Plates (under construction)

Giacomo Ferdinand Seivers: Il Pianoforte: Guide Pratica per Costruttori, Accordatori, Dilettanti e Professori di Pianoforte.”  Published by Ghio, 1868, in Naples. Many of the procedures and tools described in this book were a good generation or two old by the time of its writing.  Anachronistic as this book was, Seivers provided a detailed description of piano making as it was practiced in the early 19th century.  It was a period when the piano was undergoing dynamic change as every year passed.  While modern pianos are a combination of hand work and  machine work, Seivers was describing piano making at a time when the Industrial Revolution had somewhat less of an influence on the building process, and pre-industrial hand work took a larger portion of that process.  This 1800 to 1850 time frame represents what we now recognize as the later fortepiano period.  As such, Seivers provided some rare insight into the making of these early instruments, which have been actively reproduced in the last 45 years. These are plates and illustrations from that book:

Workbench; Bench planes: Smoothers (including 17. German/Austrian type with horn on nose), jack, and jointer; Specialty planes: rebate; filletster; 19. Dutch gerf; 21. 18th century iron mitre with proud sole and tote at nose; radiused; compass; convex; moulding; toothing; 2 plane irons with chipbreakers, etc.

Seasoning wood by means of steam.

The following is an English translation of Seiver’s seasoning process provided by Edward Swenson in “The Tools of Early Piano Building,” from the December 1989 Piano Technician’s Journal:

“An hermeticially sealed boiler with a bolt-down lid containing approximately 20 buckets of water, and perfectly walled in by an oven of bricks, would be the major expense of this apparatus.  A box of strong fir, four meters long, 85 centimeters high and 65 centimeters wide, with a tight lid forms the second part.  This box placed obliquely with one of its ends toward the boiler, receives the steam by means of an iron pipe–while the other end, placed at about 30 centimeters from the ground on fixed supports is furnished at its lowest point with a hole which allows an exit for the water condensed from the steam.

The pieces of wood, cut to the desired dimensions, are stacked like knives upon the little bridges in the box, with many little wood spacers inserted to prevent the pieces from touching.  The cover is closed tightly and the apparatus is ready.  The boiler must be maintained for 48 hours.  Every three hours one adds the necessary water introducing it by means of a funnel fixed for this purpose in another pipe in the cover.  The wood may be quite green, for the steam purges it of all the noxious substances which exit as a tincture as black as ink.  Before removing the wood from the box, it is necessary to let it cool for six hours.  When removed the pieces are swollen and wet; placed in a dry and airy location they dry out rapidly, become light (in weight) and pale in color, but they remain stable and neither crack nor warp.  They become more easy to work and take glue most excellently.”

Bow saws, grinding wheel; felt and leather cutting knives; wood carving knife; various chisels; bow saws; more saws; honing plate

Myriad of files; compasses; outside caliper; small hack saw; 47. saw set; coping saw; 48. sawing jig; 64. file cleaner, made of thin braided brass wire; misc.

80. damper felt compression pliers; 71. hand vise; 78. key easing pliers; 79 expanding pliers for kapsels on Viennese grand pianos; 81. round nose pliers for wire; 72. pin vise; 86. awl; 83,84, 85. screwdrivers; 82. tweezers; 90. wrench; 70. large bench vise with dogleg; 91. adjustable wrench; 88. with 89. spanner screwdriver; 92. and 93. (94. male version) wood tapping dies; 101. and 98. screw tap handles; 75. nippers; 77. flat nose pliers; 76. small end cutters; misc.

102. screw threading machine; 104. music wire cutting machine (with holes for cutting different diameters); 106. square; 107. bevel gauge; 113. mortise gauge; 114. jack, for use with grand leg removed; 119. hole punch for cloth, felt, and leather; misc.


143. English bit brace with button lock chuck; 127. breast auger; 122. piano makers long vise; various spoon bits, countersinks, center, reamer, burnisher, rasp; 123. clamping press; 125. wedge adjusted jig for planing various pieces of wood to equal thickness; misc.

150. Fixed bow drill; 148. small German style bow drill stock; 145. Pianomakers brace, with 2 tapered pads; 144. Gentleman’s ‘penny’ brace; 147. full size German bow drill stock; 149. Four drill bows, three ratcheting, and one traditional; 151. Heavy drill press, requiring two people to bore into dense and thick hardwoods.

152. Combination treadle saw, lathe, and horizontal drilling machine; various rotary blades, drill bits, etc.

French style diapason or tuning fork. Activated by drawing brass rod upwards through the tines.

Simple voicing tool.

Various soundboards, etc.; 211. wire testing machine for measuring tension at failure.

304. Tuning hammer, with stringing hook.

217. Lamp glue pot; 212. bass string lathe, or winding machine.; outside caliper; 213. and 214. music wire gauges.

Various action diagrams:

214. music wire gauge.

211. wire testing machine for measuring tension at failure.  Head of wooden string mute for tuning, left.

214. Music wire slip gauge.


212. Bass string winding machine or lathe.

79. Expanding pliers for kapsels on Viennese action grand pianos.  80. Compression pliers for damper felt.  78. Early style key easing pliers.

Image of an American factory.

Early 19th century factory steam engine.  It looks as much like an entrance to a carnival ride to me.

Montal: “l’Art d’accorder soi-même son piano…” Claude Montal (28 July 1800 – 7 March 1865).  This book was the first comprehensive treatise on tuning and general piano work.  Montal was a tuner, and later, maker of pianos.

From left to right: Metal tuning hammer oblong socket; Square socket; Wood-handled tuning hammer, removable tubes—for oblong and square pins; Interspersed, three types of mutes, for silencing certain strings during tuning; Flat-nosed pliers; Music-wire gauge; Piano-wire cutters; Hand vise Tuning lever, gooseneck, with stringing hook; Components for two universal style tuning hammers; Two tuning forks (diapason) and case (#34 used to draw between the tines to sound the pitch), and looping/braiding machine. Illustrations in the bottom right show loops and braids being made for the single strings, and then in the lower one the string being wound on the pin, which does not have a string becket and hole (as in modern tuning pins)


Diderot: Encyclopédie  Volume 5. “Lutherie.”  (1767) Denis Diderot collaborated with Alembert over several years to make this compendium.  Here are some plates from “Lutherie.”

Diderot, volume 5, plate 18. “Music instrument making, works and tools.” Circa 1767, Picture includes violins, violas, a clamped up bass, harps, organ pipes, a 17th century guitar, a lute, virginal, and hurdy gurdy. A luthier is working on the face of a violin or viola, with a hand plane.

Diderot, volume 5, plate showing stringed instrument components and three ovoid shaped violin planes. By the 1760s, luthier planes had developed into the basic design that is still used today.



Roubo: L’Art du MenuisierAndré Jacob Roubo (1739–1791) an accomplished cabinet maker, wrote this book between 1769 and 1774.  The following are selected plates from that book.  L’Art du Menuisier vol.3 can be seen here with higher resolution.

From “L’ Art Du Menuisier,” by Andre’ Jacob Roubo. Paris 1774. Plate 281. Toothing plane;  wood plane with metal sole; metal plane, with vertical position for toothing iron, and alternative ~30 degree angle for a bevel up iron.