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after shot of a refurnished piano

How to Paint a Piano

July 18, 2012

Painting a piano is a project I have wanted to tackle ever since we moved into our new home in Lehi nearly three years ago. To be honest, I was intimidated and worried that I didn’t have the patience. I am happy to say that painting a piano is EASIER than I thought! Here is my step by step process for a great, long-lasting finish without any professional tools (aka sprayer). I found this blog post on painting furniture extremely helpful and only made a few adjustments.

Our piano was given to us by my husband’s family, and had already been refinished once in the 1970s. (Can you see the smoked, gold-veined mirror that was oh-so-popular back then?) Originally the piano was a player piano from the early 1900s and has a great shape and sound, the perfect piano for this project! If you don’t already have a piano, check out KSL.com or other local listings. There are always tons of pianos for under $200. Just make sure the keys all work and that the piano will play well when tuned.

piano before_and_after

Before you start: The Supplies

I got all my supplies from our local KWAL paint store. They were very helpful and gave me some great tips, like tinting my primer grey instead of blue as a better shadow base for the color I would be painting on top. My total for all supplies was $97.90 and luckily, my piano was free.

Old piano that still plays well
Sander or just sand paper
1 Quart Zinsser Oil Based Primer – tinted grey if painting a dark color
1 Gallon Latex Paint – I used KWAL Ambassador Neutral Base in a Semi-Gloss Finish
1 Quart Minwax Water Based Polycrylic Protective Finish
Good quality paint brush
Older paint brush for primer
Small foam roller
Tack cloth

Disassemble the Piano (kind of)

Several blogs that I checked recommended removing all of the keys. I found this step to be unnecessary. I am pretty sure I would have broken something or lost at least a couple of keys. Instead, we removed all of the larger, easy to remove pieces of the piano and then taped off everything else. This meant covering the keys, pedals and several of the hinges with a combination of painters tape and black garbage bags cut into sheets. (Sorry, this pic was taken after we had already started sanding.)

piano 1

Sand the Rough Spots

Most old pianos will have some rough spots in the finish. Mine had been refinished in the 70s and the “new” finish was wavy and uneven. I sanded the whole thing down with an electric sander to give it a fresh start. I didn’t worry about the small, detailed areas. Those will get taken care of in the next step.

piano 2

Apply Oil Based Primer

This is where you will want to use an older brush. The oil based stuff is sticky and not fun to clean up. I used an old brush so that I could just throw it away when I was done. Get a nice even coat over the whole piano, not too thick but make sure everything is covered. This will help the paint to stay and give you a long-lasting piece. Oh yeah, this is also the stinkiest part. Wear a mask.

piano 3

piano 4

Paint, Paint and Paint Again

You probably already know that the key to a good finish is lots of THIN layers. This is why I didn’t want to start the piano project. I was afraid I would get tired of painting the same piece over and over again. The good news is that it really wasn’t that bad. A piano is not that big and each layer only took about an hour. I got a nice long break in between (about a day to make sure the darker paint really dried well) and I was ready to paint again the next day. Use a new foam roller to apply the paint to a small area and then a good quality brush to smooth it out along the grain. (This goes even faster if you have a handy husband to roll the paint on ahead of you. Then you just have to follow along smoothing it out with the brush and covering the detailed areas.) It took me five very thin layers to get a perfectly even finish.

piano 5

Oh Yeah, and Sand Again and Again

You should also sand lightly between each coat of paint. I especially looked for problem areas where the paint looked thick or uneven and then gave the whole piece a quick sanding by hand. This only took about 10-15 minutes. Don’t go crazy with the sanding and don’t sand the primer off. I also used a tack cloth to quickly wipe down the piano before each new layer of paint to remove any dust from the last sanding (or any of the general dust and dirt from sitting in my garage).

Apply Polycrylic Finish

This step gave me a bit of heartache at first. I started with one side of the piano and applied the polycrylic finish with a good, new paint brush in a very thin layer just as instructed. The problem was that the finish immediately got sticky and goopy. It turned a dull, milky color within about 30 seconds and looked horrible! I panicked, abandoned my piano and spent the next three days stressing out over it. Finally, I came to the conclusion that it was just too hot in my garage. The temperature was in the low 80s, within the manufacturer’s guidelines, but I decided to try for cooler temps. I waited until after 10pm when the temperature finally dropped into the 60s and tried again. It worked perfectly! The polycrylic is very thin and goes on easily as long as you work quickly and don’t brush over it too many times. I did three very thin layers but only had to wait a few hours between each layer. The clear polycrylic dries much faster than the dark paint. You could probably skip this step if your piano will be just for show, but I plan on teaching my kids to play on this piano so it needs to be durable!

piano 6

Be Patient

This step may have been the hardest for me, but I waited about three days before carefully putting my piano back together and another three days before rounding up some neighborhood friends to move the piano into our home.

piano 7

In all, the project took about two weeks. Not too bad for something that will stay in my home for years to come. Cobalt blue may not be for everybody, but this process would work just as well for painting a piano yellow, red, green or even a nice neutral white. Do you have a piano in your new home in Utah? Would you ever dare paint it? What color would you choose?

after shot of a refurnished piano

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This post was written by Mcarthur Homes

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