Restoration Process

During the restoration process, approximately 120 -150 photographs are taken documenting the project.  These are included in a book for the customer, along with an historic write up of the company that made the organ.  Copies of advertising materials or pictures showing the factory, if discoverable, are included in the book. A form to register the organ with the International Reed Organ Society is completed. The restored organ  will then become part of the database dedicated to the preservation of these valuable antique instruments.  Lastly, a certificate of restoration, a written appraisal, and a warranty are included.  Specific details of the restoration are as follows:

Typically, when an unrestored organ is brought to the shop, the beginning process involves removing the pedals, pedal straps, bellows, soundboard, and action, along with the keyboard and stop board.  This also requires  removing numerous cabinet pieces, the keyboard cover, side handles, mirror glass, and assorted panels and accoutrements, until the organ cabinet is empty.  The cabinet is thoroughly cleaned and  broken/missing wood is replaced with old period wood, usually oak or walnut for most organs.  Often a  piece of wood used to replace a missing or damaged part of the organ cabinet is carefully carved, cut, or turned on a wood lathe to fit.  This is especially true for trim  pieces, finials and elaborate Victorian decorative scroll work and carvings.  Cabinet pieces that have come apart are glued and clamped and veneer de-lamination is repaired or replaced. Beveled mirrors are stripped clear and new mirror glass installed behind them for renewed clarity.  The four wooden rolling casters the organ sits on are often broken, won’t turn, or are worn flat.  The metal axles may be bent and rusted.  New casters are turned on a wood lathe, center holes are drilled, bent axles are de-rusted and straightened, then all are reinstalled and white lithium grease applied.  Restoration work is also done on the organ stool, if included, such as repairing the large center threaded height adjuster, regluing cracked or broken wood, and de-rusting and polishing metal “ball and claw” legs.  Everything is then ready to go to the refinishing shop, where all the wood is stripped, sanded, and restained, and then sanding sealer and several coats of clear lacquer are applied.

Next, restoration is undertaken on the organ pedals.  Most are exceedingly dirty, have rusty metal frames or broken or loose wooden frames.  The worn pedal hinges get replaced with four new ones.  Metal frames are de-rusted and clear coated.  Wooden frames are repaired and refinished or replaced.  Two period-style carpet pedal covers are cut and glued into place.

Next, the bellows system gets restored.  First, the foundation board, upon which the action will be attached, is removed.  It is often glued and nailed to the top of the bellows.  After removal it can splinter and break, which gets  repaired before it can be reused.  Other times a new foundation board is precisely cut to replace the damaged original.  A gasket is made to go beneath the foundation board when it is time to reconnect it to the bellows and screw holes are drilled and screws installed to ensure a proper, tight fit and to ease disassembly 100 years hence.  The two wooden braces between the bellows and the soundboard are also removed.  The system consists of two spring loaded pumping bellows (exhausters) with outer leather valves.  These exhausters attach to the pedals via pedal straps and are made to draw air from a large air reservoir chamber with critical inner leather valves and heavy duty springs, either inside the reservoir or outside along the perimeter, depending of the brand of organ.  The old bellows cloth is stripped from both the exhausters and reservoir bellows, all wood is clear coated to eliminate porosity, old inner and outer valves are replaced with duplicate leather cut to fit, along with heavy cloth hinges for the exhausters and reservoir bellows.  Exhausters and the reservoir are then covered with new bellows cloth, measured and cut to fit.  New kidskin leather is cut and applied to the spring return escape valve and  new pumping straps are connected to the exhausters.   The wooden braces are reinstalled and the completed system is placed on a test board utilizing twice the normal level of suction to ensure that the air reserve lasts at least two minutes without leaks.  Then the bellows system is reinstalled and secured with screws back into the cabinet.  The pumping straps are measured and adjusted for pedal travel and then attached to the underside of the organ pedals.  These  must  be positioned over wooden rollers, which have been removed, steel axles derusted and polished, then lubricated with lithium grease before reassembly.  Exhauster return springs are de-rusted and clear coated before being positioned in between the case and the two exhausters.  Damper felts are glued behind them and the springs are adjusted to their optimum positions before being secured in place.  At this point the cabinet can be set aside so that work can begin on the primary action of the organ.

The stop board restoration is undertaken.   The positions of all the stops are numbered and removed, along with the stop faces.  Stop faces are cleaned, and missing faces or knobs are located and replaced. These come from the hundreds of original salvaged parts from numerous organ brands and styles collected for years and kept on hand.   It can be a lengthy process to find the correct replacement part, as there were many variations of organ brands and actions. Sometimes parts must be fabricated.   After stop knobs and rods are painted, new red felt rings are installed for each.  The surface of the nameboard is cleaned, stripped, sanded and repainted. Care is taken to preserve or retouch the original lettering and decals.  The repainted stop board receives a clear coat and new felt bushings are installed in the nameboard holes where the stop rods go.  Metal control rods are de-rusted and clear coated.  New felt bushings are installed for each, as the stop board is reassembled.   New felt bushings are also installed in the wooden stop rod actuators, which often are broken, requiring the fabrication of new wooden actuators before reassembly.  Lastly, the appropriate travel is adjusted and set for the control rods and stops. Stop faces are positioned and glued into place and new name board felt is applied beneath the leading edge of the stop board where it will rest above the keyboard.

Then the keyboard is removed from the action and the key bed is disassembled.  It consists of a series of pins and felts that the keys ride upon.  The key bed gets cleaned and all 122 pins are individually sanded and polished.  The key bed is then clear coated.  New felt key resting strips are cut and installed on it.  Each key is cleaned and the broken or missing key tops are replaced before each white key gets sanded with fine wet/dry sandpaper before being polished on a buffing wheel.  Black key tops can snap loose, so they get clamped and glued securely in place before being polished or repainted.  Every key then gets new inner felt bushings and bottom felts before being reassembled to the key bed.  Beneath the keyboard is a series of 61 pegs which are removed, cleaned, lubricated with graphite and new felt collars applied after removing the old originals.   New pegs must be measured, sized and cut to replace any broken pegs.  Each of these pegs actuates a spring-loaded pallet valve, which is beneath the soundboard and facilitates the playing of music by allowing air to be drawn through the brass reeds of the organ when a key is pressed over its corresponding peg.  This key/peg/pallet valve interaction opens and exposes the reed chamber, where air from the bellows reservoir beneath the sound board is drawn through the brass reeds.  This causes the reed tongues to vibrate and that vibration is magnified in volume by the soundboard.   Each of the pallet valves rides over two nickel plated pins and is pressed firmly to the underneath side of the soundboard by a metal spring.  Pins are cleaned and a new base strip of felt is attached.  The spring board often has to be removed and old cracked glue removed, before it is re-glued, screwed, and clamped into place.  Each pallet is covered with a singular layer of felt, then a layer of very thin kidskin leather, to make an airtight seal.  Originals are usually moth eaten, dried, curled and no longer airtight. All  61 pallet valves are removed, cleaned, stripped of old felt and leather, surfaces sanded, and   new felt and kidskin leather applied with a thin line of glue beneath them.  The finished pallet valves are then seated over the pins and adjusted to their numbered and appropriate positions.

Next the four mutes are removed. These are leather covered, spring loaded, hinged, elongated wooden pieces that are positioned along the bass and treble ends, along the forward openings of the front and rear sets of reed cells.  These are removed,  screws and brass hinges are cleaned, the mute surfaces stripped and cleaned, then re-covered  with new leather kidskin. New springs are fabricated from piano wire.  The two wooden swells are  also removed, stripped, and sanded.  There is one swell installed before the front set of reed cells and one before the rear set.  These are raised or lowered to increase or decrease volume.  New hinges and springs are fabricated for these and new felt bottom strips are cut, glued, and installed. All 122 brass reeds are removed from the reed cells. There are more than 122 reeds if an organ is a six octave rather than five, has an extra keyboard and/or if it has a set of sub bass reeds.  Wooden reed cells are often broken in places and new wooden dividers are fabricated and glued in place.  Other times, the entire reed cell structure is loose and must be carefully cleaned, repositioned, glued,  and clamped in place before it can function again.  Reeds are cleaned and then tuned as required.  There are often a few broken or cracked reeds which require replacement from old stock kept on hand for this purpose. Tuning each reed requires carefully filing either the base or tip of a reed’s tongue, depending on whether the note is sharp or flat.  The old, usually moth eaten original reed bed felt is removed. The entire action is cleaned and clear coated before new reed bed felt is positioned and glued in front of the two sets of reed cells.  All reeds are then sorted in order and placed back into their respective cells.

Next the coupler system is restored.  This is a mechanical system consisting of a series of small metal rods, angled and set into two hinged base boards, one for the treble notes and one for the bass notes of the organ.  Each metal rod is made so that, when activated, one end can be depressed by the organist playing a key and the other end of the metal rod pushes down on the felt surface of a wooden collar,  which surrounds the wooden peg one octave over from the note being played.  The result is that when the coupler stop knobs are pulled, a note can be played and the same note one octave over also gets played, giving the organist the equivalent of four hands when playing.  The coupler is complicated and must be completely disassembled in order to restore it.  The actuation boards must be cleaned and new cloth hinges, felt bases and leather beneath applied.  The metal rods are almost always rusted and must be individually cleaned with a spinning brush on a bench grinder.  Each rod has two bearing races, either made of brass or wood.  These are often broken and must be replaced from old stock or manufactured from scratch.  Each bearing race contains felt bearings, which must be cut and installed as the rods are put back into them and they are reattached to the actuator boards upon reassembly.

The vox humana is then restored.  This device has two paddle blades which turn on a wooden shaft.  When actuated, the blade motion disrupts the air and modulates sound waves traveling from the sound board.  This produces a mild vibrato effect.  The paddle blade shaft is powered by an internal air turbine composed of 12 smaller wooden or pasteboard blades affixed to a center wooden hub.  The center hub is connected via a metal axle which runs through a hole with a felt/leather bearing installed in the main body of the turbine housing.  One end of this axle connects to the wooden rod upon which the paddle blades are connected.  The other end of this wooden rod also contains a metal axle, which traverses another felt/leather bearing which is affixed through an upright spindle connected the the base of the entire mechanism.  The paddle blades are usually broken, missing, or unstable. The same is true for the smaller turbine blades.  All the blades must be removed and the wooden receptor slots cleaned out to accommodate new replacement blades, which must be measured and cut from new marble board. New leather bearings are pressed into place and axles are cleaned and polished.  A starter mechanism is an integral part of the vox humana.  This consists of a wooden, rectangular actuator rod which pivots on a screw on the outer surface of the turbine housing.  One end of the rod has a thick piece of felt covered by a thin strip of leather.  The other end of the rod has a strip of leather that is made to cover an air input hole that gets exposed when the vox humana center stop is pulled.  This stop connects to the actuator rod and the end of the rod with the strip of thick felt and leather makes contact with the paddle blade rod and causes it to begin to turn when activated. At the same time, the upper portion of the actuator rod slackens the leather covering the air input hole and suction from the soundboard is drawn through the turbine, causing the small blades to spin and powering the movement of the paddle blades. After reassembly, the vox humana is lubricated with graphite, tested, and installed on the soundboard with new leather gaskets.

At this point, all components are ready for reassembly. The mutes, mute hinges, new springs, swells, swell springs, and felt dampers beneath the springs are installed.   Then the pegs are placed into the peg board and the  coupler system is positioned and adjusted.  The two large actuator controls for the coupler are installed beneath it using new felt bushings in their applicable bearing races. The keyboard is screwed down into place, using shims as needed.  The keyboard must be leveled, which is done by removing pins and then using shims to add to the gap between the key bottoms and the tops of the wooden actuator pegs, or sanding the tops of the pegs to reduce the gap when keys are too high.  After this is completed, the stop board is positioned above the keyboard and fastened with screws, using shims as necessary.  The stop board controls are connected to the mutes, swells, couplers, and vox humana via wooden connectors, which are often broken and must be cut from new wood. These get new felts and are adjusted upon reassembly to ensure that the functions of the stops and knee swells are working properly.  The finished action is then put on a test board and suction applied to test all functions and proper tuning.

The action is put into the organ cabinet and the soundboard, with a new leather perimeter gasket, is screwed down tightly to the top of the bellows board and via screws in front that attach from below.  Knee swells are installed and actuator rods are put into place with them. Cheek blocks receive new felt trim before being installed along with new felt on the key cover before everything is put back together.  Where applicable, new cloth is installed behind the grill and other areas of the cabinet where decorative backcloth was originally installed. The cleaned and polished key lock mechanism is reinstalled in the lid, the bevelled mirror is reinstalled in the top, where applicable, and the top is attached to the organ cabinet.  The back is likewise installed.  The organ is tested and adjusted.  It is now ready for delivery.

Stan and Coleman Kimball with large organ they restored