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Best type of saw for making piano keys

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Forum topic by MikeyPiano posted 09-13-2020 04:30 PM 690 views 0 times favorited 40 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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MikeyPiano

17 posts in 8 days


09-13-2020 04:30 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question miter saw bandsaw scroll saw tablesaw

Hi,

What type of saw would be the most effective/useful for creating wooden piano keys? Im looking for a good combination of precision and repeatability to reliably create 88 keys. I don’t currently own a saw.

Notes:
- I’m building a portable MIDI Keyboard Controller and I’d like to have traditional wooden keys (not full length)
- Length of white keys = 12 inches, length black keys = 10 inches, width/height = plus/minus 1 inch

Addendum:
  • I’m building the keyboard frame out of T-Slot Aluminum Bars. So I also need a saw to cut/size the aluminum bars (20×20mm) – but it doesn’t have to be the same saw.

Thanks in advance. It’s been awhile since I’ve done this sort of work!


40 replies so far

View Loren's profile

Loren

10577 posts in 4496 days


#1 posted 09-13-2020 04:38 PM

umm… a table saw?

Table saws excel at cutting long parts to narrow widths and crosscutting such parts relatively cleanly.

View DaveMills's profile

DaveMills

37 posts in 247 days


#2 posted 09-13-2020 05:03 PM

I made these keys using my table saw, a dado blade, and a sander for the angles on the black keys. Worked out well, though I recommend making extras on the first go-round so you don’t have to re-set your saw settings to make more later.

View CaptainKlutz's profile

CaptainKlutz

3589 posts in 2342 days


#3 posted 09-13-2020 05:15 PM

Welcome to LumberJocks!

In old days keyboards where made from a single wood panel.
All professional piano Key Cutter used was hand saw?

IMHO question is not which saw is best: the question is which saw do you have the skills and training to use.
You haven’t shared that information?

Working with wood and/or metal is a skill you learn and master, not a tool that turns raw material into finished objects once you buy it.

Best Luck on project!

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

2655 posts in 1011 days


#4 posted 09-13-2020 05:53 PM

as said above:
unless you intend to pursue woodworking as a hobby, with a shop to work in,
and buy all the other tools needed for this project, and then learn how to use them,
I would strongly suggest you seek out a cabinet shop to make these for you.
it will be way, way, way cheaper in the long run if your source out this part of your project.

.

-- there is no educational alternative to having a front row seat in the School of Hard Knocks. --

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2831 posts in 1452 days


#5 posted 09-13-2020 05:59 PM

IMHO, if you want it to look “pro” I’d see if I could find someone locally or here on lj to cut them to the dimensions you specify. How many octaves (keys) do you need?

As always, youTube is your friend.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View Madmark2's profile

Madmark2

1608 posts in 1436 days


#6 posted 09-13-2020 06:00 PM

MicroMark makes a model makers precision 4” bench saw that is perfect for making small, complex parts.

My shop partner has one and does things my TS & Incra can’t esp. at the small scale. Its portable but not a toy.

You really only need 12 different pieces – 8 copies of each.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View SMP's profile

SMP

2447 posts in 754 days


#7 posted 09-13-2020 06:05 PM

If money isn’t an issue, the most effective is probably a table saw with sled and/or an Incra 1000hd, and a quality dado stack.
The harder part will be the plastic or ivory coverings. How are you planning on that part? Personally i’d probably by an old keyboard/organ and salvage the keys.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

17 posts in 8 days


#8 posted 09-14-2020 04:52 AM

the question is which saw do you have the skills and training to use.
That’s a good point. Basically, it’s been a long time. 2x semesters of shop – 25+ years ago! My memories of using a table saw are a distant memory. I was mainly concerned that another saw might be more effective at shaping the small piano pieces I’ll be working with. (e.g. jigsaw, bandsaw. mitersaw etc.)

But from the advice on the thread and also Youtube video, it looks like a table saw will work quite well – (I’m kinda leaning that way right now). Those mini-table saws look like they’re perfect for the job. My jaw kinda dropped when I saw they actually exist!

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

17 posts in 8 days


#9 posted 09-14-2020 05:16 AM

... if you want it to look “pro” I d see if I could find someone locally or here on lj to cut them to the dimensions you specify.


as said above:
unless you intend to pursue woodworking as a hobby, with a shop to work in,
and buy all the other tools needed for this project, and then learn how to use them,
I would strongly suggest you seek out a cabinet shop to make these for you.
it will be way, way, way cheaper in the long run if your source out this part of your project.
This is all very good advice, and I know what you mean about getting it professionally done, but it’s a personal musical instrument so I’m willing to go the distance. I do like the idea of building my own instrument and knowing exactly how it is made. Plus my goal is to make it tough enough to take on the road and perform with it :-)

Based on the advice in this thread, I think I’ll get the the local lumber yard to cut the wood into smaller manageable pieces and then I’ll make the keys using a mini-table saw.

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

17 posts in 8 days


#10 posted 09-14-2020 05:18 AM


I made these keys using my table saw, a dado blade, and a sander for the angles on the black keys. Worked out well, though I recommend making extras on the first go-round so you don t have to re-set your saw settings to make more later.


- DaveMills

Did you cut the black and white keys from the same board or did you use different boards? I take it that the black keys are all one piece?

View MikeyPiano's profile

MikeyPiano

17 posts in 8 days


#11 posted 09-14-2020 05:36 AM

If money isn’t an issue, the most effective is probably a table saw with sled and/or an Incra 1000hd, and a quality dado stack. The harder part will be the plastic or ivory coverings. How are you planning on that part? Personally i’d probably by an old keyboard/organ and salvage the keys.- SMP
Yes, I think a good table saw will probably work best, though I’ll probably try one of the mini-table saws first.

One of the traditional materials for piano keys is Spruce, which I’ll try to use. Not sure if I can actually get/use Ebony for the black keys. But you’re right about the key coverings. Not sure yet what to do there. There are some manufacturers that sell plastic covers, but I’m looking for a nicer material for the key covers.

View Madmark2's profile

Madmark2

1608 posts in 1436 days


#12 posted 09-14-2020 11:36 AM

Ebony is available but is $1 / cu INCH and if you use it don’t you dare cover real ebony with a cap!

:)

But seriously real ebony will take a high polish without coverings.

-- The hump with the stump and the pump!

View DaveMills's profile

DaveMills

37 posts in 247 days


#13 posted 09-14-2020 01:01 PM


Did you cut the black and white keys from the same board or did you use different boards? I take it that the black keys are all one piece?

- MikeyPiano

Each of my keys is one piece of wood; the white keys are Maple, and the black keys are Cocobolo. There is no covering on them, but they are actual size. This was for a wall hanging piece, it won’t get “played”.

A couple photos of the method I used to put the bevels on the black keys:

View ChefHDAN's profile

ChefHDAN

1730 posts in 3698 days


#14 posted 09-14-2020 01:56 PM

Mikey,
I think a decent portable worksite saw may be the place for you to start if you’re not really into the woodworking hobby. A jobsite saw would let you get the initial blanks for your keys knocked out to the rough sizes for you to start. Looking at the shapes from Dave’s pictures, it’s many very small pieces that can be rather difficult to cut with power tools without building lots of jigs. Since this is a one time build the question of how much effort will it take to build the jigs against getting to the finished product with hand tools. My cousin is a rep/demonstrator for Roland & I think from my conversations with him a midi board has closer to 40 keys rather than a piano’s 88. If I were in your situation, I would;
a) Use a table saw to get the woods to rough size shape within 1 to 2 1/16ths
b) With a good workbench and vise (maybe a moxon) use a good tenon saw or maybe a Japanese saw to cut >>>the white keys
c) Use a chisel to clean the corners and refine any of the saw cuts with paring cuts
d) Use a file to soften corners/edges
e) sand to final finish

The model makers saw is interesting but it will be a very limited tool, buying a decent bench top TS will give you more future use and while you can make some of the stop cuts for the white keys, it’s still small parts next to a spinning blade that can make you bleed. Aside from sandpaper, maybe consider these purchases;

1) Dewalt jobsite saw= This is a good one and it and also the Rigid version are often found on CL since many people start with a jobsite and move to at least a contractor’s TS

2) Narex 4pc chisel set for the money this is a great set, but you likely could do this job with just a “single 1 chisel

3) Tenon saws can get very expensive, and many like myself do well with a Japanese pull saw which cuts on the pull and is very thin and easy to guide in a straight line and you’ll also get two cutting edges, a fine and very fine cutting edge, PLUS, they can be much less expensive.

4) Perhaps the most important tool no matter how you decide to tackle this project is going to be your layout and marking, if your lines are all out of whack, so will your production. After getting all of the blanks straight and square a marking gauge will allow you use one of the square edges to reference your cut lines, these can be very expensive as well but this marking gauge is a good tool for the money

5) Lastly a file= for some finesse-ing of the final shapes and then sand paper should get you to the end

6) Okay a final “lastly” you will need to be able to hold all of the pieces while you’re working on them and you may not have a woodworking workbench with a nice vise, but another alternative would be to use a screw clamp= to hold the piece and then use an F clamp(s) to secure= the clamp screw to a sturdy table or bench.

Welcome to LJ’s and good luck with the project, please post it to your projects when it’s finished so we can see how it turned out.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View them700project's profile

them700project

249 posts in 1867 days


#15 posted 09-14-2020 02:13 PM

I would say bandsaw. table saw having a curved blade would make it hard to cut l shaped keys, unless they were upright. I guess a jig could be made.

I would go bandsaw and hand sand with a block

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