Piano's aren't just for playing and singalongs. If your piano has seen better days and is gathering dust, why not turn it into a bar? There’s life in the old uptown girl yet! Transform it into a retro home bar - you're friends will never leave.
If you don’t have a piano, you can buy yours second-hand for a song from Salvos stores and op-shops. You just have to get it home – the cast-iron frame weighs a tonne. Choose a piano that’s not totally ruined, as the keys and all the strings will be saved and become features, and make sure the metal inside is not corroded.
Gather your supplies
Old upright piano
Main shelf 140 x 40 x 1320mm LOSP pine
Glass beads (4) 10 x 10 x 310mm maple quad moulding
Packer panels 1140 x 210 x 4mm plywood
Back shelf mirror 1315 x 120 x 6mm mirror with polished edges
Front shelf mirror 1180 x 320 x 6mm mirror with polished edges
Back glass 1315 x 310 x 6.38mm polished laminated glass
Shelf cleats (2) 70 x 35 x 140-190mm pine
Bottom shelf 140-190 x 19 x 1315mm pine
When you’re finished, toast your piano’s history – ours was about 100 years old. And one of the beauties of this project is that if you change your mind, you can largely reverse the transformation and restore it to a musical instrument, albeit with a few minor alterations.
- Step 1: Upright pianos are designed to come apart for tuning. First, lift the hinged top lid and use the turn latches to release the top front panel. Lift out the front panel to expose the hammer and damper actions. Keep the panel as it will be used as a shelf. Remove bottom panel under the keyboard in the same way.
- Step 2: Check your piano by hitting keys and operating the right pedal to see whether hammer or damper action will need to be removed first. Here, it’s the dampers that had to come out first. Undo screws that hold damper mechanism in place and lift out.
- Step 3: Unclip the hammer action and pull out whole mechanism. It all comes out together, so there’s no fiddly undoing of individual hammers or dampers. You should be left with bare strings. Unscrew clips or brackets that held the actions in place. Also remove the sustain and soft pedal rods that connect the pedals to the key action.
- Step 4: To prepare main shelf, cut pine to length to suit your piano’s measurements inside the sides. The 40mm thickness is ideal to use under the mirror top as you don’t want it bending under the weight of bottles. You may need to mark in a notch housing at each end to fit around and over the keyboard lid support block inside the piano. Here, the housing was 85 x 35mm with a depth that leaves 20mm of material to match the thickness of the front panel.
- Step 5: Mark in a rebate or groove along front edge. The height of rebate is the same as the thickness of front piano panel (here 20mm) and the depth is 10mm, allowing room for the 6mm thickness of the mirror that will be fitted on the back of the front panel. Also mark in a 5 x 9mm rebate along the back edge of shelf to support the glass back which will be installed later.
- Step 6: Cut as much of end housings as you can with a power saw, then chisel out remainder of waste.
- Step 7: Cut the long rebates using a power saw with a fence. Test-fit shelf in the piano; adjust if necessary. Then predrill and screw to the support blocks at each end of the keyboard lid.
- Step 8: The front panel doubles as an opening servery. It’s difficult to hinge this without leaving gaps, so the mechanism used will be lifting the shelf onto locating pins. If your piano has pin holes in the lid support, drill them out to a diameter of 8mm. If there are dowels, cut them off and drill out to 8mm. Set 8mm dowel into holes so they project up 15-20mm. Then drill 2 holes to match dowels in bottom edge of panel. Mark in 2 more holes on bottom face side, 25mm from bottom edge, and aligned with dowels. There should be a 3-4mm gap between shelf and front panel when open.
- Step 9: Drill 8mm holes in the face of the panel, then test by ocating the shelf in its open position on the pins. The pins will stop the shelf moving forwards or backwards.
- Step 10: You can temporarily support the shelf using timber offcuts on the fallboard or key cover so that it’s level. Then screw about 400mm of chain between the side and the end of the shelf panel to hold it in place. When screwing on, ensure that the chain is taut so that it does not let the shelf sag and won’t foul on the turn latches.
- Step 11: To support the back glass, nail a pair of back beads to the piano so they’re in contact with the back of the shelf and as close to vertical as possible. They may need to be jutting forward a fraction to clear all the tuning pins on the iron frame.
- Step 12: Before fixing the mirror and glass, fill the back of the piano panels with thin plywood packers to give a continuous back to the mirror. This will vary between pianos, so cut the plywood to suit yours.
- Step 13: To attach the mirror, apply a grid of double-sided adhesive tape for both the inner and shelf mirror, then apply special mirror metal glass adhesive to the area. Position the glass. The tape will hold the mirror in place temporarily and the adhesive provides permanent support once it’s cured.
- Step 14: To display yet protect the beautiful piano strings, place sheet of 6.38mm laminated glass against the beads and into the shelf rebate. Hold in place with more beads on the outside of the glass. When nailing on, you should use a nail punch so that you don’t accidentally strike the glass.
- Step 15: Set the bottom piano panel face-side down on timber supports, then cut it in half using a straightedge and power saw. Cut off any dowel lugs as the doors will be hinged and made to swing to the sides.
- Step 16: Plane the top or bottom of the panels (now doors) so that they fit loosely in their opening and will clear the underside of the keyboard.
- Step 17: Cut the piano hinges to the right height of the doors (here, 525mm), then screw to the edges of the panel doors. Set the doors in position and lift them on 3mm-thick spacers, then screw the doors to the piano – you will need to get right down there. Keep a few spare tiny drill bits to bore the pilot holes, as the position is awkward and you’re quite likely to snap a couple of bits.
- Step 18: Prepare a bottom shelf that clears and leaves exposed the bottom pedal trapwork, yet is low enough so you can stand wine bottles. Use a bottle to check for clearance. Cut around any projections of the cast-iron frame if necessary and give yourself enough room to insert the shelf. Cut and screw cleats to the sides of the piano to hold the shelf, then set it in place. Add 45mm-diameter pine knobs to the tops of the doors and add magnetic catches inside to hold them shut.
- Step 19: Sand the entire outside of the piano. Most are finished in a lacquer or French polish. Use 180-grit paper – not to remove all the old coating, but to give a good key to the paint finish. Use masking tape to cover the pedals and any other sections you do not want sprayed.
- Step 20: For a seamless high-gloss finish, use an electric spray gun and quality enamel paint. Mix the enamel with about 10% mineral turpentine. Most electric spray guns have a 2-stage trigger: first, air only; second, air and paint. Stay at least 300mm away from the job and keep moving swiftly as the paint delivery is rapid and you risk getting paint runs. You should apply 3 or 4 coats of paint, sanding lightly between coats with 320-grit paper. Once the paint has dried, expose the keys by unscrewing the piano hinge that holds on the fallboard. Then it’s time to open the bar…
You’ll also need
Double-sided tape; Liquid Nails Mirror Metal Glass; 1m double jack chain; two 610mm piano hinges; 8mm dowels; two 45mm-dia pine knobs; electric spray gun; Dulux Super Enamel High Gloss in black; mineral turpentine; 180- and 320-grit abrasive paper; magnetic door catches; nail punch