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Restoring Parlor Organs

What do you do when... have just picked up a circa 1905 parlor organ from a beloved relative, loaded it in your trailer, been hit by a wind storm on the way home and had the organ top blown off onto the freeway? Parts are damaged, parts are missing, and you are crushed.

You do what one wise person did. Loaded everything he still had back onto the trailer, drove directly to the shop, and asked us to restore his organ. And we did restore it. We researched, repaired and replaced. When he picked it up from us, any reminders of the accident did not come from the organ.

If it is made out of wood, more likely than not, damaged or missing furniture pieces can be repaired, replicated or replaced. We would like to illustrate for you the range of possibilities in the restoration of wooden parts of furniture and other wooden items.

You might not have a story as dramatic as furniture blown out of a trailer during a windstorm, but you certainly have the same good choice when it comes to restoring what your furniture lacks--bring it to us, we can help you.

Once again we demonstrate that our focus is not on photography. We can tell you the story about the organ and the wind storm and the restoration, but we didn't think about the fact that you might like to see the story until it was too late. We do have other organs you can see and we will show you those on this page.

Detail Of Table Pedestal
Restored Parlor Organ
Parlor Organ Entire
Parlor Organ LSF Detail

This beautiful organ (use some imagination, these photos are not the greatest), came in with the request that it be stripped and refinished because the owner didn't like the black paint that covered it. We were willing, but when we raised the music stand we noticed a beautiful walnut wood grain showing beneath with a gradual transition to the black. What we realized was that this was not black paint, but an aged, oxidized shellac which will blacken with age. We instead carefully cleaned the surface and used a special chemical blend to refresh the shellac. We also replaced the fabric on the foot pedals and did a few other minor repairs. Turned out quite nice, we think!

This organ did not need much work. We turned and replaced some of the spindles on the rails around the lamp stands and did some other minor repairs.

Collapsible Organ Open
Collapsible Organ Closed

This organ is not actually a parlor organ but is rather a collapsible organ. In the nineteenth century collapsible organs were used by many itinerant preachers to accompany congregations as they sang hymns. That was the early history of this piece. By the time we got it the bellows were no longer sealed, the legs wouldn't collapse, and the finish looked like it had seen much better days. Here you see it all mended and spruced up, ready to begin its next round of better days. It will need to find a good preacher and a congregation that still sings hymns to feel truly at home. Good luck with that!



Now that you have seen what we have done for others, what can we do for you? CONTACTING AND FINDING US

Parlor Organ Stripped From The Side
Original Parts Of Parlor Organ Top
Carved Floral Motif On Parlor Organ Top

This parlor organ has been stripped and the keyboard cover, grill covers and pedal assembly have been removed. None of the top came to us other than the three pieces to the right. What you see to the right is a shelf, the right support, and the backer the shelf sits atop. There is a nice floral carving on the backer and some odd notching. We had no way of knowing how these three pieces fit into the design of the organ, but the case you see had no likely places where they fit. On the top of the case there was evidence that there had at some time been a upper decorative back as is seen in the organs above. We assumed the pieces to the right fit into that somehow. There were also screw holes on the side indicating that at one time lamp holders had been mounted to the sides. Our customer wanted this organ to be fully restored and intended to give this as a gift to their daughter. It was up to us to figure out what this organ might have looked like originally and recreate that. Quite a challenge, one we enjoyed taking on.

Wood Cut And Ready To Be Formed Into Parlor Organ Top
Paper Plan For Parlor Organ Top
Parlor Organ Grill Cover Decoration


That was the first requirement for this job. Thankfully there is a large database online for Parlor Organs. We were able to find the exact brand and an identical model without the top. The benefit from seeing that was it showed us what the lamp holders should look like. We were also then able to go to other organs made by that manufacturer and see some common elements in their designs. Looking at photos of other organs from the same era helped to understand styling conventions.

Next we studied the organ itself. We wanted a consistent design, pulling existing design elements into the design of the top. The scroll work pictured below is the cover for the grills, just below the top. We also looked at the curves of the front edge of the organ, from the foot all the way to the top. We used both in our design.

Then we created the paper pattern you see to the right and cut out the wood pieces that would be used.

New Top Being Assembled Onto Parlor Organ
Wood Pieces Formed For Parlor Organ Top Viewed  From Top
Wood Pieces Formed For Parlor Organ Top Viewed  From Below
Lamp Stand Mounted On Side Of Parlor Organ
Dish Formed For Lamp Stand For Parlor Organ

To the left you see the decorative top formed and ready do be assembled. We have offered a top down and a bottom up view for the sake of perspective.

Below left is the support arm we designed and built. You can see how we incorporated the floral design from the knees below the center line and the curves from the foot and the support just below the top.

Below right is the lamp stand design we saw online, on another organ by the same manufacturer, and copied.

To the right we are assembling the pieces in place to ensure everything is aligned and fitting properly.

Detail Of Support Arm For Parlor Organ Top
New Back For Parlor Organ Assembled And In  Place But Unfinished
New Back For Parlor Organ Assembled And In  Place With New Finish

Here we are nearing the finish line. In the first picture to the right you can see the entire back, formed, assembled and in place. One problem that jumps out is all the different colors of wood. We used walnut for all of it, but as walnut ages it lightens and mellows from a rich, dark, almost purply grey brown, to a soft orangy brown. In order for us to finish all the woods so that they would blend in color now, we bleached all the new walnut so it stands out here as very light for a good reason!

To the far right the organ back stands in its finished glory. Even with the bleaching we had to use different stains for the new and old woods to cause them to blend.

We think the integration of the three original parts of the back seems natural enough as does the book holder. The beveled mirror at top was made for this new back, the fabric behind the grill covers is new also.

Completed, Restored, Refinished Parlor Organ

Here is the organ.

Beautiful, if we do say so ourselves.

We haven't yet said anything about the restoration of the inner workings of this organ. The bellows and keyboard were all restored by a piano technician and created wonderful sounds when the keys were touched by trained fingers.

A final task we performed was to figure out how the keyboard cover should open and close. The mechanism was not intact when we received it. Figuring out how it might work was a difficult task of reverse engineering. We had to create an articulating arm to correctly move the cover, and a flexible closure at the top to raise when the cover was open and to lower when it closed. You can't see the arm, but the closure is the buff colored strip just above the cover. It is a thin slice of wood covered by fabric which flexes up and back when the cover is opened. Very challenging. Good thing we like challenges.


Now that you have seen what we have done for others, what can we do for you? CONTACTING AND FINDING US

There is quite a bit of information available about Parlor Organs, or, more generically, reed organs. We guess that some viewing this page might be interested in more information, so have included a few of the volumes available as references.

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