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Restoration of a Chamber Organ

Pipe chest

I looked at the underside (above) to remove the bottom panels from the pallet box. Closing in on details, this is what I found (right) – the brown splodge used to be a screw. I knew I was in for some hard work. Getting the three panels off took me most of the day. Using an impact driver was out of the question. I soaked the screws with penetrating oil, going back to them periodically to try moving them. About half eventually came out, but some broke off at the heads, and some refused altogether.

A few needed the very drastic use of a fine saw, resulting in the kind of thing in the picture (left). This screw held out to the last, resulting in major damage to the cover board, needing a patch to be inserted later.

This is when I decided to get the chest back to my workshop for the rest of my work on it. I needed to make space in the car, as it is almost 2 metres in length.


Shrinkage over time had created huge “splits” running the length of the bars, as shown (right). The brown strips are spacers between which sliders are fitted. The lighter patches are paper for the upper-boards to sit on to prevent them jamming the sliders. The sliders are moved along their spaces to allow or prevent wind getting to the pipes mounted above. This is the traditional stop action of a “bar and slider” chest. The purpose of the diagonal grooves are to allow any stray wind from running from one note between the boards to the next note.

Before making any repairs I needed to strip all the coverings from the bars (below), reducing the chest down to its bare “bones”. At that point its construction became clearly visible, showing the add-on extensions already mentioned.

Work then began to restore the chest to perfect working order. After repairing all the splits and damaged screw holes, this entailed re-covering the channels with calico (sealed with shellac) and re-fitting all the pallets, themselves restored with new felt and leather. Finally, new phosphor-bronze guide pins, springs and pull-down wires were installed, and the restored covers re-fitted. A selection of photos below show the progress – the chest is upside down for this work.

Once the chest was completed and tested, the three sets of backfalls had to be restored too, and re-fitted to the underside of the chest while it was upside down on the floor. Then it was ready to be fitted back onto the frame of the organ. I first attended to the F# bass pipe and re-greased its stopper. It needed to be back into its position lying horizontally across the lower frame before its surroundings were too cluttered.

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