Faking a Piano

“I need you to make a piano”, said my lovely wife. At least it didn’t need to actually work, merely be something pretending to be a piano on stage. A non-piano assuming the role of a piano in our youth production of Copacabana.

“But there’s a real piano at the theatre, why can’t we use that?” I asked.

Because it’s not ours and it’s too bloody heavy to be whisked on and off stage, apparently.

So.

I had to make a piano.

As luck would have it, we’d just had some new bedroom furniture delivered which came in some very interesting cardboard packaging. Interesting because some of it was very light and very strong due to a honeycomb interior. A plan began to form that would end in cardboard acting like wood…

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Honeycomb cardboard with top layer removed
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Internal structure of honeycomb-sandwich cardboard

I took the design and basic measurements from our real piano and got to work with the cardboard, some saws, duct tape and glue.

2 ends and a beam
2 ends and a beam

I used the two large pieces of honeycombed cardboard to make the ends of the piano and created an internal joist out of other long pieces to connect them.

I made four beams in total, one at the top, one at the bottom, one at the back and one where the keyboard would go. I cut into the honeycombed sides and glued the beams into place. I then cut channels in them and slid two pieces of card in to make the back. More glue and lots of tape…

More beams, a back and a lot of tape
More beams, a back and a lot of tape

 

I didn’t have a single piece big enough to make the back, so joined two bits together and secured them to the rear beam.

What a nice back
What a nice back
Hardboard top and more cardboard to make the keyboard
Hardboard top and more cardboard to make the keyboard

Next job was to add a keyboard and a firm hardboard top.

More cardboard to create the front and the keyboard is painted white. A couple of chunks of wood are also added underneath the bottom beam to lower the centre of gravity and make it a bit more stable.

Front goes on & first bit of paint
Front goes on & first bit of paint
Music holder, lower front and stabilising blocks
Music holder, lower front and stabilising blocks

 

The play requires the ‘pianist’ to take music manuscript and pretend to play, so I needed to add a music holder. I also added some stabilising feet.

 

I had made a load of black keys out of low density fibreboard – I think it was originally the base packaging for a cake. All that was left was the painting. I chose gloss black because I thought it might help make it look more solid and believable. What do you think?

Finished piano
Finished piano
Shiny top
Shiny top

 

 

 

 

 

It fooled my mum – she thought we’d moved our piano into the lounge. But admittedly she didn’t have her glasses on…

More shininess
More shininess
Close-up of the keyboard
Close-up of the keyboard
Looks solid - weighs bugger all
Looks solid – weighs bugger all

The only bits of wood in the piano are the chunky weights at the bottom. The only proper DIY material is the hardboard top. This means that it should be easily moved on and off stage. But it also means it’s a little fragile and susceptible to damage. Here’s hoping it makes it throughΒ the transport to theatre, the dress rehearsal and the two performances.

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28 thoughts on “Faking a Piano

    1. Hopefully the audience will think it’s totally real as they will be some distance away. I’m tempted to get a couple of our littlest kids to go on stage and pick it up during a scene change πŸ˜‰

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  1. Thanks Yusra! I used to make plastic model kits when I was a lad and then moved on to assembling flat-pack furniture (there’s a certain irony in the fact that the bedroom drawers we bought we ready assembled and I used the packaging to create a ‘flat-pack piano’). The hardest thing about this project was staring at a load of cardboard and trying to figure out what to do with it – I had no instructions or even pre-cut pieces. There was a LOT of umm-ing and ahh-ing going on before I cut anything and even then I was pretty much making it up as I went along. A bit like life really… πŸ˜‰

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  2. Do you have specifications for the piano? Also, what do you recommend to use for cutting the cardboard for the nicest edges? How long did it take you to complete this? I have to make one for a play I am doing. I don’t think I am anywhere near as skilled as you! Any and all help is appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Christina, thanks for your comment. I kind of made it up as I went along, but I did have long hard thinking time between the various stages. The most important thing is to find some of the double-skinned honeycombed packing cardboard because it’s very light and very strong. Ordinary cardboard will just collapse. Either speak to a packaging company or a furniture retailer (not flat-pack self-assembly) to source some.
      I decided to make my piano a little smaller than full-size as our actors were kids aged 10-16. So then I cut the ends to shape and held them rigidly together with a skeleton of honeycomb cardboard ‘girders’. The rest of the structure was really just a simple layer of cardboard skin (apart from the top, which was a thicker hardboard material, mainly to allow for people placing things on top of the piano, forgetting it was cardboard).
      I used a sharp craft knife to cut slots into the honeycomb so that I could glue the girders into place but I found that cutting both the honeycomb and the normal cardboard was easiest with a hand-held jigsaw like this: https://www.bosch-do-it.com/gb/en/diy/tools/pst-650-3165140653251-199894.jsp
      It cuts through it all really easily (unsurprisingly) which allows you to concentrate on any shaping you need to do, or keeping to a straight line. The rapidly moving blade also tends to keep things fairly neat, but you will still need to trim bits with a sharp knife and some sandpaper.
      As to how long it took me, well, I made it over a series of Sundays and evenings but wasn’t working on it every day (I have a full-time job and Saturdays were spent at rehearsals). My first day of cutting ends and creating a top girder was Sunday 22 Feb 2015 (according to my picture taken date). By the evening of the 23rd I’d attached the other 3 girders and the rear skin. A week later I’d put the hardboard top on, the upper front skin and the white keyboard. A week after that and I’d put on the lower front skin, stabilising feet and music manuscript holder. The following week it was all painted & finished (pictures are dated Sunday 15th March). The performances were 21st & 22nd March so it was a bit tight!
      It survived Copacabana and we used it again in a Laurel & Hardy sketch in our July show.
      Hope that all helps and good luck! πŸ™‚

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    1. Wow, I’d never thought of it like that before! But you’re dead right: didn’t really know where to start, got on with it and then spent ages trying to get it finished before the deadline, all the time doubting whether it was going to pan out well.
      The one difference being that, because I only had a limited supply of cardboard, revisions were much less likely!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks so real someone can sit at its keys and bang out some Chopin. Now your next task is to make a cardboard orchestra…
    With a cardboard conductor and all! Imagine that!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll bear it in mind πŸ™‚
        Now, should I start firing some jobs back over to you? Like, what DID happen on the night of May 15…? πŸ˜‰

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      1. It’s still in my garage. Not sure you could actually get anybody inside it though – there’s a big piece of wood at the bottom working as a stabiliser so it doesn’t topple over! I guess if they were short and thin enough though…. πŸ˜‰

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