One of the only family heirlooms I have from my mother’s side is a large 100-year-old piano. I tried to have it tuned a couple of years ago, but due to some water damage and its age, the pegs wouldn’t hold and the piano wouldn’t stay in tune.
I had an option to completely rebuild the inside of the piano, but it seemed like too much of an undertaking for what it was worth.
The piano was taking up a lot of space in our house, especially given the fact that it was unplayable. I really didn’t want to get rid of it outright, as it had sentimental value to me. After all, it was the piano I played on for many years and was the source of joy for a lot of my childhood.
I got some inspiration online to mount the keys as art and thought that would be a good way to keep the piano without actually keeping it.
I did a lot of research on how to take apart a piano, as it is NOT an easy endeavor. Pianos are heavy, the strings are a major safety risk and there are many intertwined pieces that make taking it apart a real challenge.
I started by removing the easiest and most obvious pieces, like the front panels and the key cover. Once the keys were exposed, it was actually quite easy to remove the keys. They simply rest on a set of pegs.
I removed the hammer and key bed and exposed the harp and strings. Removing the strings was a painstaking exercise. You can’t just cut the strings because if they snap at you, they can seriously injure you, so you have to use a tuning peg to slowly and carefully release each individual string. I think I counted 240-ish strings.
Once the strings were out, I was very relieved. It took a couple of days, which meant my kids had access to the strings so I was very worried they’d grab at one and have it snap on them.
With the strings gone, it was time to remove the harp. The harp is the cast iron piece that holds all the strings and takes up the majority of the piano’s weight. We don’t know for sure, but we’re guessing it weighed about 300 lbs.
The harp was really stubborn and very difficult to free from the rest of the piano. Given its weight, we couldn’t really use any leverage to pry it off and we also wanted to be careful not to break the house in the meantime.
After a lot of effort, we managed to free it up and carry it out of the house. I didn’t want the harp to go to waste, so I found someone on Facebook who wanted to put it in their loft as art.
Taking apart the rest of the piano was easy. I grabbed my Sawzall and cut it up into manageable pieces to throw out.
Next, I had to figure out how I wanted to mount the keys so I could hang them on the wall. My original plan was to take some plywood and attach the keys, but when I was taking apart the piano, I realized that the key bed within the piano was the perfect mount option.
I gave all the keys a really good scrub. Years of dirt and filth had built up and some of the keys were yellow on the ends. I wasn’t able to get all of it off (as I didn’t want to scrub so hard that I broke the keys) but I got them considerably cleaner than they were.
As a bonus, all of the keys are numbered by the piano maker in pencil on the back, so it was easy to reconstruct all the keys.
I used wood glue and glued each key in place, carefully using clamps to make sure all of the keys were flush with each other. The key bed is made to allow the keys to move up and down when someone is playing them, so I needed to find the right position for each key.
I glued all the keys onto the key bed except where the screw holes were – from where it was attached to the piano. I used those same screw holes to mount the keys to the wall, so I didn’t want to cover those us.
I used concrete and mortar anchors and carefully hung the keys on the wall. With the weight of the keys, it was a challenge to hold it, get it level and make the brick holes in exactly the right spot. But we persevered and got it hung in the right spot and perfectly level!
Once it was hung on the wall, I then added the missing keys in the middle and on the ends by gluing them and taping them in place until they dried.
I’m really happy with the end result and I get a lot of compliments on it. It’s a great way to keep the piano and free up a bunch of much-needed space at our front door.