One of my woodworking instructors years ago liked to reassure students by saying “Anyone can build furniture, but it takes real skill to fix mistakes.” Here’s how I went about fixing mistakes on a recent commission.
A few weeks ago I wrote about using bending ply for the skin of a table support frame that follows the form of a grand piano top. After gluing the plywood to the form I sanded and painted it black to make it all but disappear, even as it provides critical support and stiffening to the solid wood top.
Before attaching the support base to the curly ambrosia maple top, I wanted to double check the size was right. Good thing I did. I’d been so wrapped up in the coolness of the job that I had completely forgotten to allow for the 1/4″ thickness of the plywood skin when cutting out the skeleton for the support base.
Ouch. I hate when that happens.
This kind of error is annoying, but I’ve seen it so many times, in so many trades, that I didn’t waste too much time kicking myself. Let me offer a few examples to keep in your pocket for the next time you do something similar:
- A graphic designer I know of was so engrossed in the beautiful lettering for a magazine cover she is working on that she wrote “India University” on the title instead of “Indiana.” The omission got through several rounds of editing but was fortunately noticed on the final proof.
- A client of mine who decided to do her own staining and finishing of parts for her kitchen cabinets (a rarity, but in this case I know her work to be professional level) was so focused on the quality of the stain job that she applied the bathroom vanity color to the doors for the kitchen sink, and vice-versa. Deep groan. A day of sanding and restaining, followed by a couple of clear topcoats, and she was able to laugh about it.
- Just on this morning’s news I heard that painters who were lettering the corporate name on the side of a Cathay Pacific jet left out the “f”–Cathay Paciic.
The only thing to do is move on to the fix.
I had two options: Completely remake the support base or take the completed base apart and salvage the top and bottom pieces that I had painstakingly shaped to the piano’s curves. I chose the latter. Here’s how I did it, in case any of the following may be of help to you in your own, um, mess ups.
Step 1: Mark
Step 2: Separate the top and bottom frames from the oak rails
Some of you may wonder why I didn’t just cut the whole assembly down without taking it apart. That would certainly have been simplest, but I have no accurate way of cutting something 3″ high down by approximately 1/4″. My bandsaw isn’t large enough to accommodate the support base. It was crucial to keep the whole thing square to the top and bottom, so a sawzall wasn’t going to cut it (literally or figuratively–ouch). The only way I could see of getting where I needed to go was by separating the top and bottom pieces from the rest.
Step 3: Rout flush
Step 4: Joinery
Next, I cut down the two oak rails that were salvageable and notched them around the top frame piece, as I had the first time. I had to make a new rail for the nose end of the piano.
After checking the fit, I glued the sandwich up again, let it dry, and reskinned it with new bending ply following the same process as before.
Step 5: Attach to the top
I made wide slots with a Festool Domino and attached the support base to the solid wood top with screws run through fender washers, locating the screws in the center of the slots to allow the wood to expand and contract. Finally, I added strips of industrial rubber to protect the piano lid, adhering it with contact cement. Because the 1/8″-thick edge of the rubber was going to be visible (albeit barely), I colored it black with a Sharpie.
The bending plywood retained its shape even after being cut from the framework.
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