Tech Tips — Removing the old key bushings
Clean any dust from the keys with a brush and vacuum or compressed air; this will minimize water
staining of the wood and aid in moisture penetration of the old cloth. Depending upon the type of
glue present and the condition of the keys, there are various methods of bushing removal
For typical older keys with hide-glued bushings and
balance rail pin holes that need sizing:
Pre-soak the old bushings first by quickly dabbing each
with a brush dipped in a solution of 1 cup water & 1 tsp.
wallpaper remover. This begins loosening the glue and
minimizes the amount of steaming necessary, as excess
steam can loosen ivories and key button glue joints.
Next, set a plastic travel steam iron on the keys. Unlike
a regular clothes iron, this device simply produces steam
from a hole in its base and quickly loosens the old
bushings. Usually you can slide the steamer ahead as fast
as you can lift out the old bushings with tweezers. The
steam will also close up the worn balance pin holes,
which will then require easing later on. These small
plastic "irons" are often found in secondhand shops,
fabric stores and travel supply stores.
For bushings glued in with white glue, or keys without loose balance rail pin holes:
White glues usually do not yield as quickly as hide glue,
so in order to avoid damaging the keys from over
steaming, longer pre-soaking with felt wedges is
necessary. Buy some hammer scrap felt (sold by the
pound by most piano supply houses). This will come in
long wedge shaped strips. Cut one strip down to about 1"
wide, then cut into individual wedges about 5/16" wide.
Soak them in a pan with water/wallpaper remover
solution and plug one into each mortise. After about 20
minutes, the bushings may be easily removed with
tweezers, or if still adhering, can be removed by putting
an "electric key bushing remover" into each mortise for
about two seconds (this tool is just a soldering pencil
with a metal bushing caul as a tip — easily home made or
available from supply houses).
Use these pre-soaking wedges also anytime the balance pin holes are not too loose. This avoids
having to ease steam-swollen holes back to size that did not require sizing down to begin with.