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15. Decal Application


We offer decals for most pianos ever made.
We have an associate who makes very high quality
decals of rare brass powders and even gold leaf. Inquire.
They are not cheap, but the quality is exceptional and fully original.

See our Decal Ordering Page

We are no longer selling Steinway decals.
All other choices are still available.

This task comes at the end of a restoration of the piano cabinet (See Refinishing the Cabinet). The original name decal may have been covered by paint which you removed, or it may have been removed in a previous restoration. If so, get the name of the piano from the upper right hand corner of the harp inside the piano, or from the harp of a grand piano.

The problem is, the harp may have been made by a different company than the brand name of the piano. Check with us or someone with a piano atlas for help. Also, Aeolian bought many companies out and kept using the original name. Aeolian put their name on a sticker on the top of the pin block. That is not very likely the actual name of the piano.

To purchase a decal for your piano, see the Decal Ordering section of the Online Catalog. If the illustration of the available decals is not precisely like yours, that means we cannot get one exactly like yours.

The decal must be centered on the key cover board (fall board) facing you when the key cover is open. Sometimes the name of a piano is on the board right above the key cover. In this case, you will have to take that board off in order to apply the decal.

Where possible, remove the fall board, called the key cover here, and set it on a table, face up, and supported so that it will not move as you apply the decal. Take off the protective cover over the sticky surface of the decal. Tape the decal onto the clean refinished surface with "Scotch tape" which is not very sticky-- You don't want to damage the surface. You can handle the sticky side of the tape until some of the tackiness is reduced if you think it could pull off the new finish.

If there is room I suggest you get the name up a bit toward the top of the board. If fingernails ever wander, they can scratch the decal. Also, you can get the decal perfectly horizontal by measuring from the top of two identical letters, or several lower case letters, in the name-- measure to the top or bottom of the fall board. It is level when all measurements are the same.

Once the decal is flat and tightly taped, start rubbing letters onto the surface by rubbing the slippery paper over the front of the name. Use a blunt but somewhat pointed tool. A Bic pen tail end is pretty good. Wood working kits have rounded wooden burnishing tools. You may have breaks in several letters. Carefully align the rest of the letter, and go on. If the tape is tight, these breaks will not show later. Rub and rub over areas you think are finished. Do not rub too hard, but keep at it for a while.

When you think the letters have all transferred, take a piece of tape loose, and VERY SLOWLY pull the backing paper away. Peek under the backing paper as you slowly remove it, and watch for some letter material that is trying to stay on the backing paper. If you see that a section of letter is not rubbed off right, return the paper to position, and rub some more.

After you remove the backing sheet of paper, find the very slippery paper that was over the sticky side of the letters from the manufacturer. Lay it over the face of the letters carefully, tape lightly if you like, and rub some more. This is to make a very secure bond in fine detail. Look closely at the letters. Is there a wrinkle, or does a section seem raised. Rub again there. DO NOT try to take a wrinkle out-- rub it in, and 95% of the time it will disappear.

After you have finished to your satisfaction, lay the key cover so that the name is up. Find an artist's brush with very fine bristles. Paint lightly over the new letters with Formby's Tung Oil, feathering the edges of your work. Don't panic is the edge seems to show. The Tung Oil will lay down as it dries. You may also use a coat of the finish you used originally. If in doubt, check with a cabinet maker to learn what you can use to coat your finish.

If you sprayed on nitrocellulose lacquer, apply the decal before the last coat goes on the front of the fall board. Do not thin the lacquer a lot since the carrier or thinner is the thing which could conceivably lift the decal. Mist on a very thing coat just enough to not go dusty on you as it dries. This applies to over sprayed on finishes as well.

I would not use the aerosol finish coat products sold for covering decals. Aerosol paint is always high on the thinner, or carrier, content. It is the carrier which will cause problems with the decal.

If you botch this up so that the letters are ruined, this is one of those things where you cannot expect the industry to give you a new one just because you look sincere. So, do your best, work slowly, and remember that once in a long while we all blunder. Frankly, I see very few ruined decals with my customers. I think I must have very smart people buying from me. :-)

There is another kind of decal being sold very cheaply. It is transferred in the old technique. The decal material has to be removed from the backing paper without the transfer method. You end up trying to take a very thin layer of material off of the backing paper, and it does not stick to anything but your fingers, which ruins it. Then you have to float it into a puddle of shellac or varnish like you did when you pasted the trees on your picture in Kindergarten. The thing can wrinkle and fold, and that is usually the end of it. You have to abandon it and start over with a new one.

The men I have known in the trade avoid these decals at all costs. If they go on without a glitch, they look every bit as good as the ones I sell. But, I am told that most men buy two every time on account of bungling one. I personally would never try them. I have better things to do with my life. You will find though that they are much cheaper than the ones I use. You will also find that some sources are selling such decals which are over 50 years old.

On to task 16.