Recycled Piano Becomes Upcycled Workbench

Pianos are free, in case you’re not hip to the exciting world of musical instrument salvage. Yes, the home piano, once the pinnacle of upper middle class appreciation of the arts, is no longer. The piano your great aunt bought in 1963 is just taking up space, and it’s not like the guy on Craigslist giving away a free piano has a Bösendorfer.

It’s out of this reality of a surplus of cheap used pianos that [luke] built a new desk. He got it a while ago, but after getting it into his house, he realized it was too old to be tuned anymore. Or at least it was uneconomical to do so. This piano became a workbench, but after a while [luke] wanted something with a little more storage.

The process of converting this piano to a desk began with taking a few photos and putting them into Fusion 360. A series of panels and brackets were modeled in box jointed plywood, and the entire thing was cut out of 6mm Baltic birch plywood at the Vancouver Hack Space.

There are a few nice features that make this desk a little better than an Ikea special. There’s a Raspberry Pi mounted to the shelves, because the Pi still makes a great workbench computer. There’s a power supply, and hookups for 12 V, 5 V, and 3.3 V from an ATX power supply. This is controlled with an awesome antique power switch mounted to the side of the piano. Slap a few coats of black paint on that, and [luke] has an awesome, functional workbench that also has out-of-tune sympathetic strings. Not bad.

You can check out the entire build video below. Thanks [Jarrett] for sending this one in.

47 thoughts on “Recycled Piano Becomes Upcycled Workbench

        1. I’m not repurposing a tree… I’m not just taking a tree, slapping it in something and calling it repurposed. Wood is cut, sawed, sanded, carved, nailed, screwed… It’s not just “taking a tree and…” People who try to oversimplify the intent of words strikes me as being highly pedantic… Or very, very, very pedantic, if you will. :P

          1. I wasn’t clear. I meant to imply that in the world of re-purposing there is long chain of “re-purposing” in ever finer steps to the point that choosing one becomes arbitrary. The piano example is a big step, but I’m just voting in favor of some other phrase due to the fluidity of re-purposing. If –> represents re-purposing: mineral+water+sunlight –> tree–>stem–>pole or log–>plank–>resawn board–>planed–>sanded–>cut–>joined–>finished–>……..

    1. Nope. I think words like that are great!

      They allow you to recognize what kind of person is talking to you so quickly and conveniently. It leaves you with more time and energy to spend on people that don’t use words like “upcycle” outside of quotes.

    1. Strings occasionally break if you attempt to raise the piano’s pitch from some sunken value to A=440. The string doesn’t really go anywhere when it snaps. Attempting to remove all the strings is more dangerous, and needs to be done in increments spread across the frame, rather than chopping out everything in order from 1 to 88 or vice-versa.

      1. I just took an upright apart (August 2018) – took three evenings to do – loosened every string by hand an was fine. Wood came apart easily after that. Metal string frame was about 200-250 lbs.. Cutting the strings is the dangerous part when all the tension goes quickly. I did get one injury while loosening – accidentally raked my knuckles across the mid-tone strings, which went like hot butter through my skin and I lost a chunk off my skin. Worst part was the dust though, and that the strings were only worth $1.96 Canadian at the metal recycler…

      2. I have unstrung many pianos to rebuild. I have never done even unstringing and have seen no problems because of this. Start with the bass first, the strings are sent in to be reproduced. Then all the rest of the treble (three strings), got it. Don’t cut piano wire with any ordinary wire cutters, you will notch the cutting edge. The wire cutter in Vise Grips will work, or notch the wire with a stone wheel in a motor tool. Then it will bend and break in two.

        The oldest pianos often have the nicest cases with art carvings and the depression era are “modern traditional” not so good looking. I have also put for customers new digital guts into old cases both grand and upright.

    2. I can’t see why he left the harp in. I skimmed the video so missed some. It adds to the weight and takes up space which makes it look more like an art statement than a work space. Nevertheless, old pianos have never been cheaper and you can find them for free. What a great idea.

  1. I hope people re-purposing pianos into other things aren’t doing it with decent playable pianos and are only doing it with pianos that would cost too much to get fixed up and tuned again or are otherwise not worth saving…

    1. Pianos are just not as popular as they once were. I just checked the Seattle Craigs List for full uprights and saw two that are free and several under $250, and that was the first page. I’m really tempted to pick up one of the free ones.

    1. The tuning pegs get a bad tendency to not stay in place, and therefore tuned. And replacing all of the pegs and strings at once can cost more than a new piano.

      My parents just gave away a rather nice upright that had been used as a photo display and mail table for decades due to slippage in the tuning pegs. Several $100 tuning it for six months before it went out of key again wasn’t in the budget. It has a nice new home, with a kid who doesn’t care that it is slightly out of key. When they do care, a $1000 synth with weighed keys will play better than that old beast.

        1. One company did that 100 years ago. Mason and Hamlin screwstringers are an oddity for sure. A screw and nut with a hitch hole for the string, pull from a raised threaded ridge on the cast iron plate. It never caught on. Used only on uprights, their grands were the best ever made. The lack of machine tuners on violins is probably because of metal mass on such a light resonate body. Tapered pegs will get an hourglass wear pattern and need to be resurfaced or replaced.

        2. Heard of one fellow who though he had solved that problem. Had his piano tuned, and then welded the pins to the iron frame. Six months later after the weather had done its work the piano was out of tune and untunable.

          PS: Early in this discussion I put in a long comment on methods and dangers of moving pianos. It’s not shown up yet.

    2. yeah, but depending on how far gone it is, the amount of wear on the keys and hammers, tuning can quickly turn into “Just buy another piano.” People buy them but don’t maintain them.

    3. If a piano isn’t maintained and is left in a damp place or worse in a place that goes from dry to wet can have the wooden pin board to break, or the soundboard or the bridge too. These are really difficult and costly repairs to do that are normally worth to do on grand pianos of historical importance. Also hammers and action could have problems and could be another costly work to do. Consider also that most piano that were bought in homes were cheap one and cheaply made.

      Another thing is that a piano left too much time out of tune loses tension and having to retune correctly more than 200 stings is difficult because the cast iron frame will become unevenly pulled.

  2. I’m hear to say, free/cheap pianos may be a good source of mahogany or other woods that would cost an arm and a leg at LumberWorld.
    Oh, if it has genuine ivory keys, piano tuners/restorers may want those.

  3. FAKE!

    So his video seems to be made from recordings of him building this thing. But a couple minutes in he seems to be frustrated as he realizes it isn’t going to be as easy as he thought. Later he is trying to remove his shelves for painting after dry-fitting them and can’t get them out. He ends up having to paint them in place.

    Meanwhile the piano still has it’s strings. They are right there. Right in front of his face.

    What would you do in his place? Come on, surely we all would! Yet he never strums those strings in frustration!

    Clearly the video is totally staged.

    1. Hehe, back when i was a kid, we had gotten an old piano. It was garbage though… Tore it apart. The only thing we kept WERE those strings. The thing was outside in a shed, and we made ALL the noise we could with that thing! My dad, ended up taking one of the decorative square wood bits on the front of the upright bit, a pair of hinges, and cut a hole in the floor to make a laundry chute. Definitely appreciated that home upgrade as a kid! :P

  4. Many years ago we bought an old upright for $150. It was fun for the kids to play with, but it wouldn’t stay in tune. Eventually I took it completely apart and the pieces went out with the trash, a little each week. Even the cast iron frame was easily broken up with a hammer. The wood was ply with a thin veneer of mahogany.

  5. I built my mother a desk out of an old vacuum tube organ that didn’t work. I already had a working organ in a style I much preferred over the broken one, and I had wanted the electronics out of it to put on display. I had several generations of similar organ modules (tube, transistor, hybrid module, IC), plus a relay based elevator control that was nearly the same size. After gutting it, rather than discard the wood body, I cleaned it up, put down a work surface, and made a desk from it. If I had used it for myself, I might have made it a soldering bench, with air suction between the main desk and the upper deck, and things like panel meters and power supplies, along with the soldering station itself, all built into it, but I had already built a large workbench by then, so she got it for arts and crafts, and with no mods.

  6. This was fascinating to watch. I have made two workbenches from old pianos for my own personal use, and soon will venture into making two piano desks for sale. I don’t have the tools at my disposal that you used, but you have given me some ideas that I can use. Thank you.

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