3536 N. Brady St. Davenport, IA 52806

The Piano Desk

This post is from one of excellent Consignors, Emily with Emily's Imagination.

Every once in a while you stumble onto an interesting project and get the chance to cross something off your bucket list.

Like repurposing a 1921 Henderson upright grand piano into a writing desk.

Thank you Facebook Marketplace.

When I saw the ad for a free piano, I immediately had a vision of the final piece. White Fusion paint and a wood topped writing area. Maybe a shelf and some lighting on the inside.

After a week of researching how to disassemble pianos, gathering inspiration from Pinterest, and clearing workspace in my garage, I finally had the chance to get the project started.

Step 1: Get The Piano

As it turns out, pianos are heavy. Like, really heavy. Not “take a few pieces off and it’ll be lighter” type of heavy, but more like “the thing that’s heavy was built into it and won’t be coming out” heavy.

Thankfully the previous owner of the piano was willing to help with some lifting. After the inventive trailer placement on the sidewalk (thank you Mom), and my bright idea to just roll the window down so the pieces would fit in the car, we had it loaded.

Mom only had one heart attack during our very long and slow trip home.

Even considering having to get it off the trailer to work on it, then back ON the trailer to deliver it, was beyond crazy.

Good Thing Crazy Always Sparks Bright Ideas…

Why take it off the trailer, when I can create a workspace ON the trailer?!

With Mom's help, we put up a canopy and added sides, creating the perfect space to work, right outside of my garage/workshop

If my neighbors didn’t think I was weird already, they certainly do now. Most stopped over to ask what the heck I was working on now….

Beyond excited to have it home. I promise the wheels, hitch, and back deck were fully chocked and supported before I started work.

Step 2: Assess & Repair

Overall, the piece was in pretty good condition... with the exception of some peeling veneer on the side. For a 98 year old piece of art, that was pretty impressive.

Considering the condition and location of the damage, I decided to use a body-filler putty. The other option was to replace the veneer, but I already knew it would be getting painted

Bondo all-purpose repair putty is my fav!

I removed the veneer that was lifting and peeling away, and made sure what remained was securely attached to the side.

I added cream hardener to the putty, mixed it together, and quickly applied it to the damage.

Once it was set (about 30 minutes), I used 80-grit sandpaper on the sander to smooth out the surface, making sure to get rid of any bumps or holes. Then I followed up with 120-grit sandpaper.

A quick sanding of the entire surface to be painted and it’s ready to go!

Well, it’s ready once all the extra little pieces of hardware and wood are removed. And yes, every time something on the frame is hit, it makes a “dooonnnggg” sound. Have I mentioned my neighbors think i’m crazy?

Step 3: Painting the Wood

While Fusion Mineral paint is amazing and can usually be used without a primer, I’m gonna bet that the 98-year-old stain and varnish would win any day.

Because of the dark color and old age of the wood and the light color of my paint, if I had just painted it, I would see something called “bleed through” where patches of the paint would discolor.


There are a few primers out there that will help with this, but I’ve had the best results with B-I-N. It’s a shellac-based primer, and does great at color-blocking.

As always, the first coat of any paint is very light. This dries quickly and allows the next coat to bond cleanly and strongly to the surface. I put two coats of the primer on, and let it sit for a day.

Tip – 70 degrees F is the standard temperature for paint to dry. For every 15 degrees warmer, it dries twice as fast. The same/opposite reaction is true for cooler temps. Since it was 55 degrees out when I painted, I knew it would need twice as much time to cure as recommended. (Hopefully you like this random piece of knowledge I picked up from a decade of working in manufacturing plants with paint applications) It’s also very possible that I just made all of that up... HA!

Once the primer was fully cured, it was time to paint!

I chose Fusion Mineral Paint's “Casement” for this project. It’s their 2nd lightest color, and would be the perfect contrast to the metal and wood.

I also had to paint the top which had some water damage, so it got sanded at 120-grit, followed by 220-grit, followed by 2 coats of primer, and finally 2 coats of paint.

The top of the piano had been home to many things. I’m guessing plants. I’m sure they looked quite nice... but the poor wood!

Always 2 coats of paint. On everything. At a minimum

Well hey, look how nice that corner turned out.

Step 4: The Desktop

I had planned on purchasing a piece of solid wood for the desktop, but lo and behold, the front panel was the perfect size. It’s the piece of wood that held the sheet music, so what a perfect purpose for it.

After 98 years of use and a few bumps along the way, the finish was in pretty good condition and just needed a little work.

I used Howards Restor-A-Finish, applied with steel wool in the direction of the grain. The steel wool scuffs up the surface just enough to allow the solvent and refinishing oil to penetrate, and it re-stains any wood that’s exposed from wear and tear. I’m always very impressed with the results.

After wiping it off and letting it dry for about 30 minutes, I followed up with their Feed-N-Wax.

This is called “conditioning” the wood, and the product does contain actual beeswax. The wax creates a barrier on the wood, and if scratched or worn, helps “heal” the surface.

And it just looks so pretty….

To attach the top to the piano desk, I used Titebond 3 wood glue. I didn’t secure it with any nails or screws since the desk surface won’t be under any upwards force, so the glue was sufficient.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

What better way to add a shelf than to repurpose another piece of the piano. The cover for the keys had a gold-inlaid “Henderson” branding, and with some creative thinking on how to attach it, made for the perfect addition.

I removed the pieces I didn’t need and followed the same procedure with the finish and wax, then painted the bottom side. It took some engineering, but I finally figured out to use conduit straps to essentially “hang” the shelf off the long pins that stuck out of the frame and secured them with nuts.

Why stop there when I can drill a 3/4″ hole through 8 solid inches of wood to feed a power strip for LED lights through to surround the shelf with?

Not that I meant to surround the shelf with lights. I just ordered one that was way bigger than expected and had to improvise.

Oh, one last thing:

The foot pedals! I’m not actually sure if I used the right cleaning product, but it’s what I had on hand – Bar Keepers Friend and a wire brush. I was pretty happy with the result. There is still some wear on the pedals, but it is a piano from 1921 after all.

Step 6: Be Amazed

I don’t know what I love more – this piano, or my piano repurposing skills.

It’s amazing.

It’s beautiful.

It’s still really heavy so I hired people to help me move it.

Step 7: Safely Delivering The Final Product

Easier said than done! Of course for the 2 days before delivery it absolutely POURED. Thankfully the kids were already in bed, because I had to run out and adjust the canopy to keep water off the trailer!

Unfortunately I did have a sneaky little drip that allowed water to collect on the surface of the desk  

Luckily, wood restoration is a specialty of mine

I used a heater to dry out the water, then the Howards products again. I went ahead and did it over the entire surface to make sure it was uniform

And before you know it, the damage is gone!!

Ok, NOW it can be delivered to Living Vintage.

I hired two guys to help move it, and was so thankful to have found them! They were able to move the piano into the store, down 5 stairs (!) and into it’s new location in the store.

Thank you again to Dave and Ray for your help!

Ready to Sell

The amazing team at Living Vintage always does a great job at staging and decorating, and this was no exception!

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