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Make a new piano hammer?

  • 1.  Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-13-2021 01:48
    Dear colleagues,

    - Does any interest exist in some type of collaboration to design, build tooling for, and make piano hammers?

    For starters, would anyone be kind enough to recommend books or other resources that include information about hammer making? Would anyone be willing to loan such resources if they are rare or out of print? I am happy to pay shipping costs.

    What if a hammer were designed and made openly so that piano technicians and anyone else knows in specifics how it was made / how variables could be changed on demand? Is this feasible / viable?

    I've thought a little bit about eventually making hammers over the past several years. This is the first time I've gotten serious enough to start pursuing full info on the topic. If you have any contributions, they will be welcome. Surely some other techs have seriously considered this or even done it in the past. Perhaps you can suggest someone that could be contacted.

    Worst-case scenario we all learn more about hammers. Best case scenario, one or more of us might eventually get involved with making another piano hammer for the trade.

    Sincerely,
    Tom Wright, RPT

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    Tom Wright, RPT
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  • 2.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Member
    Posted 05-13-2021 07:37
    I have thought about this, but it requires serious R&D. I spoke to Ray about doing the R&D for a truely turn of the century hammer, but he said the costs of the R&D relative to the, at least, current market, forbid the project.  Having said that, perhaps, if we could form a group to chip in to pay for the R&D for Ray, he would consider...as long as he knew he was not going to get nailed financhially. Heck, "Go Fund Me's" are out there for all sorts of things like this.  Maybe the solution, Tom, is to use someone with serious expertise like Ray, rather than reinventing the wheel,  and pay him to do it.

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    Jim Ialeggio
    grandpianosolutions.com
    Shirley, MA
    978 425-9026
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  • 3.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Member
    Posted 05-13-2021 08:30
    Actually, if a group of us wanted to mess around with this, I have the capabilities to make moldings, having a full woodworking shop, with power fed tools from my sash making days...I'm thinking about the heavy shaper, in particular, for this.

    I have been unhappy about the weights of the soft maple moldings, which are higher than I want, especially in the treble, so would be motivated to mess with this....but I still think Ray is the best bet, as the expertise is already there.

    A couple of years ago, Bradley Snook, who was banned from this site, had been making his own extremely light hammers, and had done a fair amount of experiments with the construction. Folks took his claims of hammer making as BS, but, they were not able to separate the delivery from the content...I learned a fair amount from him, while he was around. Anyway, we could chat him up.

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    Jim Ialeggio
    grandpianosolutions.com
    Shirley, MA
    978 425-9026
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  • 4.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-13-2021 10:33
    Hi Jim,
    Thank you helping look at some ideas. If Ray could use capitol for a better setup, I agree that Go-Fund-Me would be an awesome way to do it. One of us should talk to him. If there is any way that our trade can contribute to preserving Ronsen as a hammer maker, I think it would be wise to do so.

    I'm also interested in a career in small production hammer making... would love to be able to focus on it for the next 30-40 years. For what its worth I have an industrial background in mig-welding and metal fabrication in the production of commercial mowers. I also have something akin to a furniture-maker's shop with hand tools and equipment in my shop. Woodworking and designing / building R/C aircraft are the interests that co-exist in my shop along with pianos :) So the challenging parts would be:
    - Material procurement (felt). Would they sell to a new maker?
    - Design and build the press based on research into hammer construction.
    - Design and build all of the other jigs / fixtures and custom equipment to fully complete the hammers with accuracy and efficiency.
    - Etcetera.

    Your thoughts about different moulding weights sounds great. You could use different wood along the moulding for the same sheet and set of hammers. What do you think about Cherry? And of course Sapele and Walnut.

    Here are two additional areas.
    - A predrilled type of staple (or new retainer design) installed without fracturing the moulding and without uncontrolled direction off to the sides of the moulding. I hit those staples sometimes when I'm tapering hammer sides in my shop. I also get to see whether hammers are internally fractured (if only partially) where the two staples go into the wood. And sometimes they are. I don't really mind hitting the staples but I see an inconsistency that needs to be improved upon.

    - Also, greater parameter adjustability for customization? One area is the actual thickness of the underfelt plus the felt from the hammer core tip up to the strike point. Mass-produced hammers often don't have underfelt, and also IMHO lack substantial felt for long wear / use. Steinway, NY hammers have a very ample amount of material to play through over time. That is good. I'd like to have the option to have underfelt all the way to note 88 as well. Actually I think Ronsen will do that. And then just generally a delivery model that is transparent to the technician ordering the hammers, so it is all crystal clear what one is ordering. Almost like a live-stream building process in a well-lit shop, where people can watch their hammers be made to custom request? I guess I'm trying so figure out whether this kind of business model makes sense selling hammers to technicians. Because at that point it might not matter whether competitors observe and imitate. The point is, any imitation of a good hammer would be a built-in success for the musical community, and anyways, if the trade has any interest in having closer access to the hammer build, then this kind of business could be a leader in it. Thoughts?

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    Tom Wright, RPT
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  • 5.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-13-2021 11:59
    Jim,

    Thoughts on using bamboo for molding?

    Alan

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    Alan Eder, RPT
    Herb Alpert School of Music
    California Institute of the Arts
    Valencia, CA
    661.904.6483
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  • 6.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-13-2021 12:02
    Abel does.

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    William Truitt
    Bridgewater NH
    603-744-2277
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  • 7.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Member
    Posted 05-13-2021 21:16
    I think, from what I have seen of bamboo laminated boards, that they dampen vibrations somewhat. I could be wrong about that, but I did buy a slab of bamboo years ago, thinking of using it for a bridge root. I bagged the idea, after I saw that the beam strength was no where near maple's, and it seemed to dampen vibrations.

    Not sure if dampening vibrations within the molding is a good thing or bad thing.

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    Jim Ialeggio
    grandpianosolutions.com
    Shirley, MA
    978 425-9026
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  • 8.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Posted 05-13-2021 21:37
    Plus, there are problems of gluing adhesion when you get into the harder woods.  A viable alternative to explore is Ash. It has the highest strength to weight ratio of all the hardwoods. Its janka hardness is similar to Hard rock Maple(1400lb). Ronsen uses Soft maple which has a janka hardness of 1,000lb.

    -chris

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    Chernobieff Piano Restorations
    "Where Tone is Key"
    chernobieffpiano.com
    grandpianoman@protonmail.com
    Lenoir City, TN
    865-986-7720
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  • 9.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Member
    Posted 05-13-2021 22:07
    Re the actual pressing, it seems to me, that the Dolge presses where used at that period of time. Might be able to scare one up...I know David Stanwood had one once...not sure where it went. He was considering making hammers at one time, but gave it up as a bad idea. Might have sold the press to Ari Isaac.

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    Jim Ialeggio
    grandpianosolutions.com
    Shirley, MA
    978 425-9026
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  • 10.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-13-2021 22:15
    Tom,

    It's my understanding that Ray is seeking to retire. He supposedly had an apprentice, however it seems to me that an opportunity exists right there for you if you're serious. Facilities, training, reputation, existing business...perhaps not exactly lucrative, but what is in this business?

    Just a thought.

    Pwg

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    Peter Grey
    Stratham NH
    603-686-2395
    pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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  • 11.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-14-2021 01:07
    A few thoughts come to mind.
    I believe there are places in Europe where one can have new felt applied to the original cores. Not sure about the why or how of this but it's certainly a different approach if they are making the hammers one at a time. It would provide a different perspective on preparing and applying the felt.
    Re. bamboo, bamboo is a woody grass, the fibers run straight (more or less) from the bottom to the top. It would be extremely strong and rigid if the "grain" was so oriented. There is bamboo that is thick enough to make a core without any laminations per hammer. I could provide some sample material for that.
    For some reason the idea also comes to me of using some sort of very dense but foamed polymer, styrene?. I suppose the hardness, density and weight could be controlled by the material and size of the closed cells. I think it comes to mind because I've found that material like that is very live in a way. It might affect the bounce.

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    Steven Rosenthal
    Honolulu HI
    808-521-7129
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  • 12.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Posted 05-14-2021 10:08
    I have considered developing a new hammer for some time. I did some research into the earlier felt making process that was used in the 19th century. All of the processes used from the beginning to the end have a cumulative effect on the resiliency and elasticity of the final product. Modern processes make different felt. There is a lady in Nebraska with 19th century felt making equipment. Awhile back I tried to get her interested in hammer felt, but got too busy with other things.

    Currently I am exploring an all leather hammer for modern pianos. I make traditional piano hammer leather for pianos made in the 1830s and earlier. I believe I am the only person currently making this specific type of leather. The R&D has been quite brutal, but the majority of the work is now finished. Just not sure at this point if it will be commercially viable. My research in this area was more out of curiosity than to build a business....the R&D was done in piece-work over the last 10 years and is finally about to come to an end by this summer.

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    Jason Leininger
    Pittsburgh PA
    412-874-6992
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  • 13.  RE: Make a new piano hammer?

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 05-14-2021 15:52
    Thanks to each of you for adding your thoughts and advice. Here's a brief update and summary so far.

    - I've spoken with Ray. He already has an apprentice. But there might be an opportunity to visit and learn when things are in the less busy time of year.

    - If an opportunity ever arises to purchase, apprentice or become the operator of a hammer shop, perhaps you'd share that with us here!

    - So far, three individuals have been mentioned as possibly having a hammer press and knowledge of the process. Thank you for this valuable information. If any of you have these folks' contact info if they are not on PTG.org, please consider sharing it with me privately so I can contact them. Thank you!

    - Just a reminder if anyone can recommend books that include information about making hammers?

    - Chris, I concur that Ash is a lovely, durable material and could be tested for hammers. Absolutely magnificent, isn't it? Discovered recently that it is breathtaking in appearance when planed extremely smooth.

    - Alan and Steven, Bamboo is an interesting one, isn't it? Perhaps one could test some tail shaping on solid non-glued bamboo and find out if the intrinsic nature of Bamboo would work long-term for hammer-checking. For the rest of a hammer core, solid Bamboo would work fine, you'd think, so if it makes a good hammer-checking surface, great. And then of course, how does it contribute to tone / acoustics.

    - Jason, thank you for your input on leather outer surface and composite hammer cores. Any update on the leather hammers over time would be fascinating. You're probably aware that 3D printing is now available in many types of materials, some of which are very high quality. Printing hammer cores with the finished shape, before pressing could be very interesting and save a lot of labor costs from machining wooden cores. However, I wonder whether folks who want a traditional hammer would want a composite core. However, that shouldn't deter anyone from experimenting and innovating either :)


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    Tom Wright, RPT
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