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MMD > Archives > May 2007 > 2007.05.22 > 02Prev  Next

Repairing Ivory Keytops
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  Again, Eliyahu Shahar (and others) probably share the concern
about "un-doing" a repair that involves Krylon enamel paint and Krazy
Glue.  Friends, fear not!  Being from the old school where the credo is
"Do No Harm", my first test after developing the Krazy/Krylon technique
was to take it apart.  To my surprise, it was easier than I had
anticipated, and there are three ways that work.

One, take "juniors' hammer" (actually, take a small metal hammer) and
bang on the broken ivory.  It will crack off in pieces and then you can
scrape off the remaining 'adhesive'.  (I hesitate to call it an adhesive
because it's more of a chemical mixture like an epoxy.  However, unlike
an epoxy, the mixture is porous in nature, not solid.  Which leads to
Method Two.)

Two, take a sharp chisel, sharp blade, or single-edge razor (my
preference) and carefully remove the ivory in a more traditional

Third, use a clothes iron and heat the ivory until it slips off.
(Remember, I mentioned that the mixture got warm as it was setting.)
Naturally, the heating technique can scorch and discolor the bone ivory.

I just finished taking pictures of my process so everyone can see
that this is _not_ a butcher technique that ruins the key or the ivory.
The pictures can be viewed in the order in which they were taken at

And, as far as Eliyahu's assertion or implication that there is a
"default" method that has to be followed when a shop restoration is done,
I would defer him and others to the numerous postings here in the
MMDigest that consistently prove that there are 'different' restoration
techniques for the same job that do not harm the instrument or make it
harder to rebuild in the future.

Furthermore, comparing the use of Krazy Glue to glue wood to wood to
my Krazy/Krylon method of gluing ivory to a key is simply ridiculous.
It's like comparing apples to zebras.  Krazy/Krylon is a "filler"
that happens to have great holding power. (Why?  I don't know.)

Also, according to the Schaff Piano Supply catalog (2007), the
recommended material for gluing ivory to keys is "Ivory Cement Wafers".
They claim it is the "most rapid method invented for attaching
ivories."  While I cannot dispute their claim because I've never
tried the product, it's my feeling that any method that requires
clamps can't be faster that one that does not require clamps.

Going back even further to the APSCO (American Piano Supply Company)
catalog (1996), they sold a product called "Piano Key Cement" that
was "clear, colorless, quick drying cement for ivory" that was "Highly
recommended for all key work."

Going back even further to the 1876 PPCo (Player Piano Co.) catalog,
we find yet another "Ivory Cement".  This cement is "white in color"
and must be immersed in "boiling water" and applied while in a liquid
state.  (Sounds a bit like colored hide glue, but at 212 degrees
Fahrenheit it's doubtful the glue had much holding strength.)

My point here is that most of the largest suppliers in the USA
recommended different products at different times, which, at the very
least, suggests that getting the job done as quickly as possible has
been the aim for numerous years.

In all cases, the ivory and the wood must be cleaned and the surfaces
of both must be prepared in some way, shape, or form.  The Krazy/Krylon
method requires very little preparation, other than insuring that there
is a semi-flat surface where the ivory and wooden portions can touch
each other.  Any excess of the mixture will either squeeze out the
sides and front or fill in the voids in the wooden surface.  So, the
wood doesn't have to be perfectly flat.  In fact, it can still have
some of the old wafer.

Please understand that I have nothing against using the original
method.  However, over the years, I have found that removing an ivory
that was attached in the original fashion -- unless it has been
adversely effected by wetness -- is extremely difficult to remove
without doing any damage to either the ivory or the wood.  And, in some
cases, it's so well attached that slivers of wood will be pulled off
when the ivory is forcibly removed or, the piece of ivory will crack
into pieces, rendering it useless.  So the notion that using the
original or 'default' method will make it easier for future generations
is not a viable reason for doing so...

In closing, I am still very interested in the chemical reaction that
occurs when these two products (Krazy Glue and Krylon enamel paint) are
mixed together.  Also, let it be known that _I do not_ consider my
method "better" than what is referred to as the 'original' method.
However, finding out what the true original method was is somewhat
of a challenge.  I could find no definitive information, i.e., types
and quantities of materials used in the process.  See

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Tue 22 May 2007, 11:20:17 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ivory, Keytops, Repairing

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