This brilliant repurposed piano bar project is a guest blog from freelance writer Ciara Minor. She turned an old broken piano she inherited into a stylish at home cocktail bar. Read on to find out how!
One of the unexpected joys of moving into an older house as a ‘new to you’ home is that occasionally you might find yourself inheriting an old piece of furniture that was too big for the previous owners to move.
In my case, it wasn’t a four poster bed or a solid wood wardrobe….instead I inherited an upright piano from the family that owned my house before me! Definitely an unexpected surprise.
As someone who can’t even play chopsticks, let alone has any idea about the inner workings of a piano, I looked at this dusty and broken contraption and simply thought, “Oh boy.”
Many of the keys were chipped and broken, its lid was missing in action, the foot pedals were falling off, and the previous owner’s initials and messages were carved into it like an old oak tree.
I tried tickling those cracked ivories and the sound was twangy and irritating, enough that my dog started to howl (I am so sorry, Tripper).
I looked into repairing it, and after getting several quotes from different sources, I figured out that a fix-up job would cost thousands of dollars, money I certainly didn’t have and probably wouldn’t have used even if I did.
I moved into my house in winter and I ended up hiding the piano in a dark and quiet corner of my house until the spring thaw came when I decided it may be best to put the poor thing out of its misery.
A normal upright piano can weigh around 800 pounds, so I knew I needed to take it apart and dump the pieces, rather than disposing of the whole thing at once.
A Beautiful Discovery
What I found inside left me speechless.
It was so beautiful! The crossing of the strings. The glistening metal. The century old craftsmanship.
That’s where the real story begins. I was inspired.
I didn’t want to throw away such a spectacular piece, at least not all of it. Some parts weren’t exactly salvageable, but I tried to save as much of the original piano as I could.
I decided what I would actually use in my house (unlike a working piano) was a cocktail bar – I’d seen repurposed piano bars before and decided this was exactly what this piano was crying out to become!
I had completed many furniture upcycles in the past, but this was on a whole new level. I learned a lot from this experience and I want to take you along for the journey!
Quick Note! Every model of upright piano is a little different and every individual piano has its own quirks.
There will be a few times where I will walk through a process for my piano that may be a little bit different than yours.
Half of the fun of this project is discovery and seeing where your curiosity will take you, so dive in and have a blast!
Materials Needed – Repurposed Piano Bar
- Flathead screwdriver
- Cleaning supplies
- Soft bristle brush
- Sound Board Cleaning Tool
- Small vacuum with extendable hose
- Canned air
- Murphy’s Oil Soap Wood Cleaner
- Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover latex paint (semi-gloss black)
- Minwax Paste Finishing Wax
- Drop cloth
- Painter’s tape
- Paint brush
- Particle board
- Pine craft wood planks
- Epoxy or similar glue
- Wooden corner blocks
- Painted Wooden Decal (optional)
Anatomy of an Upright Piano
Throughout the tutorial, I’m going to mention a lot of piano parts that might start sounding like a foreign language (they certainly did to me!).
The link below has a great diagram of each of the parts that will really help. Enjoy!
Step 1: Disassemble your Piano
The best way to do this is to just jump right in!
Get a good set of tools (or at least a few screwdrivers) and start taking that baby apart!
Quick Tip! Don’t worry too much about cleaning right now as you probably won’t be using most of the parts that you take off. Also, cleaning is much easier once everything is dismantled anyway. We will be talking about cleaning (boooo!) in Step 2, so hold in there.
With most pianos, the first thing you should do is take off the top lid.
Most have a hinged lid that can fold back or some just have a solid lid. Unscrew any hinges and just pull it all the way off and set aside.
If you have a lid (unlike me), you may decide to keep it and save yourself a construction step later.
Next, pull out the front panel. Some pianos have a notch or lever that needs to be released, so get a flash light in there and see if you need to do something specific to pop it open.
Once the front panel is open, you will start to see the pin block, strings, and hammer rail.
I know that you may be staring at this monster of an apparatus and are quaking in your boots, but it really is simple.
I had never seen the inside of a piano before this but did just fine. I saw a screw, I unscrewed it, I took the piece off. It really is that easy!
Keep moving down the piano, taking off each part as it comes free from under the others.
After a bit, you will open up the keyboard. If you can salvage the keys, I strongly encourage you to! I saved a few of mine and will be making an upcycle project out of them soon!
You can take the strings of the harp off if you choose, but I loved the look of them and wanted to keep them. Fair warning though, if you don’t put something to dampen sound, like the plexiglass in Step 3, sound will reverberate off of them. It can get a little creepy!
When you get to the knee board (the bottom panel), there is a latch on the bottom of the keybed that you will need to pull to release the panel. It can be hard to find, but once you do, it’s very easy to figure out.
I also had to cut the foot pedals out with a handsaw because they were already broken and falling out of the piano. Use your judgement about what else you want your final piece to look like and make adjustments from there.
Step 2: Cleaning
Thank goodness this step is sandwiched in between two super fun parts, because I hate cleaning!
Pianos, especially ones that aren’t cleaned at least yearly, can get pretty gross over time. Dust bunnies galore!
I found a few crayons, stickers, erasers, and paperclips, among so many other fun objects. Name an office supply and it was probably in there!
Quick Note! Little critters love to hide out in pianos. If you see any droppings or might think they could have found their way in there, please take the proper precautions when cleaning out your piano.
This is where your vacuum is going to be your best friend. The very bottom of the piano (inside the knee board) and inside the keybed are going to be the dustiest places. Suck up as much dust from these places as you can.
Most vacuums won’t be able to get into the tight little crevices, but we’ll go over that in a bit. Also, the back of the piano likely has a base board gap that can get some gunk in there, so don’t forget to pull the piano away from the wall and get that as well.
After you have taken care of the big stuff (you know, the dust bunnies that have turned into dust bears), its time to tackle some of the small spaces.
A quick and easy way of getting into these tight places is using canned air to puff the dust up and out of them.
Again, don’t forget the back! My piano has a bunch of cross panels in the back that I had to dust by hand using some water and a microfiber cloth.
To finish out the dusting, use a sound board cleaning tool and a microfiber cloth to get in between and behind all the strings. Using a soft-bristle brush, dust places that the tool can’t reach.
Next, deep clean!
No you are not finished yet!
Using a soft or medium toothbrush and water, brush the grime off of the tuning pins and pin block.
The wood of the piano probably has a lot of build-up from the years and I would highly suggest cleaning this before painting or going any further. I used Murphy’s Oil Soap Wood Cleaner to get the job done.
Mix the cleaner with water and spread the mixture on the wood of the piano, careful not to get it too wet.
Using a dry cloth, wipe the mixture off. You can repeat this as many times as needed. I did it twice and I was very happy with the results.
Cleaning done (Phew!).
Step 3: Prep and Paint
Now that that’s over (finally!), let’s get back to the good stuff!
Some people swear by putting on a primer coat for projects like this, but I don’t really think it’s necessary. If you clean the wood really well and there is no peeling or damage that will cause problems in the future, a priming coat will just give you more work, so I skipped it.
I did sand the areas that I thought might not hold paint as well, but looking back, this likely wasn’t necessary either.
After taping up what I didn’t want to be painted and laying down my plastic drop cloth, I was ready to start!
When it comes to colour and paint choice, I have my favourites and know the ones that work well for me.
For black, which I think compliments the colours of the iron plate and wood that I left exposed, I like the Rust-Oleum Ultra Cover semi-gloss latex paint.
For most of the piano, you can use a mini-roller for a quick job without the streaks and lines that a brush can leave. However, there is likely some amount of detailing that will need a little extra attention (aka brush paint). The trusses are one of these areas.
You will probably have to do several coats of paint depending on the paint and color you choose and your technique. I chose to do three coats. I think it looked okay after two, but a third really made the color defined and sharp.
Once everything is settled and dry, I used Minwax Paste Finishing Wax to seal and protect the paint job.
Step 4: Piano Bar Construction
While the paint dries, get out your woodworking equipment and Hi-Vis jacket, because it’s construction time!
There are four things that we need to make to have this project come together:
- Plexiglass window
- Plexiglass shelf insert
- Keybed bar plank
Don’t worry, most of these projects are super easy and don’t need a lot of woodworking experience to make!
This window is the insert at the top of the piano that lets you see the soundboard, but separates it from the bar.
Most pianos have a small protruding wooden or metal screw at the very top where the front panel was attached. I first saw this as a huge inconvenience in my original plans, but decided to use it to my advantage.
I built an insert out of wood and plexiglass that would nestle perfectly between those pegs and the keyboard bar plank.
For the wood panels, I would suggest using a thin, but sturdy, wood.
I used pine planks from a craft store, then cut them to size. The planks were super simple to work with and were easily cut with a jigsaw.
If your new piano bar will mostly be for looks and won’t have a lot of traffic, you can use balsa, which can be cut with scissors (or even just a really sharp pencil!). Very easy to use, but also not very sturdy.
The wood panels will need a notch cut out for the side arm so that the entire insert will fit nicely into that spot.
Don’t forget to paint the wood panels!
After you have each part, simply use some epoxy glue to attach the plexiglass ½ an inch inside each wood panel.
You may notice from the photo that the plexiglass window sticks up above the sides of the body of the piano. I did this on purpose, I promise! I’ll go over why in Step 5.
Dimensions for my Project
Plexiglass: 53 in x 30 in (134.62 cm x 76.2 cm)
Wood panels: 3 in x 30 in (7.62 cm x 76.2 cm), notches for side arm: 2 5/8 in x 7 7/8 in (6.67 cm x 20 cm)
Quick Tip! You may be wondering where you can get plexiglass. Most hardware stores have a rack of different sizes of plexiglass, just ask where it is in the store. If they are really nice, they might even cut it to size for you! You can also order plexiglass cut to size from some sellers on Amazon if you just want to have it delivered to you.
Plexiglass Shelf Insert
The shelf insert will go into where the knee board used to be.
The process is really pretty simple, just make a rectangle!
I used ½ inch thick wood here since it would be holding objects.
Take all your measurements for what you want the OUTSIDE dimensions of your box to be, take into account your wood width, and glue/nail together a box. That simple!
If you want to get fancy (and have the equipment), you can do a miter cut on the corners of each piece of wood. Since no one is really down there checking precise angles, I just did a basic butt joint.
Buy some plexiglass with the same outside dimensions and attach however you’d like. I’m a big fan of epoxy glue over screws because you have to be very careful not to crack or melt the plexiglass when using screws.
Dimensions for my project
OUTSIDE of wooden rectangle and plexiglass: 48 ½ in x 21 in (123.2 cm x 53.34 cm)
Depth of insert: 4 in (10.16 cm)
Keybed Bar Plank
This is the board that goes into the now empty keybed.
After removing all of the keys and the keyboard, there is a lowered area behind the key slip and we need to raise it up to make a flat surface for the bar.
This was the easiest bit of the whole project.
I used particle board for this part as it looks fine and is much cheaper than getting a big hunk of wood. I went to my local building supply, found the depth I needed, had them cut it to size (for a fee), sanded it, and painted it. That’s it. (Again if you can’t get to a building supply store you can often find sellers who will do this for you online.)
Dimensions for my project
Plank: 52 ¾ in x 13 5/8 in x 3 in (134 cm x 34.6 cm x 7.62 cm)
Quick Tip! If you want to save a little bit of money, you can get a thinner particle board, cut the right sizes a couple of times, then glue each one on top of the other to get the correct depth. For example, if you need a depth of three inches, you can buy three separate 1 inch planks, cut them to size (length and width), then glue them together to get a three-inch-deep plank.
On to our last construction project!
If you kept the lid from Step 1, simply paint and reattach, no need to do this part!
This one is very similar to the shelf insert. Simply measure the dimensions of what you want the INSIDE of your rectangle to be, remember to account for the width of your wood, cut, glue/nail together, then paint.
For the top of the lid, I used the craft pine from the plexiglass window part of the project as vertical paneling that I thought gave it a lot of depth. You can use a single board, horizontal paneling, or do something really fancy like herringbone or chevron!
Dimensions for my project
INSIDE of lid: 61 ¼ in x 14 ½ in (155.575 cm x 36.83 cm)
Wooden panels: 3 in x 15 ½ in (7.62 cm x 39.37 cm)
Step 5: Assemble your Piano Bar
Avengers, assemble! (Sorry, I’m letting my nerd show!)
Now that we have all of our parts and the paint is dry and finished, let’s put it all together!
First, toss that keybed plank into its spot. This will help us measure where we need to put the plexiglass window.
Once that is in there, get some wooden corner blocks that can be screwed in.
Paint them if you’d like, then place 1 at each side of the keybed far enough away from the keybed plank, that the plexiglass window can fit between the two. Evenly space a few more corner blocks along the width of where the plexiglass will be. This will hold the bottom of the plexiglass window in place.
Insert the plexiglass window into your newly created track. Voila!
Let’s move up to the top of the piano. I mentioned in Step 4 that the plexiglass window was a little above the rest of the piano body. When I was getting all my measurements at the beginning of the project, I noticed a few knobs where the old lid had been.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get them off, so I just decided to leave them and adjust around it. The lid needed to be propped up about an ½ inch higher. I lifted the top of the piano using scraps of pine from Part 4. This also gave me the ability to use a longer piece of wood to attach the plexiglass to the top of the piano, adding support at the top.
Now we’re done with the most difficult steps! If you need to add some more support somewhere, please do. You know your piano and your household best, so make any adjustments that you see fit.
Next, we have the bottom of the piano. Like I said earlier, the pedals from my piano were broken and I had to cut them out. It wasn’t going to be easy to repair it, so I sanded all the rough edges and just covered it up!
I used a painted wooden decal that you can find at most craft or hardware stores to place over the hole.
If you did all your measurements correctly, the new insert for the knee board should fit into the rectangular opening perfectly. You can screw the wood of the insert into the piano, but this will make it more difficult to remove and clean inside the piano later.
Finally, the most exciting part of the whole journey! Putting the lid on!
It really should be as simple as just placing it where it needs to go, but the feeling of finally finishing this long, exhausting project feels so satisfying. It took weeks of blood, sweat, tears and middle of the night munchie runs, but…
We did it! Now time for a drink!
Finished Repurposed Piano Bar!
If you liked this repurposed piano bar project and you want to return to it later, don’t forget to Pin it!
Ciara Minor is a US based freelance writer and avid upcycler.
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