulation, voicing methods, and the endless importance of a good and stable tuning. I am truly grateful for the opportunity I was given to become the technician I have become.
From day one at NBSS I knew I wanted to work on pianos and that I wanted to do it in a rebuilding shop, and after only two years of training I had an opportunity to do it – so what if it meant moving to Greensboro, a town I’d never even heard of. This also gave me the opportunity to work with John Johanson, the “belly man” at the shop and a true artist in whatever he does. We’ve helped each other grow in our skills and our approach to piano work, and have had a great time coming up with jigs, fixtures, methods, and ideas that have allowed us to really fine tune our rebuilds, dialing in what we saw to be the truly important aspects of the pianos that we have had the opportunity to call ‘ours’. We have had a very good time taking piano work very seriously and are both proud of all of the work that has passed through the shop and across our benches.
At the same time I have met some amazing people here in Greensboro who have helped me both professionally and personally improve myself and I hope I’ve helped some of them too. Many I will be sad to leave, though many I plan to keep in touch with. I am excited to be heading back to the west coast where my family lives. I plan to spend more time on the bike, exploring trails and roads of the North West, working on pianos in some capacity under the name Brevet Piano Services, and working to perfect that wheelie so when my nephew gets a few years older I can teach him to ride and blow his mind.
In Mid-July I had the opportunity to attend the Piano Technicians Guild National conference in Bellevue, Washington. It was a good time, and I always enjoy attending piano conferences for what they have to offer: getting together with technician friends, taking classes, talking shop, and learning – a lot! This conference had much to offer in adding to my knowledge in the field and to brushing up on my skills.
One class I really enjoyed, and got a lot out of, was Douglas Gregg’s class on French Polishing. The class (and hands on demonstration) focused on the history, the mechanics and techniques of applying French Polish. Another fine class “The Art & Science of Strings and Scales” taught by Del Fandrich. It was a comparative study of different arrangements of music wire and bridge systems in the piano. It was worth it alone just to see his string test demonstration model… Edward McMorrow taught a class on “Hybrid Wire Scales,” which focused on the advantages of using different music wire makes in certain areas of the scale. And I enjoyed learning more about writing Chapter Newsletters from Mark Gallant, and Ed Howard’s hands-on class on stringing.
I also got to spend some quality time with my extended family in the Seattle area. One of the highlights of this part of the trip was spending a day at my Aunt’s home on Dabob Bay, across from Olympic National Park. Dabob is known for its oysters, and at low tide that’s just about all you can see on the beach – oysters!
Last week we had the pleasure of working with Jiaao Yu. He is currently a student at the North Bennet Street School in piano technology, and is in between his first and second years of the program. He was in Greensboro as the assistant tuner/intern for the Eastern Music Festival (EMF) held on the Guildford College campus every summer. Jiaao spent the last week of this program working with us in our shop.
While he was here we assigned him several tasks in the rebuilding of a Steinway action: teardown, cleaning, and reclothing of the keyframe; teardown of the keyboard, including pulling backchecks, and replacing bushings; measuring the action’s original action geometry, metrology, and ratios; evaluating a piano and suggesting a course of future work; some tuning; minor shop tasks. As part of our week we set aside time each day to teach Jiaao a class that we have taught either at local chapter meetings, or regional PTG conferences. These classes included: Shop Tools & Their Uses, The Glue Class, Grand Action Regulation – What Effects What, Measuring & Marking Tools, Demonstration Models – Downbearing & Soundboard Anatomy.
Jiaao is focused, thorough in his work, and has a healthy appetite for the completion of tasks and the gaining of knowledge and experience. His career path is not yet nailed down, but we think that wherever he ends up he will be an asset to fellow technicians and customers alike.
Here’s my action regulation kit…it’s great for shop use. For a shop toolkit there is no need to use lightweight or small handles that fit nicely into little kits and bags, but not so nicely into the palm of my hand. It’s based around the WNG regulation kit. I think they did a great job thinking through the details of all the tools and their intended uses. The handles are all nicely weighted, fit into most hands very comfortably, and help keep the rest of your body in comfortable positions that you can stay in long enough to complete a step without feeling like you’ve been doing pull ups all day.
The rest of the tools come from a variety of places: Hardware stores (the ruler), supply houses (the spring tool, letoff and capstan turner, and tweezers), and even a nice PTG conference giveaway (the dip block).
Aside from a few supplies and maybe my digital caliper, this is all I need to bring an action into regulation.
One of the most appreciated and frequently used tools in the shop is our hot melt glue applicator. This tool is indispensable for making jigs and assembling everything from shop furniture to specialized tools and cauls we make custom for one of a kind jobs. Just about the only thing we DON’T use this on is pianos themselves.
Not your run of the mill craft-store variety, this applicator (coloquially referred to as a “gun”) is designed for industrial use. In the old days we would burn through 2-3 “guns” per year, but we’ve had this one now for about 2 years and it’s still going strong.
Notice the yellow color of the glue stick. This glue is different from the craft-store variety in that it is higher quality and designed for woodworking uses. It has a higher solids content which give its bonds more strength. This is similar to the relationship quality woodworker’s (yellow) glue has to a craft-style (white) glue used in kindergarten classes. It’s also a dream to work with; it doesn’t drip nearly as much, and it doesn’t create the “spiderweb” strings that the white/clear stuff does.
These are my two favorite chisels in the shop:
The far one is a Crown “crank-shaft” I picked up at Woodcraft a couple years ago. Sometimes this style of chisel is called a “dog-leg,” and that’s just what I call it around here: The Dog-Leg. Since new, this chisel has been the old standby for notching bridges. The really nice thing about this chisel is that the plane of the handle is raised up about 3/4″ and at a slight angle from the blade. In everyday use this is great for carving, cleaning glue lines and paring wood because it keeps a low angle of attack by keeping the handle (and my knuckles) higher up above the work surface. This makes it useful on notching, especially near the bass bridge where the notches are pretty long. The dog-leg also allows the handle clearance to pass over the bass bridge on the smaller pianos.
The smaller chisel in the above photo is a Phiel “butt” Chisel. It stays sharp for a long time and the small handle really fits into the palm of the hand. The handle just seems to have a good heft and and feel, while its smaller size almost adds a bit more finesse in the control of the cut. I’ve got one of these in 1/4″ inch size too, but I prefer the 3/4″ blade chisel.
- One of the Wonderful Cauls we Use
This is a picture of one of the cauls we use in the soundboard-to-rib glue up. The cauls are each made of ash wood with 1 1/2″ fire hose providing the clamping pressure. In short, the caul consists of two main parts; the bracket and the bed. The bracket is the upper part of the caul consisting of the the upper ash block, the fire-hose (and its attached hardware), and side paddles – too keep the hose in place under pressure. The bed of the caul is made up of the lower ash block, feet for the caul, and two pairs of 1″ angle iron – to keep the caul together. In the photograph you will notice that the bed of the caul has a concave profile cut along the top of its length. This cut helps to introduce crown in the new soundboard.
In use, a series of cauls is arranged to glue ribs to a soundboard panel. A smaller piano might need only ten cauls, while a larger piano, like a Baldwin concert grand would need as many as seventeen.
The way the cauls work is that the panel is placed on top of all the bed caul, with the upper part, the bracket removed. The ribs, one at a time, have glue applied to the appropriate surface and are set upon the panel in just the right spot. Once a rib is set in place the bracket is put back onto the “bed” part of the caul, snuggly between the two paired angle irons. Steel pins are replaced between the tops of the two angle irons at each end, locking the bracket in place. From there, air is slowly released into the fire-hose by the controlled means of ball-cock valve. Air pressure in the caul is set for around 45 psi. The pressure of the air expands the diameter of the hose to press even pressure all along the length of the rib. The cauls are left in place, and inflated until the glue between the rib and the panel is set up and all parts are bonded.
It is a neat system with great results…