My winter-time project!

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  #1  
Old 07-18-16, 04:41 PM
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My winter-time project!

Here's my next project, one that I can work on inside when the weather turns cold.

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It is an Estey reed organ. I don't yet know its age but Estey went out of business in about 1960 so at least fifty years old. I found it in the free section of Craig's List although I paid $100 to have it delivered.

It almost sort of plays. The bellows seem okay along with the reservoir. The treble side of the keyboard has something stuck so several notes play if you pull any treble stop. The tremolo leaks air but doesn't seem to affect the tone so I am thinking the fan is stuck. The left-hand knee wing, I forget what it is called, is missing but the right-hand wing (swell shutter) is intact and works.

Should be fun. Now, if I only knew how to play.

My sister will be super upset that I bought this. She detests organ music.
 
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Old 07-18-16, 05:28 PM
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Ohh! you're gonna need lots of patience for this. I wish you luck. I would think there are forums that cater to this type of thing.
 
  #3  
Old 07-18-16, 05:54 PM
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I hope you have a friend that knows and appreciates the quality of a properly rejuvenated organ. That would be a real asset to you and your friend since organ players like the quality possible. If you put out the world, you may even find some new friends that have an interest.

One of my friends is not even close to being a religious, but plays the organ for choir practice one night a week and on Sunday, just to be able to a key to the church so he can play his kind of music on the organ whenever he chooses.

The seat looks a little "ratty". Do you plan on refinishing the little gem also?

Good luck.

Dick
 
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Old 07-18-16, 06:39 PM
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Patience, something that I am learning as I grow older.

Yes, the seat IS badly scratched, even gouged to bare wood in one area. It will let me practice my hand scraping technique, something I haven't done since junior high school. Of course I will be refinishing the wood as part of the project. I think I read that shellac was the standard finish for Estey but I might go for a Tung oil finish instead.

I am a non-believer although I think that some of the most beautiful music ever composed is sectarian. I do have two acquaintances that are organ masters although it has been several years since I have seen either.

I used to work at an entertainment facility back in the mid to late 70s. There was an organ, partly installed, that I messed around with for a while. It was a Skinner-Aeolian and had a player action like an old-time player piano. The player was run by what looked to be a wooden steam engine but it had some broken parts and I was unable to get it to run. I was able to get some noise from the contraption after connecting the second blower duct and finding the local disconnect for the second blower. Only about half of the stops were connected and I'm guessing that the installation stopped after the sound man left for greener pastures many years before my time.

Alas, shortly after I left the organ was sold to some non-mainstream church for a pittance. My partner, while watching them disassemble the thing, was told that it was a fine instrument and worth at least ten times what they paid.
 
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Old 07-18-16, 07:00 PM
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That should be a fun project. I have a friend that has an organ keyboard in his livingroom. It's rather large. He specializes in repairing band organs. Those are the organs that run on air and use a paper roll for the programming. They have drums and other instruments attached to them.
 
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Old 07-18-16, 10:46 PM
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I think I read that shellac was the standard finish for Estey
I don't know anything about organs, other than I love them. They fit with rock music and everything else.

I would research shellac more (especially orange shellac), it can be a beautiful finish. A classic finish is called a French Rub, it can look like a mirror.
Basically you apply the shellac with a ball of cheesecloth, a wet ball within a ball. It takes many coats and a lot of time.
You will also need some rubbing oil, pumice, and rottenstone. It sounds hard but is doable with patience.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 03:13 AM
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Shellac was the norm for that time period, least ways for residential work. Denatured alcohol will dissolve shellac so it would be easy to find out for sure. Probably the biggest reason poly replaced shellac and varnish is because it dries to a harder longer wearing film.

IMO refinishing it will be the easy part, I suspect I'd be lost once you open it up
 
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Old 07-19-16, 09:53 AM
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I agree that the refinishing of the wood will be the easy part; time consuming but fairly easy as in not being too technical. My daddy built a grandfather clock (from a kit) and used an oil-rubbed finish. As I recall he used boiled linseed oil, something NOT easy to find these days as most of what is labeled as "boiled" is actually raw oil with a lot of driers added. Anyway, he applied the oil with 600 grit (and finer) wet-or-dry sandpaper rubbing it in until there was just the faintest sheen of oil and then let it dry for several days before adding another coat. It took a month or more but he eventually had something like eighteen coats of oil built up and that wood (it was walnut) was absolutely beautiful. It was not glossy but a subdued matte finish and he said the best thing was that if it got scratched it was very easy to add more oil and make the scratch almost disappear.

I have no idea what kind of wood is used in the organ, for all I know it could be some cheap softwood stained to look more like a hardwood. I might know more once I start to disassemble the case...which I don't foresee happening for at least a month or two. I might do some experimentation on the bench though.
 
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Old 07-19-16, 03:24 PM
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My boiled linseed oil experience is minimal but it's been my experience that straight out of the can the stuff takes forever to dry. We always cut it in half with mineral spirits. It made a good pre primer on old wood that hadn't seen paint in years. If I remember correctly the only time I've used it for a finish was on an oak flooring work bench top in my spray booth .... and between the cardboard laid out to catch the drips and all the clutter - I probably haven't seen the finish in years
 
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Old 07-19-16, 10:32 PM
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When I bought my six-foot wooden stepladder (more than thirty years ago) I sopped it up good with "boiled" linseed oil. I may have done two coats but I do remember it took at least a week to stop feeling sticky. Today that ladder looks brand new.


I lied in the opening post, the left knee wing IS intact and it seems to open all the voice stops as well as the shutter on the swell box. I couldn't help myself so I got out my trusty screwdriver and removed two screws from the upper back. Although they are wood screws they came out like machine screws. Lifting this piece off I saw the factory sticker that gave the serial number as well as some dates. Turns out it was made in late September to mid October of 1947 so not all that old.

Then I took off the top piece to look down and I found one stop where the rod had become disengaged. I put it back but no difference in the playing. From there I removed a piece right under the keys and found the swell box and then discovered what the left knee wing controls. I still haven't found out how to get to the reeds or the key action components nor exactly how the draw stops control the voicing. Anyway, I put it all back together so I wouldn't lose any screws or forget how it went back together. I suppose I should have vacuumed up the huge amount of dust I found but I think it will wait for another day. Oh, the tremolo fan DOES work, it has a little air turbine and the stop even has a brake and "kickstarter" to start and stop it.

Finding a great deal of information cruising the web as well. Still don't know what kind of wood was used but it is a light colored wood, may be poplar, but stained to resemble walnut. I also found that a tri-wing security screwdriver bit works as a key to lock the keyboard cover.
 
  #11  
Old 07-20-16, 12:48 AM
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I found the Estey Organ Museum in Vermont and they may be able to connect you with someone who has parts for your organ or who can make custom parts. I imagine that your organ may be fairly expensive to restore and kind of difficult too. Anyway this is the first page of a Bing search that I did and it does have a blog listed that shows how someone took apart an Estey organ here is the link estey organ forums - Bing.

The person who took his organ apart labeled everything and I imagine you will do the same. I really didn't see where he finished any organ project but I thought he had some good ideas. So I definitely would look for the blog on this page. Also on this page is the listing for the Estey organ museum in Vermont at the top of the page. I certainly wish you luck Joel and I am afraid I really can't advise you further it is outside of my knowledge.
 
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Old 07-20-16, 03:40 AM
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Every time I've bought a new wood ladder I've always coated it with something - generally whatever I had that was handy [ thinned downed poly, thompson water seal, thinned linseed oil, oil base CWF, etc] I've always preferred a wood step ladder to an aluminum one as they are lot more steady. The fiberglass step ladders are a LOT better than the aluminum ones!

Joel, I thought you said this was a winter time project
 
  #13  
Old 07-20-16, 03:42 PM
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It IS a winter project, I haven't had more than six screws out at any one time. I took the upper back off to find the serial number and then put it back together. I then removed four screws and removed the top. Once I did that I pulled two more screws and removed the front. I didn't even try to remove any of the dirt, just put it back together.

I can only sit in front of the computer monitor for so long before my legs start to cramp up and so I had to do something else for a while. I didn't want to watch the television and it was way too late to try to take pictures of the lawnmower or jack up the car for the brake inspection. Nor did I feel like washing any pots and pans or cleaning in the garage. That left trying to glean some more information on the organ.




As for ladders...I absolutely HATE aluminum ladders, either step-ladders OR extension ladders. Aluminum step-ladders always try to fold up on me, I once took baling wire to one and trussed up that POS so that it would never fold. Even then I felt unsafe on the thing. When the director of the hysterical museum was going to buy some aluminum ladders I showed here why it was a bad idea and she changed her mind real quick, opting for type 1A fiberglass ladders. With wooden ladders I find a periodic tightening of the stay rods under each rung does absolute wonders in keeping them sturdy and safe. I've had people tell me their ladder was pretty rickety and I would tighten the stays, sometimes several turns, and they were amazed how that little operation changed it to a rock-steady ladder.
 
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Old 07-21-16, 04:04 AM
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I prefer a wooden step ladder but around 6' or so they start to get too heavy. I do like the fiberglass step ladders but IMO a wood ladder is more comfortable. When I first started painting there was pretty much an even split between wood and aluminum extension ladders. I don't miss wooden extension ladders! Too heavy and the round rungs are hard on your feet. Back when I was an apprentice we did a job using a 40' wooden extension ladder took 3 men and mule to move it

I detest using any Type III ladder! They might be ok when brand new but it doesn't take them long to get wobbly. My extension ladders are Type I, don't own any fiberglass extension ladders. I always though tightening the rods on wooden step ladders was normal maintenance

I was just messing with you about it being a winter time project, curiosity has gotten me too
 
  #15  
Old 08-09-16, 12:26 AM
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A minor update. Every few days I sit down and try to plink out some tune. The problem I originally had with any treble stop being pulled causing several notes to sound is now gone. I have determined it is a key or two sticking slightly and not allowing the "pallet" (valve) to close all the way. Being in a (more or less) controlled atmosphere now is probably helping it to normalize.

I've been checking out various websites as well. I was looking at one this morning that had pictures of a 100 year old organ and the amount of dust and dirt was mind-boggling. My organ will be 69 years old next month and while I thought it had a fair amount of dust and dirt it is pristine compared to the one in the photos. For the most part, everything seems to be working, pretty amazing all things considered.

In the not-too-distant future I want to remove the lower panels and see if I can cobble a couple of computer cooling fans to the "reservoir" and see if they will pull enough of a vacuum to allow it to play, albeit softly, without pumping the bellows. I think the bellows and reservoir are in fine condition as I can pump up a bit and then hold either a single note or a triad chord for several seconds before it runs out of air. Some of the stops are what I learned are called "shared stops" and that is why the stop knobs seem to have a detent about halfway out and also why some stops sound almost exactly like others.

I have also learned that refinishing the wood is NOT something that should be done. After reading that on several websites I remembered something that I have heard mentioned on Antiques Roadshow (PBS) many times regarding old furniture and that is refinishing it generally lowers its value, regardless of the condition of the original finish. So I think I will confine the refinishing to the bench only. Replacing the cloth behind the fretwork (openings in the case) is considered good practice as is replacing all the felts and hardened leather pieces throughout the instrument. But, it may not be as necessary as it seems this instrument has received fairly good care throughout its life. Maybe just a good cleaning will be all it needs...and someone that knows how to play!
 
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Old 08-09-16, 01:12 AM
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I agree Joel I don't think I would refinish the organ either as it would decrease its value. However a good furniture wax might be in order but maybe not just any wax so I certainly would check into it. My aunt when she was alive used to refinish everything she got her hands on and while it looked great I know that some of what she did devalued what she refinished. I used to tell her some pieces shouldn't ever be refinished and even told her to watch Antiques Roadshow, which she did, but to no avail as she did what she wanted to do.

Well she never owned an antique shop and not everything was high value either at the little market place she had in southern Maryland. So I guess it really depends on your market and who is interested in what you have.
 
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Old 08-09-16, 03:27 AM
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I used to tell her some pieces shouldn't ever be refinished and even told her to watch Antiques Roadshow, which she did, but to no avail as she did what she wanted to do.
That's the thing, you can't base all decisions on money. As long as you know up front that what you intend to do might lower the value, but doing so will make you happy - does the lower value matter that much?
 
  #18  
Old 08-09-16, 07:48 AM
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I didn't get the organ to rebuild and sell, I got it because I wanted it. All the various websites state up front that reed organs are NOT particularly valuable, mostly because there were so many made. They all caution a person to not spend much money for one and that restoration will often cost more than the value of the restored instrument.

So, I might refinish the casework or I might not. If I do refinish it, I will do so after, maybe long after, I get it back into top playing condition. Or maybe I will die with it in an unfinished/unrestored condition. Right now it does play, more or less, and with some work on my part learning how to play, I can enjoy the music.
 
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