Removing Old Ivory Keys

Replacing & Gluing Ivory Key Tops Tail and Front Ivory wafers
By Kim Bunker

Replacing ivory keys is easy! First of all if you need to have a source of obtaining original ivory tops and tails. Usually you get these from a piano rebuilder like us or someone who replaces keytops for piano dealers.

Ivory color varies in shades. I've noticed in the 28 years of matching Ivory's that there are around 9 different shades of white and 3 levels of quality. 1. AAA, 2. A1 and 3. Bone Ivory.

In choosing the number of keys you wish to replace, think in terms of quality opposed to number of replacements. If some of the ivory wafer's are still on the key's and badly yellowed or cracked, remove them. Be very careful in the removing process sometimes its good to have and steam Iron on hand and moist cloth. Take the moist cloth and place it on the key and wafer to be removed then put the iron on top of the cloth over the ivory and count to 20 (approximant 20 seconds) and lift the old ivory wafer at the front edge with a flat putty knife. It should come off relatively easy.

Now write down the keys being replaced for example: 2-C's, 2-D's, 2-E's, 4-F's, 1-G, 3-A's and 2-B's; the total number of keys to replace in this simulation is 16. Below is and example of the keyboard to help you discover what keytops are missing.

Keyboard Sample below with the notes in proper order

The reason that writing down which keys need to be replaced and how many to replace is so important is that most all ivories are beveled at the back of the ivory wafer. For example, all C keys are beveled on the back right side, all E keys are beveled on the back left side, and so on.

Once you have selected the correct keys for replacement, prepare the base of the key (the wood part) for gluing of the wafer. Scrape it with a single-edge razor blade or your putty knife, pulling towards you lightly until the top is level.

Then get the liquid paper Ivory color when it dries it is porous like ivory. The next step is to get some Krazy Glue. Draw an "S" on the base of the key on top that has the liquid paper and or cleaned gauze wafer It will stick, and then carefully slide the proper keytop wafer on until it reaches the ivory tail.

Quickly wipe off the excess glue and hold down the ivory wafer firmly for 20-30 seconds. If you wish to make it level with the tail you can sand the top with 320 grit tri-mite paper until both are level. Then using Brasso polish the key to your desired luster.

The one disadvantage of using hide glue (water-based) is that ivory is a porous material and will warp if you do not have a perfectly flat piece of metal or wood clamped to it during the long drying time, usually about 30 minuets.

The process I'm telling you about takes about one minute per key, if you have all the materials usually found in the office desk! It is clean and looks like it was done by a pro.

Thanks for now and happy keytopping!

Mr. Kim J. Bunker

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