How to Refinish a Piano

Refinishing a piano brings new life to a dull, old instrument.

But it's a difficult job, so make certain you're up to the challenge before tackling it. Preparing the piano for refinishing is the most time consuming part of the process, yet proper preparation ensures a durable and beautiful finish.

Disassemble as much of the piano as possible. If you still have an owner's booklet, see what it says about dismantling. The more you dismantle, the better the final product will be. Place the hardware in labeled plastic bags. You need to remove the top from a grand piano, and if possible, an upright piano too.

Strip the finish off the piano in a well-ventilated area. Using a paintbrush, apply a thick coat of stripper. Use old toothbrushes to apply stripper to crevices and scroll work. Once finish softens (see stripper instructions for time frame), scrape the stripper off with a putty knife, going with the grain. Repeat as needed until you've removed all the finish.

Lightly clean the wood with a 50-50 solution of denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner to remove any remaining varnish or stripper. Apply the solution with steel wool, wiping off finish with paper towels. Make certain that you remove all of the varnish.

Buff all surfaces that you plan to refinish with steel wool after your piano is completely dry. Wipe off dust with paper towels moistened with denatured alcohol.

Make any repairs needed. Glue any loose veneer back in place. Check the top of your piano for water stains. Using a stain that matches your wood, carefully paint watermarks with a cotton swab. Let dry and buff.

Apply a filler to open grain woods, if need, and then apply your finish. Spraying works better than paintbrushes with paint or stain. Many people refinish pianos with a gloss tung oil, rubbing it into the surface of the piano. Use a soft toothbrush to apply to crevices. Allow your piano to completely dry from any finish before lightly rubbing with fine sandpaper or steel wool. Wipe off the dust again before applying additional coats.

Put your piano back together again once it's completely dry and has no sticky surfaces. Be careful to protect your new finish from bangs and scratches.

Things You Will Need

  • Oil-based furniture stripper
  • Stripping gloves
  • Paintbrush
  • Wide plastic putty knives
  • 000 steel wool
  • Protective covering for floor
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Absorbent white paper towels
  • Carpenter's glue
  • Grain filler, if needed
  • Tung oil or finish of choice

Tip

  • Piano refinishers often do a very professional job but can cost thousands of dollars.

Warnings

  • Remove any fire source from the workspace. Don't smoke or light candles due to the use of flammable products.
  • Do not use power sanders on your piano. They can destroy the veneer.
  • Do not use rubbing alcohol on your piano, only denatured alcohol.
  • If your piano was previously painted after stripping, you probably won't be able to remove all the paint without damaging the wood. Repaint the piano in a compatible color.