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How We Turned an Old Piano Into a Drinks Cabinet

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David is joint owner of Finish Line Furnishings, a small family business in Northampton, UK, which makes homeware out of pre-loved items.

Here's a look at the finished product, fully stocked with tasty drinks.

Here's a look at the finished product, fully stocked with tasty drinks.

Why Build a Piano Drinks Cabinet?

We love upcycling reclaimed products into new, original designs. When we discovered that the music repair shop that a friend was working in had some old pianos that were deemed to be beyond repair, we hired a van and drove over to pick them up.

We ended up with three pianos, all in various states of disrepair, but all very much at the end of their lives as musical instruments. Despite this, the frames were still in good condition and made of fantastic quality wood—perfect for upcycling projects.

This article is all about what we did with the first of these pianos.

This is what the piano looked like when we first collected it.

This is what the piano looked like when we first collected it.

First Look-Over

As you can see in the picture, the piano was in a sorry state when first collected. All of the keys had been removed, the lid that would usually cover the keys was also missing, and at some point in its life the piano had been coated with a coat of hard-wearing, but uninspiring cream gloss paint.

Here's what the piano looked like on the inside.

Here's what the piano looked like on the inside.

Inside the Piano

On the inside, the piano still had its iron frame, along with its strings. We could have kept this in, but decided that its look wasn't good enough to justify the space it took up and the extra weight it would add to the finished project. The amount of good quality timber present in the piano meant it would be heavy enough as it was, and those iron frames are heavy just by themselves.

The piano also had its pedals and parts of their mechanism still attached at the bottom behind a pull-out door. We decided to remove these to make more storage space.

At this point we removed the top of the piano, its hinged door near the top, and the removable door at the bottom, to allow for easier access.

Removing the Iron Frame and Remains of the Keyboard

Removing the iron frame was a difficult task. We laid the piano down on its back, so that we could remove it without the risk of it falling, and had a look at how it was attached. As neither of us had ever dismantled a piano before, we discovered that this was harder than it looked.

At first, we were hoping to remove the whole frame along with its strings intact and then see if this could be used in a different project. This made accessing the large screws fixing the frame to the piano much harder, but with some effort and a large screwdriver we managed to get them out. Unfortunately, we hadn't bargained for the strength of the tension in the strings being too much for the iron frame. And without the added strength of its wooden backing, the frame snapped down the middle. Lesson learned for next time.

We then took an angle grinder to the strings to remove the tension. This was great fun, but make sure you cover up if you try this at home, as obviously there is a lot of tension in those strings. A full face visor and strong gloves are a must.

With the screws undone and the strings removed, we then managed to lever the frame out via the top of the piano. We then stood the piano back up and did the relatively quick jobs of removing the remains of the keyboard and pedal mechanism. We then had a piano ready to be cleaned up and converted.

It took some effort, but we managed to remove the frame and pedals.

It took some effort, but we managed to remove the frame and pedals.

Cleaning Up the Piano

Before anything could be added or repurposed, the piano needed cleaning up. Some of the interior was a bad state from where the iron frame had been attached, and there was many years of dust, dirt, and random objects that had built up inside over its long life.

We removed any rubbish from the inside (which included an old sixpence, an eraser, and a toy car), before sanding down the interior surfaces, removing any loose pieces of wood or spare nails and giving everything a good vacuum.

We were now ready to build.

Beginning Construction

I had already decided that I was going to keep this drinks cabinet simple but functional. I wanted a permanent table surface at the front, along with inside storage at the top and bottom of the piano. The surface where the keys had been was made from a very solid frame, but the wooden inlay design was not suitable for a table surface.

To fix this, I measured up some 6 mm ply to cover the entire top, measuring and cutting holes to allow for two large screws to protrude near the rear of the surface. As these screws were part of the frame's construction, I didn't have the option to remove them. But the holes allowed the tabletop to sit snugly, creating a nice solid surface for serving drinks from.

Here's a look at the new tabletop.

Here's a look at the new tabletop.

Building the Bottle Storage

The next step was to add bottle storage both at the rear of the table top and in the new cupboard space that I was building at the top of the piano.

To do this, I used 18 mm plywood for added strength and cut out a shelf designed to go flush with the bottom of the currently removable door that previously hid the iron frame and strings.

Underneath this, I used eight rectangular pieces of plywood, screwed in from both above and below, to create cubbyholes underneath, providing both extra storage for bottles and additional support for the shelf itself.

The top was now ready to be put back together again. The original door had sat in the front of the piano and had been held in by catches. To provide a more functional cupboard door, I attached hinges to the shelf, allowing for a fully opening cupboard.

The door at the bottom of the piano had also originally just been a pull out door. I decided to saw this piece in half, add handles made from some spare wood from elsewhere in the piano, and hinge these at the side to create two opening cupboard doors. A couple of magnet catches completed the job.

Our fully constructed shelf and bottle storage looked great, even before we applied the finish.

Our fully constructed shelf and bottle storage looked great, even before we applied the finish.

Adding the Finishing Touches

Now that the piano drinks cabinet had been fully constructed, all that was left to do was add a finish to its surfaces.

I love the look of the plywood I managed to source and decided that to give it a more classy finish, all that was needed was some wood stain. I applied a slightly reddish stain to the shelf and tabletop surfaces, which gave it a lovely look and some added resistance to day-to-day wear.

For the exterior of the cabinet, I wanted a colour that was bold, but sensible enough to look good in any type of room. I visited my local Annie Sloane stockist and managed to find a new chalk paint colour called Oxford Navy, which I love. A couple of coats of this created a stylish finish that also made the red in the wood stain pop perfectly. A couple of coats of furniture wax over the paint and the cabinet was ready.

Our finished piano drinks cabinet, ready to be stocked up with delicious beverages.

Our finished piano drinks cabinet, ready to be stocked up with delicious beverages.

© 2020 David