Anatomy of a WurliTzer Theatre Pipe Organ


Refinishing included sanding all timber back to bare wood and brushing on as many coats of shellac as it took to get the desired standard of finish. The number of coats varied with the type of wood, the condition of the wood, the weather, etc but was generally in the 5 to 8 range,depending on the wood in each piece. Some of the better timber only needed 3 coats. Of course each coat was sanded back, or scrapped back with a blade, before the next. Before the final coat I rubbed it back with Linseed Oil to seal the surface. The oil also makes the shellac flow on much smoother for the final coat.

The standard original finish was one coat of shellac, sprayed on. This would have been much faster than my method but requires the facilities to set up a spray booth and would be much more practical for mass production rather than small quantities. The extra time and effort involved in the multiple coats does produce a better result.

Most surfaces have a few marks that are not removed with the minimal sanding required to strip the surface to bare wood. Those few imperfections that do not sand away are left to give some aged look to the instrument. In a few cases where serious damage had occurred through knocks or where “modifications” had been done to make things fit new wood was inserted to restore the piece to original shape.

One problem with sanding the parts back to bare wood is that the original markings on them are lost. These large letters stamped onto the parts in black ink show which parts go together and make reassembly less of a jigsaw puzzle. To replace these markings I used a set of number punches to replicate the function of the letters but in a permanent way that is less obvious than the original letters. Not quite adhering to the original methods but it does replicate the spirit of the original while being a little more effective. The numbers used were chosen to replace the letters with their equivalent number. e.g. A becomes 1, B becomes 2 etc. This ensures that the numbers remain consistent when later pieces are remarked. Letter Punches would have been the better option.

At the same time I have also stamped the Opus Number (2027) into the wood in various places so all parts of this instrument will be identifiable in the future if any of them should ever become separated. It would have been much better if Wurlitzer had done this when the instruments were built, but they didn’t.

This procedure for refinishing woodwork would be continued on all wood in the instrument, including surfaces that were not finished originally. The only exceptions being surfaces to which glue was to be applied and surfaces which screwed onto other polished surfaces. Yes this does include surfaces that should never be seen again, until the next full rebuild, like the inside of pneumatics. Someone should be very surprised when they start recovering pneumatics and find that they have been polished on the inside. I expect it will be far enough into the future that I will not be around by then. There is actually some practical benefit to this extra effort. The wood is sealed and protected which should help extend its life, and the smooth surfaces will help the air flow a (very) little.

When the parts were completely dry they were wrapped in plastic, labeled and moved into storage.



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