Flambee that Piano, Old-Timer

Do not try this "light the piano on fire" trick at home. These men are untrained professionals. September 26, 2006

In a posting about staining maple, I suggested wiping the door down first with paint thinner prior to applying the stain. I was called an "old timer" by another old timer. I take no offense to this whatsoever and I wanted any other of you old timers to chime in on how our trade has changed, be it for the good or the bad. Anyone remember a step called "gas sanding" which was popular among piano finishers? How about the endless step of rubbing out a project with a bar of Ivory soap? Anyone remember the good-ol-days when you could finish Grandma's car with regular old nitrocellulose lacquer?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
Well, I guess I am just a kiddo; I don't remember any of that stuff! Thanks, I needed that youth pill, as my back is killing me from sanding and glazing cabinet doors all day. Somehow it feels better already!

From contributor M:
How about dropping a bar of soap in the water bucket that you used for sanding and rubbing to "soften the water"? Or how about the great Fresco dry powder colors, and also, whatever happened to the old Lake dry powders (the true concentrates)? What happened to the 1/2 pints of the pigmented paste colorants (in the Universal, Oil, and Japans)? I still miss my old alcohol torch (which was an oil can with the long spout that we would cut off, and then punch a small hole in the side to vent it, and then pull up a piece of cloth to use as the wick when doing burn-ins with shellac sticks). And what happened to all the metal files and rasps that we ground into burn-in knifes?

From contributor J:
I have to know! What is gas sanding? Must have some merit if piano finishers were/are using it? Has it been replaced or a little known secret? Okay, if I was a cat, I'd be dead.

From the original questioner:
It's pretty simple when you think about it. Back in the day when gas was 83 cents a gallon, we used it instead of paint thinners to wet sand the tops of pianos. That and an inline double padded air sander with 800 grit paper was the way to go. Sure smelled, but nothing like some of the conversion varnishes and polys of today.

Here's another use for gasoline, but I wouldn't recommend anyone trying this. Twice while working with Edward, he was having a hell of a time with some silicone contamination on two separate grand pianos. We scrubbed and scrubbed with thinners and various solvents, but to no avail. Once a coating was sprayed over those particular areas, a telltale sign would poke its ugly head. On those two separate occasions, Ed asked me to help him bring the top out the backdoor into this little alleyway connected to the shop.

I knew exactly what he had in mind. I re-stripped the top down to raw wood and after a few hours had passed… he wiped the contaminated area down with a bit of gas and lit that mother with a match. Twice he resorted to doing this, and twice it heated or leached the silicone out of the wood and we proceeded with our finishing steps. True story, circa 1971.

From contributor E:
I've seen a few tricks with spirits and gas from a few old timers, but that's a good one!

From the original questioner:
I can't tell you how much about my trade I learned thanks to people like Edward or Jim or Miklos, most who have passed on. I also learned quite a bit from a great touch-up artist who I met at a Mohawk touch-up class back in the early 80's. His name was Marty.

From contributor M:
I remember Marty Maranz. He was one of the first Mohawk salesmen, he went west, and did a great job putting Mohawk on the map. Did you know Robby Robbins? He was the second manager to follow Marty. I originally went to work for Mohawk in 1960, I think, and there were 5-6 salesman at that time covering the entire country. They certainly have come a long way since then.

From contributor S:
Petrol (gasoline) flaming always was a good way of cleaning surfaces. My uncle used to work in the printing business and was out in Nigeria in the '60s before all the trouble kicked off. He was walking through the print shop when he noted the quality of a run was degrading, so he told the press minder to clean the plate. He came back 30 minutes later to see the quality was even worse. He asked the press minder if he had cleaned the plate and received the answer "No, sah!" The guy didn't know how. My uncle showed him how to take the plate to the open door, soak the ink with petrol, and flame it off.

A few days later, the same thing happened. This time, the guy took the plate to the doorway, poured on a little petrol from a bucket and lit the plate. The flames died down very quickly, so the guy scooped some petrol out of the bucket with his hands and threw it on the plate. He then noted his hands were alight and stuck them in the bucket to put them out. He finally beat the flames on his hands out, then picked up the bucket and tossed the flaming petrol out of the door… all over a guy cycling past. Luckily it was the rainy season, so the guy crashed into the ditch and put himself out!

From contributor M:
You can thank the questioner for giving you the opportunity of telling that wonderful story! I bet you have waited years to find a lead-in. Was that the end, or was there more to that story?

From contributor E:
Yes indeed - the flaming bucket made my morning!

From contributor S:
My uncle, aunt and cousin were taken by armed convoy to Lagos airport in the middle of the night to leave the country. But that was almost a year later and had nothing to do with torching passing cyclists!

It is just one of those old Colonial stories of introducing modern technology to people who have no idea of the effects or consequences. Who would have thought that a bit of animal fat would have started the Indian Mutiny.

From the original questioner:
I don't think Hollywood could have come up with a hotter idea for a movie.