Weber Piano Project – Keyframe Cleanup

With key bushings installed, it was back to the piano shop. In order to test the work, we would need to try a few keys in the keyframe and see they fit. First though, a little cleanup was in order. Earlier, we removed the main action rail (hammers and shanks) and the wippens rail. The upstop rail also was removed. With that done, it was time to clean and service the exposed keyframe.

The keyframe is the foundation of the action. It includes the front, balance and back rails as well as the action brackets. The keys rest on the rails and the action brackets support other rails that mount the wippens and hammers. Front rail key pins and balance rail pins also attach to the keyframe.

photo of punching on the front rail of a piano keyframe

Punchings on front rail key pins

The first step is to remove all the punchings from the front rail key pins. These are used to level the keys and will be replaced with new ones. A piano punching lifter is very helpful in this process.

Cleaning the pins is important because we want them to have as little friction as possible. A product called Flitz Polish is recommended, because the pins are nickel-plated brass or steel, and abrasives will remove the plating. Celeste, a piano shop technician and action mentor, provided a shop-made tool made from a block of felt that chucked into a drill, and worked wonderfully. A dab of Flitz on the pin tip, a quick spin with the felt polisher, and a wipe with a soft cloth to finish.

photo showing Straightening the front rail key pins

Straightening the front rail key pins

The front rail key pins are oval-shaped in cross-section. By turning them slightly, a small amount of  side-to-side key play can be taken up as the key bushings wear. Since the keys got new bushings, it is important to center them back up. Celeste got me the clever tool used for this purpose. She also recommended covering the now polished and centered pins with ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape for protection while sanding the dirt off the keyframe.

Next, it was time to remove the back rail cloth. In this case, there were two layers, as if a second layer had been added later. They both peeled off easily, leaving a residue of red felt and animal glue. An application of Windex, followed a few minutes later with a sharp chisel easily removed the residue. One has to be careful though — you don’t want to gouge the wood underneath the cloth. Finally, the entire keyframe got a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the years of glue, grime and funk.

photo of Brass end plates before and after buffing

Brass end plates before and after buffing

On each end of the keyframe, is a spring-steel bar and brass end-plate. These slot into the cheek blocks and hold the action in place in the piano. I removed these parts, gave them a quick polish on the buffer, and applied a coat of spray lacquer to the now-shiny brass. No one will see it but me, but hey, why not?

photo of McLube - The secret to frictionless pins

The secret to frictionless pins

Normally, the action brackets are made of metal. This old keyframe has laminated wood instead, and the laminations have small gaps at the top. I’ll repair them with gap-filling cyanoacrylate glue a little later. For now, a coat of shellac will finish the process and voilà, we have a reconditioned keyframe! As a last step, I applied a coat of McLube to the key bushings. This is applied with a pipe cleaner and will reduce the pin friction even further.

Finally, we tested my bushing work on the keyframe. A little disappointing. I had applied bushing material too deeply into the mortises and it was binding. Too much friction. Celeste thought the problem could be remedied by cutting the excess material out with a scalpel, so I guess I will be spending a little more time on the key bushings. After all, it was my first attempt! Next: the keyframe and keys near completion . . .

photo of restored keyframe with fresh coat of shellac

A coat of shellac works wonders

Weber Piano Project – New Bushings!

So far, we’ve removed the action from the piano, disassembled, and cleaned it. There’s a surprising amount of effort involved in just those steps, and it was great to finally make progress in the rebuild.

Make no mistake, the disassembly and cleaning were necessary steps. After all, the piano is over 120 years old, and has probably never had any sort of comprehensive rebuild. Finally putting new materials in rather than taking old materials out. Feels Good!

As Celeste explained it, the goal is to place new felt bushing material in each mortise consistently to a certain specification. After all, you want each key to respond the same as all the other keys. Simple, right?

First, we had to get the bushing felt thickness right. It comes as a ribbon in various thicknesses and it’s not really surprising that there isn’t a standard for old instruments like mine. You just have to try a size and see how it works. With her practiced eye, Celeste thought that .036 inch thickness might work, so she applied pieces to either side of one balance rail mortise. When we tested it on the keyframe, she thought it had about the right amount of friction for the key to rock back-and-forth smoothly without any side-to-side wobble. This is where having access to a real expert is invaluable.

I’ve gotten used to commercial wood glues, cyanoacrylates and other wonders of modern woodworking. Pianos, and much older furniture for that matter, use something called animal hide glue. This is a very old technology and although largely abandoned by modern makers, has some real advantages. It’s water soluble, so clean up is easy, and best of all, it can be released with steam or Windex. In spite of that, it’s very strong and long-lived. It does require some different skills. I’ve read about it, and watched some YouTube videos on its use, but this was my first experience working with it.

photo of the Hotpot and jelly jar

Hotpot and jelly jar

To get me started, Celeste provided several small jars of pre-mixed glue. This was a help, because animal hide glue normally comes in dry granules that must be first hydrated and then heated to a specific temperature for use. It can be mixed to various consistencies depending on the intended use, and this way I got a head start.

photo of animal hide glue ready for use

just right

I needed a few more tools as well. There are commercial hide glue pots and warmers available, but it’s just as easy (and a lot cheaper) to but a “hot pot” to heat small jelly jars. You also need a brush to apply the glue, and inexpensive artist watercolor brushes work fine. Horsehair bristle acid shop brushes also work.

photo of Watercolor brush and pallet

Watercolor brush and pallet

One last tool: an artist’s pallet knife. The keys have real ivory for keytops and a few of them have partially separated. One of the hide glue samples had “whitening” added, and I was to use a pallet knife and carefully re-adhere the loose ivory to the keytops. The thin blade of the pallet knife would allow the application of glue with only minimal flex of the very thin and fragile ivory. We’ll see.

photo of balance rail mortises without bushings

Ready for bushing

I started with the balance rail bushings. The process is simple. Apply glue to one side of the bushing felt, push it into the mortise, and secure it with a nylon caul until the glue sets. Finally, remove the excess felt by cutting it off against the flat side of the caul using a single-edge razor blade. The glue sets in a few minutes, so by the time I had done 20 to 30 keys,

photo of Mortises with bushing and cauls

Mortises with bushing and cauls

I could go back and do the other side of the same mortises. The process is the same except you use a slightly narrower caul. This makes sense because the first felt bushing makes the mortise .036 inches narrower. The process for the front rail mortises is exactly the same. As the video shows, I replaced all the bushings in three sessions totaling about 8 hours. Once again, a good audio book helps pass the time. Just in time for my next session at the piano shop, I was ready.

Next: Cleaning up the Key Frame!

photo of Half of the keys done with bushing felt

Half of the keys done!

Solar Powered Rainwater Project

If you’ve been following along, you’ve noticed several solar-powered projects here at Roy Creek Ranch. From a simple system to “top-up” the storage battery in the Teardrop trailer and upgrading it to make an off-grid camper, to powering my amateur radio station, I’ve been interested in harnessing the sun for some time. These projects add capabilities to our camping and radio experience. Adding solar panels, a charge controller and additional 12 volt outlets made it possible for us to camp without requiring “shore power” thus extending our ability to enjoy remote areas. Likewise, solar power makes emergency operation of an amateur radio station possible during severe weather even if the power grid or public service radio systems are down. In short, a little investment in solar power makes an outsized contribution to capabilities and enjoyment relative to the investment.

photo of the panel Installed with my friend's help

Installing Solar

The projects helped me learn about design and installation of modest solar systems and it’s time for the next project: powering a rainwater system with solar and making it off-grid capable. The idea developed over the last few months as we gained experience. While designing solar systems can be complex, many projects are within the reach of the average solar enthusiast with the help of a few formulas and basic explanations. I hope to outline this process in the next few posts by taking you along for the ride. By the end of the project, we will have an off-grid system to clean and pressurize water from large tanks of rainwater making it available in our house 24/7, year around, without help from the commercial power grid.There are several goals for the project:

  • measure the daily average power needed to pump rainwater for household use
  • design a solar power system to provide that power with at least 3 days of extra storage for overcast conditions
  • allow for the rapid change back to commercial power during equipment failures
  • keep the cost as low as possible
  • develop additional expertise in the design and installation process
  • collect data on the operation of the such a system
photo of a Kill A Watt Meter

Kill A Watt Meter

As mentioned in the goals, the first step is to understand how much power is needed. Anyone who has paid an electric bill knows a little something about this. For your home, the utility company installs a meter that measures the power used during a fixed period, usually a calendar month. That power use is measured in “kilowatt hours” or kWh. For this project, we want to power a specific part of our home, the rainwater system, not the whole house. Fortunately, this is easy to measure with a little tool called the “kill-a-watt” meter — available for just a few dollars. There are two 3/4 horsepower pumps in our rainwater system, one for each set of tanks. They are used one at a time. By plugging one of the pumps into the kill-a-watt meter and then plugging it into a 120 VAC outlet, we can measure the power used for a given period of time. The water pumps require a fair amount of power — about 1100 watts — but do so in short bursts of a few minutes per hour. Water pressure is maintained by a pressure tank so the pump doesn’t have to run every time a faucet is opened. Monitoring the meter over a week revealed about 1300 watt-hours of power consumed per day. This is what the solar system will have to supply.So what’s the difference between watts and watt-hours? Watts are a unit of power — the rate at which power is used. You might think of it as a rate of flow.  In the case of the 3/4 horse pump, power must flow at the rate of about 1100 watts in order for it to run. Watt-hours adds the time component and are a measure of energy. It represents the amount of work completed. If the pump were to run for one hour, It would have consumed 1100 watt-hours of power. It’s simply the power rate (watts) multiplied by the time (hours) power is in use. 1100 watts times 1 hour = 1100 watt-hours. Kilowatt-hours (kWh) is obtained by dividing watt-hours by 1000 (kilo-1000, 1300 watt-hours = 1.3 kWh) If you wanted to power several devices, you would measure their power use independently and add those numbers together. A search of the web finds several charts with average power use for typical appliances. This one from is a good example. Now we have a starting point to design our system.

In the next installment, we’ll use this number to determine the panel area and storage battery capacity.

Weber Action Rebuild – Key Cleaning Update

In my last post, I listed the various tasks to finish key restoration. During the week, I was able to get the remaining tools to install bushings. These include a brush to apply hide glue, a small painting knife to apply hide glue to ivories, and a “hot pot”. Celeste sent me home with a small supply of pre-mixed hide glue, bushing felt and a set of “cauls” for applying the bushings. I’ll say more about the tools and the bushing process in my next post.

That left the remaining cleanup of the keys. Not all of the tasks have to be complete before installing bushings, but I thought it wise to finish the old felt removal and Scotch-brite and sanding of the wood surfaces to remove dirt and imperfections. I also needed to repair and clean up the “sharps” mortices before bushing replacement. This leaves a few tasks that can be done after the bushings are installed. Another audio book, and I went to work. The list has been updated to reflect progress, and the video is a condensed version of the roughly four hours of work.

Next stop: New Bushings!

  • Remove old bushings (complete)
  • Remove dirt with Scotch-brite (complete)
  • Remove damper lifter felt (complete)
  • Treat the wood with a solution of Oxalic Acid. This lightens the wood and removes dark spots and streaks.

For the “sharps,” ebony keytops

  • Check for cracking around the bushing mortice and repair with cyanoacrylate glue as necessary (complete)
  • Remove wood on either side of the mortice to facilitate new bushings (complete)
  • repair damaged wood between ebony keytops and keys by slightly enlarging raw wood exposures and filling with Mohawk Epoxy Wood Putty
  • Re-touch black over repaired wood with Pica Black Marker or black paint for larger repairs
  • Sand ebonies with 220 and then 400 grit sandpaper to remove damaged lacquer finish
  • Treat ebonies with 2 applications of Waterlox (similar to Danish Oil)
  • Finish with Conservator’s Wax

For the “naturals” keytops:

  • Sand bottom of key under ivory keytop to remove punching discoloration (complete)
  • Check and repair any loose natural ivories using a thin hide glue with whiting

Next: New Bushings!

photo of piano keys in the raw

All cleaned up

Weber Action Rebuild – Removing Bushings and Cleaning

After bringing the piano keys home from Bernard’s shop last week, I was hoping to remove the key bushings and clean the wooden, ebony and ivory parts. To remove the bushings, I rigged up an old travel-sized clothes steamer and a pair of right-angle tweezers with pointy jaws and set to work. The work is not difficult, but there are two bushings per key, and it takes time to complete the operation 176 times. It took several hours and an audio book really helps pass the time.

Scrubbing the wooden parts of the key with Scotch-brite was next. Stacked together, one can scrub across the grain and make progress quickly, but it was soon evident that each key would have to be scrubbed individually to get all the surfaces. Also, what about the rockers? It would be much easier to remove all of them to finish cleaning the keys. Something to ask my mentors about. The damper bushing would probably need to be replaced as well. Another question. I finished the process by wiping each key down with a damp paper towel to remove all the debris. In all, I spent about 7 hours on these tasks.

Back out to the piano shop. Bernard agreed it would be best to remove the rockers, although he suggested numbering them so they would get back to their original key. This took about 30 minutes. I continued scrubbing the key surfaces below the rockers.

There was time to talk with Celeste while we worked. She was busy with another action, and began to outline the other steps. How many I implemented, and to what degree, depended largely on cosmetics. Did I want the keys to look like new, or would improving their function be sufficient? Since the keyboard is the only part of the action rebuild that will be visible, I decided cosmetic improvements were needed. As we discussed the project, the following list emerged.

For all keys:

  • photo of piano key before and after cleaning

    Before and after cleaning

    Remove old bushings (complete)

  • Remove dirt with Scotch-brite (nearly complete)
  • Remove damper lifter felt
  • Treat the wood with a solution of Oxalic Acid. This lightens the wood and removes dark spots and streaks.

For the “sharps,” ebony keytops

  • photo of piano key showing Damage from years of use

    Damage from years of use

    Check for cracking around the bushing mortice and repair with cyanoacrylate glue as necessary

  • Remove wood on either side of the mortice to facilitate new bushings
  • repair damaged wood between ebony keytops and keys by slightly enlarging raw wood exposures and filling with Mohawk Epoxy Wood Putty
  • Re-touch black over repaired wood with Pica Black Marker or black paint for larger repairs
  • photo showing wear on ebony lacquer

    Wear on ebony lacquer

    Sand ebonies with 220 and then 400 grit sandpaper to remove damaged lacquer finish

  • Treat ebonies with 2 applications of Waterlox (similar to Danish Oil)
  • Finish with Conservator’s Wax

For the “naturals” keytops:

  • photo showing loose ivory on a piano key

    Loose Ivory

    Sand bottom of key under ivory keytop to remove punching discoloration

  • Check and repair any loose natural ivories using a thin hide glue with whiting

After all of that, it will be time to install new bushings. I’ll save that for a separate post. Looks like I have my work cut out for me this week!

Whirlpool Dishwasher Repair

To paraphrase the old saw, into every life, a little appliance repair must fall. This must be my week. We’ve been living at Roy Creek Ranch since 1996, and the appliances are admittedly getting old. So far, I’ve replaced a well pump, a washer and dryer, a central air conditioner, and various faucets and plumbing doodads. That leaves the core kitchen appliances. Two refrigerators, a stove and a dishwasher.

photo of a blow-dryer defrost

Blow-dryer defrost

A couple of months ago, one of the ‘fridges began acting up. It wasn’t cooling. I’ve run into this before and thought the defrost cycle might be broken. This isn’t a difficult repair, and after removing the food from the freezer (a utility sink lined with terry cloth towels makes a dandy temporary cooler) I removed the freezer back panel to discover a solid block of ice. 30 minutes of so with a blow-dryer before replacing the back panel, and I was putting the food back in. No biggie. I would order parts before it happened again. Sure ’nuff, it happened again last week, and I finally ordered the thermostat, timer and heater so I’ll be ready next time. Smooth sailing for a while.

Not to fast. We had a guest over last Sunday night, and fixed a really elaborate braised beef short rib dinner. Took all afternoon and quite a few dishes. It was really delicious, but we were left with the dishes after our guest left. So we loaded up the dishwasher and turned it on.

The next morning Marilyn put the clean dishes away and loaded it again. This time it wouldn’t start. Lights on, but nobody home. I had to be at the piano shop early, and didn’t really have time to deal with it. But, remembering the quick and easy experience on Repair for the previous week’s refrigerator parts order, I did a quick search. “whirlpool du980qp won’t fill” and their page was the first hit. The three most common causes were a broken fill valve, defective float switch or a clogged fresh water feed pipe. Without time to troubleshoot, I ordered the two recommended parts and left to work on the Weber piano.

Today was the first chance I’ve had to make the repair. Dishwashers aren’t very hard to work on, and the fill valve and float switch are both located at the front of the unit just behind the bottom access panel. After turning off the power to the dishwasher, I removed the float switch. It comes out with one 1/4-inch sheet metal screw. Disconnecting the two leads, I tested it with an ohmmeter. It seemed ok, but it’s a cheap part and I had a new one. Replacement done in a few minutes. Turning the power back on I hit “Normal”. Lights but no fill. Hmmm.

The fill valve took a little longer, and the part they sent was not an identical replacement. I would have to adapt the supply fitting to use it, so I decided to remove the old valve, disassemble and clean it. This took 15 or 20 minutes, and it was clean and functional. The coil wasn’t shorted or open and showed 695 ohms — right within the expected range. I replaced it and tried it again. Still the same symptoms. Also there was water in the copper supply pipe, so it seemed unlikely it was clogged. This may be harder than I thought.

photo of the Inner panel of front door -- 9 torx screws

Inner panel of front door — 9 torx screws

A little cruising around on the Internet, and I had others’ experiences repairing various Whirlpool (and other manufacturers’)  dishwashers. One mentioned the two microswitches in the handle release mechanism and the thermal fuse. Still not too hard, but it would require removing the top part of the door. Six Torx T-15 screws should do it — except this dishwasher is old enough that one must remove the entire inner door. That means removing the outer trim panel as well. Fine. In for a penny …

photo of The control board

The control board

Once I gained access, both the switches and the thermal fuse checked fine. That left only one possibility: defective control board. Typically costing $135 to $200 dollars, this wasn’t good news, but still cheaper and easier than buying a new dishwasher. Back to Repair I entered the Whirlpool model number in and …

It was $204, backordered. Sears? Not available. Amazon? $224. As I worked my way through the various parts suppliers it became obvious it was expensive. One last thought — eBay. Yes, there were used and tested control boards available, but I would need a part number or at least a photo to match it up. Time to remove the control board for a photo op.

My eBay searches didn’t turn up anything. It was looking like there was a new appliance in my near-future. As a last resort, and with nothing to lose, I decided to look the control board over for anything obviously wrong. Long shot.

photo of Obvious damage. Who let the smoke out?

Obvious damage. Who let the smoke out?

It wasn’t hard to remove the control board from the dishwasher, but it was mounted in a kind of plastic tub. The foil side of the board wasn’t visible, so I carefully pried the board out. They definitely didn’t intend it to be serviced. I finally got it out without breaking it. and — wonder of wonders — there was a charred spot on the bottom of the board. It was in an area with two small relays. One lead of each relay had been hot enough to disconnect from the foil trace. Could it be that simple?

photo of the Repairs made.

Repairs made.

I desoldered each relay and tested it. Both coils still good. Both normally-closed contacts showed continuity. One of the relays had a damaged pin, but I could repair that. I spent the next half-hour repairing the pin, resoldering the relays, and repairing the damaged foil.  Moment of truth time. I replaced the control board in its tub and protective cover, replaced the inner door and hoped. I reset the breaker and pressed the “Normal” button.

photo of the repaired relay

repaired relay

Unbelievable. It started filling. I replaced the rest of the panels and access doors, and turned it on for a complete cycle. Worked fine. Of course, there’s no telling how long my cobbled repair will work, but I’ll take a victory lap anyway. Maybe I can avoid a new dishwasher for just a little while longer …

Weber Grand Piano Action – Teardown

photo of the view from the shop

View from the shop

After months of discussion and planning, we were ready to rebuild the action in the Weber grand piano. I had moved the action to Bernard Mollberg’s shop near Blanco, Texas the previous week, and was looking forward to starting. Arriving at the shop around 11, Bernard began my instruction. I hoped to have decisions regarding hammers, shanks and how new ones are ordered. But first, Bernard wanted me to have some time adjusting the antique rocker capstans that the Weber used.

diagram of a grand piano action

Grand Piano Action

Modern pianos have a single capstan (2) on each key (1) that actuates the rest of the piano action. Located at the opposite end of the ivory, it moves up when each key is pressed down, sending the wippens (3) up which in turn actuates the hammer (8, 10). The Weber has an older style of connection between the key and wippens that was abandoned by piano manufacturers around the turn of the 20th century. It’s easy to see why. Where modern capstans require a single adjustment to set the hammer height, the rocker style requires two, and these slotted screws are adjusted with a small right-angle screwdriver. Not very convenient. Bernard prefers replacing this arrangement with a modern wippens and capstan. There are challenges with this approach however. Some re-engineering of the action is required because no manufacturer supplies a replacement wippens that makes this conversion. Also, it substantially increases the cost of the action rebuild.

photo of piano keys with rocker capstans

Rocker Capstans

On the other hand, besides being a more cumbersome adjustment, the existing wippens are decades old, and have other antique features such as silk cords that tie spring elements to the mechanism. They seem to be ok now, but how long does silk last? Finally, removal and installation of each wippens is difficult because it physically connects with the key with a wooden clamp instead of simply resting on a single capstan screw as in modern actions.

I adjusted several keys for hammer height, and it wasn’t too bad. Given that I will be the tech working on this piano for the foreseeable future, I think I can live with the current arrangement. Keeping an open mind, but not ready to replace the old wippens just yet.

photo of a parts storage board

parts storage

I began the teardown. This piano has mostly wooden parts unlike modern instruments which use steel brackets to support the action stack. I removed the hammer rail, being careful to place each screw into the drilled and marked wooden block intended to keep those parts identified with both function and location. The rail then lifts off with all the hammers and shanks attached. Next, the wippens rail. It screws into the action stack from the back, and is easy to remove after all 88 of the wippens/key clamp connections have been released. Finally, the upstop rail is removed. This allows the removal of all the keys from the keybed.

photo of the action with the hammers removed

Action with hammers removed

photo of piano action with just keybed and keys

Wippens rail removed

I was down to the nearly bare keybed. Celeste, an action specialist in Bernard’s shop, took up the instruction. First, although each key is stamped with a number from 1 to 88, she recommended relabeling them with a pencil for visual clarity. A general cleaning was in order since there was several decades of dust and funk on the now disassembled parts.

photo of a key storage frame

keys safely stored

As I removed the keys to expose the keybed, they were put into a key storage frame — a kind of wooden clamp that both protects the keys and keeps them in order. Once in the frames, she got an electric drill with a custom bit installed that would remove the back checks. These are threaded on the end of a steel wire at the back of the key and “catch” the hammer as it rebounds from the string to prevent multiple hammer strikes. This took just a few minutes with the drill.

photo of a drill with back check tool

Back check remover

Now I got some instruction on my homework. The keys needed to be cleaned, and red Scotch-brite could be used to scrub the wooden surfaces. We discussed the ivories (which are real on this piano) and decided they look pretty good for their age. Since we can’t really improve them, we’ll leave them alone. Finally, all the felt bushings must be replaced. There are two sets in each key and the red felt is attached in the slot with animal hide glue. This is good because it is easily released with either Windex (the ammonia is the solvent) or steam. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to clean the keys and remove the bushings.

What’s next? Removing the felt punchings that each key rests on in preparation for pin alignment and polishing, light sanding of the keybed and replacement of the punchings. That’s where we’ll start next week.

photo of a bare piano keybed

stripped down to the keybed

Rebuilding another Piano – an 1893 Weber Grand

In an earlier post about Rebuilding A Piano, I mentioned an older piano — A Weber 6-foot, 2-inch grand. I bought it from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after winning the James B. Peterson Concerto Competition. As part of the competition, I was scheduled to perform Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Town and Gown Orchestra at UNO, and I needed a better rehearsal instrument. The Department Chair, Roger Foltz, suggested there might be a grand piano available for a $500 contribution to the scholarship fund. I had $500, and was soon the proud owner of an late 19th-century Weber Grand Piano.

photo of Bird's-ene View Grand Court at night

Bird’s-ene View Grand Court (night)

It turned out to have an interesting history. Originally owned by Eugenie Whitmore, the musical daughter of a wealthy Omaha businessman, the piano was most likely purchased at the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, Illinois — the “White City” where Edison and Tesla competed to wire an entire small city with electric light for the first time. Edison won the contract, the Westinghouse Company had a giant display at the fair, and most attendees saw their first electric lights. There were many other superlatives: a 633 acre site, 75 million board feet of lumber, 18,000 tons of iron and steel, 120,000 incandescent lights, 30,000 tons of stucco, 14 main buildings with total floor space of 63 million square feet. This marked an important coming of age moment for the United States and marked the transition for many from an agrarian society to the modern Industrial Age. It is estimated that 27.5 million people visited the exposition in it’s 6-month run from all over the globe, including 25% of United States citizens.

photo of Eugenie Antoinette Whitmore

Eugenie Antoinette Whitmore

Eugenie Whitmore was probably born in 1888 (there is some discrepancy between various publications and her death certificate) and showed musical ability early in her life. According to “The Hachet“, published in March of 1898, “When scarcely eight years old she surprised everyone by her execution of the well known Paderewski Minuet”. According to contemporary sources, her father purchased the Weber 6-foot 2-inch grand piano (serial #35680) at the Columbia Exposition, although published records from the era indicate that many of the major piano manufacturers of the day, including Weber, pulled out of the exposition over the juried competition requirement. Other sources indicate that vendors had those manufacturers’ pianos on site, so the story of her father’s purchase is plausible. Nevertheless, the piano’s serial number puts it squarely in the 1890’s and an advertising brochure from the 1880’s includes a picture of the Queen Anne carved case identical to it.

Weber Piano Advertisement from the 1880's

Weber Piano Advertisement from the 1880’s

Ms. Whitmore continued to pursue music, and was active in music and art circles throughout her life.  In addition to giving recitals, she supported the symphony and opera and left a charitable trust after her death. While active in the symphony community, she hosted visiting artists and held parties in their honor. It is likely that many of them played the Weber grand piano, and according to a technician who had serviced the piano while she was still alive, she had pictures of those artists displayed on the piano. Unfortunately, the story is hard to verify because parts of her estate, including the piano were left to the University of Nebraska at Omaha after she passed away in 1978. Perhaps the pictures and other musical artifacts are part of a university archive. Still, it’s fun to imagine the piano in my home has been played by such notable artists as Ignace Paderewski or Rudolf Serkin.

I’ve always wanted to restore the piano, and in 1982, with the help of Randy George, an Omaha piano technician who serviced the university pianos, I was able to restring it. That was a big improvement, and it still tunes easily and holds a tuning well. The action hasn’t received much attention for at least 40 years though, and has some problems. I hope to improve it over the next few weeks. With the generous help of Bernard Mollberg, a master piano rebuilder in Blanco, Texas, I will be rebuilding the action, including new hammers and shanks, keyboard service and regulation. I may also decide to replace the antique rocker capstans and whippens, but I’ll make that determination when we’re further into the project. The goal: a more comfortable and responsive action combined with the sound of a historic, 19th-century piano. Next: Teardown!

photo of the Weber Serial No. 35680

Weber Serial No. 35680

International Harvester 254 – Ignition Switch

photo of International Harvester 254

Just off the trailer in 2003

I purchased a used tractor in 2003 after moving a truckload — literally 14 cubic yards — of gravel with a wheelbarrow, and deciding I didn’t want to do that again. It’s an International Harvestor model 254, a three-cylinder diesel made around 1984. It’s been a workhorse, requiring relatively little maintenance, but age and exposure to weather have taken their toll on the old girl and things are starting to break. With all the other things I need to do around here, routine maintenance is a challenge, and I sometimes let things go until they’re a showstopper. Recently, the key broke off in the ignition switch, but I was still able to start the tractor with a flat-blade screwdriver. Well, the switch finally failed completely. Action was required.

One of the issues with this model of tractor is that it falls well past International’s glory days into that time of transition to Case ownership. The 254 was actually made by Mitsubishi in Japan, and although a quality product, not very many were sold. As I’ve made repairs and searched for parts over the years, I’ve noticed they can be expensive from Case/IH, and almost non-existent from third parties. There just isn’t much of a following for this model. The ignition switch proved to be a happy exception however, and I was able to purchase an after-market version from an online parts dealer with the understanding it would work in my tractor. As an added bonus, it only cost $50 instead of the $225 I was quoted for the exact replacement part from a Case/IH dealer.

photo of the new switch installed

New switch installed

There was a problem though. When I looked the new part over, it became clear that it had the right number of connections, but the labels and positioning were different. I was going to have to determine where the existing wires went on the new switch. Fortunately, I had purchased one of those mini shop manuals years ago, and some kind soul had posted a typical Kubota wiring diagram on a tractor forum. By comparing the two diagrams, I was able to make good guesses on the new switch wiring without too much trouble. An hour or two of work, the new switch was in place and the tractor started the first time. Now I can catch up on those tractor tasks I’ve been delaying.

I’d like to pay it forward though. I’ve been continually impressed as the Web has developed by people’s generosity. They have written about their discoveries and helped me out. So, here’s a diagram of the old and new switch wiring on an International Harvester 254 tractor and the new Kubota ignition switch. Hope it helps someone else out!

diagram of Ignition Switch Wiring IH 254

Ignition Switch Wiring IH 254

The Shed Roof — Storing Lumber in the Shop

I built the shop at least 15 years ago, and it’s been one of the most useful projects here at the ranch. Originally, I was imagining a woodworking shop, and I even built a large, low bench and acquired some tools for that purpose. There was never enough time for all the other necessary projects at the ranch though, and the shop was quickly overwhelmed with the bits and bobs of those projects that there just wasn’t time to put away.  At times it looked more like a storage locker than a shop. Dreams of a dedicated space for woodworking receded into the future.

photo of The "lay-down" yard

The “lay-down” yard

Similarly, the space behind the shop collected the unused materials and debris from the many other projects. My friend Joe euphemistically called it my “lay-down yard” — a place where leftover materials went to die. Years before, in an effort to organize, I had constructed a wooden rack behind the shop, where I could store some of the more useable lumber. A decade or more of sun and rain had damaged much of it past usefulness, and I began think about extending the shop roof a few feet and cleaning up the lay-down yard. I needed a place to keep the rain and sun off the new lumber I planned to produce with the chainsaw mill.

The cleanup occupied most of a weekend. Any lumber that wasn’t damaged beyond use was stored off the ground and out of the way. I dismantled the wood rack and tossed the rotted pieces into the burn pit. Old wood pallets were either dismantled for pallet wood projects or returned to businesses that could use them. An old water heater, a tire and other debris went to the dump. It was starting to look more presentable.

photo of caliche makes a good bed

Caliche makes a good bed

To keep the new lumber rack from deteriorating, I decided to lay concrete pavers 32 inches deep across the width of the shop. Below a thin layer of topsoil, the ground here is limestone caliche — dig-able with difficulty to a white, powdery substance that rehardens with water and compression. Perfect for laying paving stones.

photo showing it's level and square!

Level and square!

Using a scrap of steel to set uniform spacing,   I laid each paver, one at a time, after flattening the underlying caliche. Apart from lifting the 16 x 16 inch pavers, it wasn’t too hard, and was complete in one weekend.

Now for the extension. The shop is way overbuilt. I originally purchased paper plans from a long-gone home improvement store and followed them to construct the 12 x 16 foot structure. They recommended 2 x 6 rafters and joists on 16-inch centers. Having only limited carpentry experience at the time, I didn’t realize this was overkill. Nice racket: sell project plans that recommend excessive overbuilding to sell lots of lumber. Smart. My master carpenter friend Joe, would always rib me about my tornado-shelter of a shop. We agreed that extending the rafters with 2 x 4’s to support the roof extension would be plenty strong.

ripping an extension

Rigging the extension

I removed the bird-blocking to reveal the rafters at the back of the shop. There wasn’t quite enough room to slide a 2 x 4 between the roof sheathing and the top plate, but ripping the 2 x 4 down by a 1/4 inch or so solved the problem.

photo of shoving the extension

Shoving the extension

The new lumber extended along each existing rafter as far as I could shove it — leaving about three feet outside of the building. The ripping and fastening of the extensions took the rest of the afternoon.

The chipboard with metal foil sheathing was next. Two sheets, with about a foot ripped off one side were quickly attached to the extensions with short deck screws. I had just enough roofing felt leftover from an earlier project to cover the sheathing. By attaching 2 x 2’s along the extension ends, I was able to pull everything into alignment and establish a straight line. Finally I trimmed the ends to produce a place for the facia. It was really starting to look like something.

Photo of attaching the facia

Attaching the facia

Time for trim. When digging into the old lumber behind the shed, I discovered a 16-foot rough cedar 2 x 4 leftover from the original house construction nearly twenty years ago. Although it had some rot and bug damage, most of it was still usable and would work great for the facia. My table saw won’t quite rip a 2 x 4 in the tall dimension, so I ripped one side and then flipped the board end-for-end and ripped the other. Voila! 32 feet of cedar 1 x 4.

photo of the facia, trim and drip edge in place

Facia, trim and drip edge in place

Cutting around the damaged parts, I was able to attach a 16-foot facia with quite a bit left over for each side of the roof extension. I had to build out the sides first though. 2 x 4’s made most of the depth, and I corrected any discrepancies using shims so that the final trim would match the existing siding.

Finally, it was time for drip edge and shingles. Demonstrating my “waste-not, want-not” motto once again, I discovered an ample supply of steel drip edge material in the lay-down yard. I even had matching shingles leftover from the original house construction. This was a long shot.

photo of shingles that were 20 years in the woods

20 years in the woods

They had been sitting outside in a pile for nearly 20 years and I expected that they would be beyond use. Instead, they separated easily, and though a little brittle and would work fine. The protective tape on the the adhesive strips even peeled off. I guess that shows just how toxic asphalt-based shingles are — nothing will eat them!

photo of the first course in place

First course in place

Carefully laying out the first course of shingles at the edge of the roof paid off. Ultimately I laid six courses of shingles using the roofing nails I had (also left over from the shop project) before getting to the seventh and last course. I couldn’t bend the old shingles up enough to nail underneath the former last shingle course so, what to do? A little rumaging around the shop turned up a partially-used tube of roofing cement from a project to repair the roof on the house last year. To my surprise, it was still viable. A line of the cement applied just below the former last course, and I could shove the seventh and last course of the new shingles under, glued in instead of nailed.

Of the materials used, I only had to purchase 15 new 10-foot 2 x 4’s, and 24, 16 x 16 inch cement pavers. I still have to put the bird-blocks back in, but I’ll reuse the wood that was already there trimmed to fit the added 2 x 4’s. The rack is next, but before building something new I think I’ll see if there’s anything that might serve on Craig’s List. You never know. And finally, I’ll have a relatively safe and attractive way to store my materials backstock. Success!

photo of project complete

Project complete