Napoleon Erlandsen and his son, Julius, are well recognized by tool collectors and trade historians for their hand planes and bow drills, but it is not as well known that they manufactured many of the more specialized tools for servicing and manufacturing pianos. These tools were commonly rebadged as Hammacher Schlemmer piano tools.
Driver placed on the “let off”, or escapement adjustment eyelet screw on a vintage Steinway grand action model. This action model is #37 in a series of 100, made in 1953, to celebrate Steinway and Son’s Centenary. This belonged to my late business partner, and I received the model along with his workbench and vintage tools in 1986. The damper action is not included in the Centenary model:
Various let off screwdrivers: Top to bottom: Hammacher Schlemmer and Co., New York, top three; C. H. Lang, Chicago; Hale, Boston; The remainder, below, are unmarked. Part of the charm of these old tools is their handles, which are mostly rosewood, with attractive turnings. These handles represent a wide variety of user preferences. A discussion of handle matching can be found on the Combination Handles page.
The socket greatly affects the way these let-off tools perform, and with these antiques, there is considerable variation.
Most tuners improvised some of their tools (just like today). Both of these tools used a screw as their basis: a slotted drop screw adjuster, and a short let off tool that is simply a screw with a deepened slot that allowed for use at various angles.
Screwdrivers found in piano kits. An advantage of having individual handles for these tools is that the size and shape of the handle can be chosen for a particular function or intended use, not unlike the mating of an appropriately sized handle for a particular chisel. Individual preference also entered into this.
Although not action regulation, installing bridle tapes in old uprights was a frequent job for many years. Before WWII, installing bridal tapes was done by tacking them to the hammer butt, rather than using a cork attached into the hole of the butt catcher, which was patented on June 15th 1920, and widely practiced by the 1930s. Bridal tack inserter with full package of bridal tacks:
Tuck Mfg. Co., Brockton, MA, provided at least some of the rosewood handles for the tools shown here and in the catalogs. In my opinion, these handles, used for piano regulating and repairing, and other tools too, were some of the finest available in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The shape shown below is a slight variation on the London pattern handle, and most of the other regulating tool handles, without the round section at the end, are known as common octagon handles.
Examples of two tapered octagonal handles, which is an older handle shape, going back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Ferrules were added later, in the 19th century, and these were often used for chisels. At the top of the photo is a reamer, slightly larger reamers are used for reaming the bored holes in the grand hammer moulding, to refine the fit of the shank in the hammer moulding before gluing and hanging. The small tool with a rosewood handle is a small rat tail file that was found in a piano kit, probably used to slightly enlarge the balance holes in keys where the balance rail pins were binding.
This Wm. Greaves gouge was probably made in the 1820s, but was done in the 18th century practice, with an octagonal bolster, and matching facets on the tapered octagonal hickory handle which was very likely original. The wood of the handle would be fitted to the back of the bolster, which, in those days was not always flat. I doubt that the leather washer would have been necessary in this case. A bolster was needed to protect the handle from splitting when tapped with a mallet. Before 1840, circular pipe stock was not readily available, so the large bolster was the solution. The bolster was slipped over the tang hot, and once cool, was permanently fastened in place.
These very long key spacers (14″ to 17″ not including the handle) were made for factory use, and the length allowed workers to stand back and have the entire keyboard within the field of view, while actively working. It’s one of those details that makes a tremendous difference when when producing volume work at the same task for the entire work day.
Old rosewood capstan wrenches.
Regulating tools without handles, top to bottom:
- Homemade let off tool for adjusting grands with action in the piano
- Pratt Read capstan tool
- Offset screwdriver for rocker actions/ capstan wrench
- Capstan wrench for both square and Moore-type capstans
Damper wire adjusting tools, although sometimes listed in the old catalogs as backcheck tools. Top two are unmarked; bottom three were sold by Hammacher Schlemmer. The tool at the top has a handle made from a maple dowel, stained and varnished, probably from the 1920s. By this time, production of these tools with increasingly costly and space-consuming rosewood octagon handles became less of a standard practice, and by the 1930s, most regulating tools were sold with a specialized base made to be fastened into the socket of the combination regulating handle. Tools in the middle and bottom have an offset shaft.
Upright spoon benders, to adjust damper timing to the key stroke. This is done blindly, and takes some practice to acquire a ‘feel’ for the damper spoons at the back of the action wippens.
Damper head wrench, sometimes associated with upright overdamper actions, known as “birdcage actions” in North America. Today, straightening up damper heads before felt installation would be typically done with parallel pliers. This tool still remains in the Renner (Stuttgart) piano supply catalog.