How to restore finish on old piano bench? (and how old is it?)
July 16, 2021 1:15 PM   Subscribe

I just bought this nice piano bench (pics here).

The inside of the lid is beautiful, with nice tiger-striped wood grain and a shiny smooth high gloss finish. The top of the bench, not so much. Most of the stuff is still there (though it's worn away in places), but it's dark, dull, opaque, and gently pebbled. It says "Maynard Co. Adjustable Piano Bench Chicago.ILL. "

1) Exactly what type of finish is this likely to be?
2) How can I get the top to look even somewhat as nice as the inside?

I understand the nature of the finish may depend on age. It seems pretty old. It feels heavy, maybe around 40lbs. It has brass struts and iron (?) cogs in the ratcheting adjustment mechanism. I'd hazard it can't be all that young based on the "ILL" and the overall look/feel.

I'm thinking of doing a light coat of raw linseed oil (it seems a bit dry) and/or using the Pledge brand "restoring oil" I have. But in what order? Or should I use Murphy's Oil soap? I'm not opposed to buying more stuff either, e.g. I've seen products marketed just for pianos. My main goal is to do no harm, which is why I ask first.

posted by SaltySalticid to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
This could be a lacquer finish which is very common on older furniture. Lacquer is not very durable and tends to wear over time and can get opaque too, which is one reason that it looks so much clearer on the inside of the bench.

What I would do is remove the finish completely with lacquer thinner/mineral spirits which should bring out the color and grain very nicely. (Even if the finish is oil/wax this won't harm the wood in any event.) Then you can put on the finish of your choice, linseed oil will work; I really like pure tung oil which has a similar look to linseed oil but is more durable and requires much less maintenance.
posted by goingonit at 1:33 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, I may indeed strip it, but I should add I don't know if maybe it's worth preserving some of the patina/old finish itself. And if it's possible to get a better look while keeping the age, I think I'd like to pursue that before I resort to a full strip.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:57 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

You should try working on a small corner with rubbing alcohol. If the action does leave varnish stains on your cloth, you’re dealing with some or other sort of shellac which wouldn’t be surprising. Try find a violin maker or historical furniture restorer to help you along trying to find the correct re-polishing (or removal/ reapplying) methods and materials. Better don’t apply random other oils or products right now. The inside looks like satinwood veneer to me but the pictures are a little unclear, while the identification of exotic wood species is not always easy.
posted by Namlit at 2:36 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

[...on re-viewing the pictures on my computer I take back my previous satinwood suggestion.]
posted by Namlit at 3:15 PM on July 16

There are faint squares, forming a grid, on the top of the lid, and perhaps indents along the edge. I think your bench had some kind of upholstery originally, either an inset pad or a tufted cushion wrap-around, and replicating the interior finish would be really difficult.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:21 PM on July 16

Digging through the sources listed here, it seems like the company that made Maynard pianos operated between 1920 and 1928.
posted by wreckingball at 5:57 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

Another resource has Werner established in 1902, and taken over by the big Chicago piano maker, M. Schulz (founded 1869; had a "Maynard" piano, too), in 1920. And, there's an R.K. Maynard Piano Company in town by 1905; Chicago became a major player in piano manufacturing during the 19th century. If there are any other labels/markings for your bench, posting them may help narrow the age range.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:28 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

I'd guess it's varnish. I like to revive old varnish with turpentine and boiled linseed oil, 1:1 mix. It dissolves a bit of old finish & dirt, leaves a bit of new finish. (Doesn't harm polyurethane, bit just cleans it a bit.) You wipe it really well the 1st time, then just wipe it down frequently for a bit, then annually. In humid weather, put a fan on it to get it quite dry.
posted by theora55 at 10:33 AM on July 17

Correct me if I'm wrong but from the photos, the top looks like it's veneered with 8 book-matched panels, which is ….odd. It would be a lot less work to veneer it with a single sheet. Maybe it was a designed to match some other piece of furniture? The dark brown stain seems pretty common from that time, when most folks wanted stuff to look darker/older/fancier. I'd touch up the scratches and worn corners with a matching stain an then give it all a coat of paste wax.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:00 PM on July 18

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