The Great Piano Project, pt. 2

The Great Piano Project, pt. 2

What I learned taking an antique upright piano apart to clean and restore the inside…

Part 1

STEP 1: Remove & clean action

Getting this old Gulbransen cleaned out was chore number one. Turns out that old pianos are terrific repositories of dust, dirt, and the plethora of things that get dropped between keys or inside the top cover. Dust is like course sandpaper to the delicate parts of the piano.

I found this video from David Sprunger at that helped me get started. If you want to try this yourself on your piano, I highly recommend watching his 3 videos on how to do it. Worked great for me.

Removing the Action

The action is crafted as a single mechanism that can fairly easily be taken out and put back into the piano. That needed to come out first. Following David’s lead, I removed the music desk and the vertical side trim. Unscrewing 4 brass knobs allowed the action to be carefully lifted up out of the case.


Inside of piano box with action removed. The brass-colored harp and strings are seen against the back soundboard

Cleaning Dust from the Action

I set the action out on the back porch and used my shop vac to carefully blow the dust out. I made sure that it was blowing into the grass as there was a pretty good bit that came out. I was surprised at the coating of dust that was on all the felt and wood parts. It looked remarkable clean and, if not quite new, much younger than its 78 years.


Front of action after cleaning dust. Note the grooves in the front faces of the hammers. I have to deal with this in the third step.


Back of action after cleaning. Note how some of the backstops (little wedge shapes with brown felt) are laying back further. I will have to replace little silk straps that hold these in the proper position.


Now that the action has been pulled out, cleaned, and inspected for needed repairs, the next step is to take out the piano keys for cleaning.

Here’s what I know so far:

  • The hammers may need attention, but I’ve got some research to do here.
  • I can tell the broken fabric straps on the back are probably not good, but I’m not yet sure what they are called, what they do, or how to fix it. More research needed.

So I’ve got some more reading and investigation to do. But, first, I need to get the keys taken out. According to David Sprunger, the space underneath the keyboard is another treasure trove of dirt and odds and ends.

Up next…Part 3: Removing the keys



The Great Piano Project, pt. 1

The Great Piano Project, pt. 1

What I learned taking an antique upright piano apart to clean and restore the inside…

I recently picked up an old piano from a neighbor and brought it home for the family to play. We’ve had several over the years, but not since we left Mississippi. With the 3 older kids all doing band or music of some kind, I decided it was time to see what we could find on the cheap.

C322293GULBRANSENNWe bought a Gulbransen upright studio piano made in 1937, according the serial number. The piano looked great, sounded relatively in pitch, and generally in good working order, so we loaded it up on the trailer and took it home. After playing it a while, I could tell that while it had been maintained pretty well for its age, some of the keys were not responding quite right and it had a tinny, harsh sound to it. Not the mellow, smooth sound and feel of a piano in top playing condition.

setting-let-offAfter discovering one key where the hammer kept sticking when played softly, I opened it up to see what was going on.

[If you don’t know what a piano “hammer” is or you want to see what the inside of an upright piano looks like when it’s being played, check out this short video…]

I decided to see if I could fix the piano myself. A couple of hours and several good YouTube videos later, I was in neck-deep. In this post series, I’m going to share what I’ve learned along the way.

imgext.phpAcoustic pianos (the kind with real strings, not electronic keyboards) are amazing machines made of wood, leather, and felt. Apart from the strings, the iron harp that holds the strings, and myriad little wires, springs, and screws, pianos are engineering marvels. At least they are once you stop and really study how they work. Which is what happened to me.

Here are some interesting facts to get started. Did you know…

  • There are 88 keys on a full-size piano, each with its own separate mechanism
  • Each mechanism has 20 separate parts of wood, leather, springs, felt, screws, and fabric
  • There are over 2,000 parts by the time you add in the 220 strings & tuning pins, parts for the damper bars (sustain) and pedal components.
  • There are three main systems inside an acoustic piano: the strings, the keys, and the “action“. The action consists of all those moving parts — hammers, jacks, springs, backstops, butts — that transfer the pressing of the key into the striking of the string(s).
  • Each key on a piano is over 15 inches long and made of wood. The black and white you see are just the ends. The black ends are stained or covered in plastic. The white ends have a thin ivory or plastic layer glued to the wooden key. The rest of the key’s length reaches back to connect to the mechanical.

The first thing I did to the piano was to take the insides apart and clean it all out. Read part 2: Cleaning out the inside

The Final Benediction, Pt. 2: Coming Up Empty

The Final Benediction, Pt. 2: Coming Up Empty

Previous Parts: 1

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was.
He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!”
So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
(John 21:4-6, New Living Translation)

Have You Caught Anything?

Here begin the words that capture our attention. Be mindful of the questions and the statements that follow. Jesus is walking along the shore unrecognizable to the disciples. Perhaps the fog was too thick, the distance too great, or perhaps, like the men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples’ eyes are prevented from recognizing who He was. A small alarm goes off faintly in our mind. The voice of what they might have assumed to be an early morning shopper in the market for the day’s first catch hails them from ashore: “Have you caught anything yet?”

This innocuous question is fraught with challenges to our own thinking. We are often tempted to return to the mediocrity of our pre-Christ past because we believe we know how things work. Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, the old world we know is secure precisely because we know it. And if we know it, we think we can control it.

The certainty of a shriveled “yes” appears more desirable in these moments than the uncertainty of a magnificent “maybe”. Our hearts crave the possibilities of an imagined future; yet, we find security in the paralysis of the present, never fully satisfied with the result and only occasionally content with the forgetful ease with which we can move through life. What we find in the returning to the familiar is the uneasy awareness that we’re never getting closer to what we know we could be. We are always fishing, never catching.

And the so the question confronts us: Have you found what you are looking for? What have our own efforts and attempts to provide and sustain brought us? Have we accomplished for ourselves what we most need? Are we finding that which we most long and hunger for? The confession honestly follows: No, we have caught nothing. The bell of the alarm grows a bit louder.

The Realization

The voice comes back again: “Throw your nets to the other side!” The ringing bell gets louder still. Instantly, the scene climaxes in a blaze of dawning realization. Over go the nets and at once the nets are full; they struggle to bring the catch to the boat. An entire night’s agonizing, futile labor transformed in a moment into overwhelming abundance and fruitful blessing! The alarm bell jangles and clatters at the very forefront of our memory.

We’ve seen all this before: The disciples fishing, catching nothing. Jesus walking on the shore, calling out to them. The fish in the net in overwhelming volume.

This is not the first time we see Jesus showing up in the Gospel accounts like this. Properly stated, these are not “flashbacks” because John is not bringing past events to our attention. This is not recalling a memory, it is reporting on the present moment. This appearance of Jesus is a new one. But in the particular we find the portrait of the universal: Jesus comes to us in familiar ways. We know him by the recognition of his deeds and actions – he appears and is consistent in his redemptive calling and offering.

He appears again to his disciples in the moment of greatest loss and need. He comes to them after the hours of sweat and labor and shows that he is their provider and sustainer. Their empty hands are turned once again into glad hearts.

Part of this story is our story, a story of going back to the familiar but unfulfilling past in times of fear, shame, and uncertainty.  But in the same breath, this is also the story of the incredible grace of Christ showing up in familiar ways. Jesus has done this before. By this we know his goodness and deliverance. In the familiarity of his actions in our moments of despair, we know Him! When the disciples’ futile efforts are once again turned into miraculous abundance, John sees clearly: “It is the Lord!”

And so does Peter! In that moment, the past is forgotten. He grabs his robe, and goes overboard. I can see in him the eagerness of the hurting believer to be embraced by the gracious arms of Jesus again: Peter stumbling and thrashing to tumble over the side of the boat, splashing and crashing through the surf towards the shore to greet his Lord. This is the picture of hope brought to life. The abundance of the catch is forgotten in the presence of the Savior. Peter, for all he’s been through, finds that hope again surging out to his fingertips, propelling him to action. And once again, our primary actor in the gospel narrative has stepped out of the wings and into the limelight – Peter is back with Jesus.

Back around a fire…

To be Continued…

Read Part 1

The Final Benediction, Pt 1: Upside Down

The Final Benediction, Pt 1: Upside Down

The Upside Down World

Easter is only the beginning but it may have seemed like the end to the disciples of Jesus in those last hours of the Holy Week – especially to Peter. His world is upended by the death of His Master and his own abandonment in the moment. And upended again by the open door and empty clothes there at the tomb in the early morning hours on Sunday. The pathos of Scripture in the post-resurrection accounts seems to be a mixture of joy and fear, awe and uncertainty.

As is so often the case when human failing and frailty meet divine glory, there is the paradoxical emotion of shame and wonder. We are not given much detail in the Scriptures about Peter here in these days; we’re not given great detail about any of the disciples individually, for that matter. Just snapshots of Jesus’ appearances to them over the next weeks. But Peter, especially, we hear little about. We should find it remarkable, I think, that this loud, rough, take-charge leader of the pack who often dominates the story before the crucifixion of Christ appears to be almost absent in the post-resurrection account. Why isn’t he mentioned more frequently? Luke affirms that Christ had appeared to Simon Peter; Paul later confirms this in his first letter to Corinth. Both Luke and John mention Peter’s presence at the tomb: he sees the burial clothes of His Lord and then, in Luke’s words, “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

But this is the extent of the matter until John 21. In reality, though, what could be said about him? Perhaps very little because something has happened to Peter. He is no longer the brash, out-front vocal figurehead of the merry band of disciples. He’s in the shadows, sitting on the back row, slipping in late and out early, embarrassed to show his face, he doesn’t want to talk about it. After all, what would you say? How do you reconcile yourself to the ones you have denied? To the family you have cut apart?

This is a significant question: How does God’s grace and redemption encounter human fear and failure? How is such turmoil and upheaval to be redeemed and remade?

On The Beach

Such is the story that now unfolds before us in John 21 – the answer to this question. The scene opens on seven of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee fishing – they are back in familiar territory. What is to be done when the trajectory of life has suddenly, seemingly come to a crashing, jarring halt? Where do you go? What do you do with yourself?

Perhaps it appeared that in all likelihood the momentum of their lives as the disciples of this Messiah had shifted, reversed its course, and now has left them alone, in need of provision, in need of identity and in need of something to do that was predictable. What do you do in these times? Return to the familiar places and the familiar habits of the life you had known. Haven’t you been there before? Haven’t you watched those in your flock respond to life this way? To fall back on the common, predictable, comfortable struggles in the trenches of life…

They go back to fishing.

Several years ago, I watched a dear friend of mine, who had been walking a long road of recovery from drug, alcohol and sexual addiction, struggle with the easy habits of the familiar past. One morning, I called to invite him share his testimony at an upcoming speaking engagement I had.  For two days, my call went unanswered, then I received the phone call that was a shattering blow to my certainty of what I thought God had been doing.  He had fled the state headed back to an old life, but found himself now sitting in a jail cell hundreds miles away having been arrested on an outstanding warrant. He had come so far, but suddenly it seemed he had fallen so far back. I wonder if Peter could identify with that feeling. I can. Can you?

They go back to fishing.

Read Part 2



The Truth About Homosexuality: It Does Not Come Down to “Just” the Bible

The Truth About Homosexuality: It Does Not Come Down to “Just” the Bible

The Christian Post recently ran an op-ed piece by Rob Schwarzwalder titled “The Truth About Human Sexuality: It All Comes Down to the Bible.”

The crux of his article is his assertion that “what one believes about human sexuality comes down to whether or not the book Christians proclaim as the written Word of God is, in fact, that.”

He then briefly discusses 3 questions:

  • Is the Bible authoritative? (Yes.)
  • Is what the Bible teaches about human sexuality clear? (Yes.)
  • Is what the Bible says about human sexuality sufficient? (And, again, yes.)

I’m sympathetic to his argument here, but I don’t think he is entirely correct on this. Mostly, but not entirely.

For one thing, if it were truly the Bible itself (as a textual document) that was the basis for the belief in the conjugal, complementary view of marriage (cf. Anderson, Girgis, & George), then we would expect this view to be found primarily only those Christian cultures who came along after the compilation of a significant portion of the biblical text.

But that’s not the case. By-and-large, this view truly is a universally held practice in almost all human societies and cultures. Even in societies that practiced polygamy, had a non-egalitarian view of women, or approved of homosexuality, this has been the dominant view of marriage for millennia. Scripture certainly gives us the basis for this reality — the image of God stamped into humanity — but the Bible itself is not the origin of the practice. The practice has been present and observable since the beginning.

As Anderson et al note, this traditional view of marriage has been long recognized and upheld in human society, both ancient and modern. Our legal definition of it is merely a recognition of what is, not the act of defining what we want it to be. The meaning is an ontological statement, not a cultural one. SSM advocates seek to apply this latter, cultural meaning to the government’s role in marriage, and, hence to its definition.

Now, as to his point that it is only in the Bible that we find a clear and sufficient explanation about the nature of human sexuality: on that he is correct. The Bible reveals three essential realities about the meaning of human sexuality. All of them have their root in the image of God. According to Genesis 1-2, God created humans as bearers of his image, to be creatures who shared something of his nature but were not clones (or even equals). Those three realities:

  1. The full image of God in mankind is expressed in both maleness and femaleness. God’s image required him making both a male and a female. Either one without the other is an incomplete picture of the nature and character of God.
  2. The image of God is stamped in us through oneness involving two complementary but not identical beings.To be one with the other person required something in the experience that the individual could not provide for themselves (physically speaking, this is literally true). The kind of unity and oneness symbolized by sexual intercourse is not possible with two creatures of the same gender, modern notions of emotional and romantic love notwithstanding.
  3. The image of God is stamped in us through the possibility of sexual intercourse bringing forth a child. Human sexuality was designed such that its pinnacle was a reciprocal self-giving love of one being (a man) toward another (woman), one of my kind but not the same as me, that resulted in the creation of yet another being who shares the essential characteristics of both parents but is not fully identical to either. Just to be clear here: God does not himself create through sexual activity. Rather, human sexuality is symbolic or expressive of the unity and diversity and self-giving love found in God himself (what the early church would eventually speak of as the Trinity).

That’s a family. Certainly in a fallen world, there are all kinds of realities that have broken that perfect ideal: death, divorce, abuse, abandonment. But the brokenness doesn’t diminish the ideal. The ideal is what we have simply termed “marriage”.

We can redefine our terms but it doesn’t redefine reality.

It is true that the Bible is the foundation of our capacity to understand all of that and to give it names, clarity, and theological or sociological explanations. But the experience and reality itself was around from the start. That is something that was innately fixed in humanity, even when we go astray and seek to bend reality to our own whims. And it’s inescapable, really, because no matter where we want to go with what we think marriage ought to be, we cannot get away from two simple facts.

Fact 1: The government’s interest and, hence, legal definition, in marriage lies only in the fact that human sexual intercourse between two people have the possibility to bring forth children. It is incumbent on society, governments recognized, to ensure that those parents proceeded to care for and nurture the new lives they created. A more crass position might see that simply as the need to avoid the rest of us having to care for these children should they become unwanted after the fact. And, indeed, all societies are a testimony to that happening.

Fact 2: This kind of relationship with the potential for children and thus a family requires a male and a female to bring it about. Even in cases like are all around us in society where we see wonderful men and women stepping up to adopt unwanted or orphaned children, all of these situations required the same thing: a man and a woman.

The perfect ideal is that a child has its birth mother and birth father, both of whom are healthy, loving, and supportive. Obviously that does not always happen. But it does not change the ideal. Family is inseparably linked to two genders. You simply cannot have a family any other way.

Katy Faust had a great article on the Witherspoon Institute blog in which she makes the following argument:

If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out “even better!” when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by “two moms” or “two dads” came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods.

The only possible way to have a same-sex couple family structure (or any other alternative form) is through the destruction of the original structure. In other words, for SSM marriage to be a legitimate family structure, it requires that the natural, original form — a man and a woman — be broken.

It’s that biologically indisputable fact that makes SSM a false premise. SSM is by definition not marriage because marriage refers to that whole package of two complementary, gendered individuals who have the potential for bringing forth life out of their union. And it is not the courts that define this, it is the natural order.

As to the homosexuality argument in more general terms, the question of human sexuality cannot legitimately be divorced from the question of family structure and marriage. Certainly, sexuality exists outside of marriage (to society’s detriment) and certainly marriage is not merely about procreation and raising children. But marriage in its fullest meaning (procreation, covenant, self-giving, unity in activity and body) is the institution that defines and affirms the ultimate purpose, meaning, and nature of human sexuality.

Marriage, Trinity, & the Imago Dei

Marriage, Trinity, & the Imago Dei

trinity photoSome thoughts and musings on traditional marriage, human sexuality, the Trinity and the Image of God… The US 6th Circuit Court upheld state bans on gay marriage. In all likelihood, this will result in the Supreme Court taking up the question now that contradictory rulings have come down from the federal circuit courts.

So why this definition? Why does it matter that it marriage is a man and a woman? What’s wrong with it being two of the same gender? (more…)