Roll Storage

When I acquired the piano, I also got a lot of rolls at the same time. The conditions vary somewhat; although almost all of them are originals (as opposed to “recuts” or newer rolls), so my personal opinion would be to rate them from fair to poor, based on this fact alone.

Rolls are made of mostly of paper, and as such suffer from environmental and mechanical hazards. Poor or rough handling or playback can result in rips, tears or severe creases. Excessive sustained humidity (or dryness) can lead to mould or stiffness/cracking. Pest infiltration can also have a deleterious effect on rolls.

It is therefore advantageous to properly store piano rolls, in order to mitigate these factors. Beyond these considerations, however, it is simply more convenient and aesthetically pleasing to have the rolls organized and out of the way (these latter points are especially germane and appurtenant,  where my wife is concerned).

So, what to do? The options are to purchase or fabricate. Around these parts, there are not a wide variety of suitable “off the shelf” furniture options. As an occupational by-product I have some experience with woodworking, although I am not within the realm of fine cabinet-making.
I have a basic set of tools — some manual hand tools and power hand tools. I am primarily concerned with function and utility, less with cosmetics and flair (although I do not wish the finished project to look unnecessarily slapdash). I also do not wish to spend an excessive amount of hours on this particular project — there is still a lot of work ahead!

Considering all the foregoing, I decided to proceed using contemporary DIY techniques: the cabinet is made from one standard 4’x8′ sheet of decent quality ¾” plywood (no surface gaps or blemishes), three 8′ lengths of ¾” trim for edge banding. That’s it! Well, there is also the backing. In my case I had some pieces of ¼” ply leftover from a previous project, but you can use hardboard or just about and similar material. In my case the materials cost me around $75 (to the best of my recollection).

As I don’t have a furnished wood shop, I also do not have means to make precise cuts on a large sheet of plywood (for which ideally you need a table saw with panel supports). There are jigs and such out there that work in conjunction with smaller hand saws, but for my money the best solution is just to have the local home center (where you purchase the wood) do this for you, at minimal additional cost.

The cabinet design is my own, tailored to measure; taking into consideration the space in which the cabinet will live, and the volume inside each shelf cavity to hold rolls. Most of my rolls are standard 88-note rolls (e.g. QRS), the boxes of which measure 2 ¼” x 2 1/8″ x 12 ½”.

The first thing I needed to decide was the depth of the cabinet, which I chose at 13″. Knowing this, I had the guys at the home center cut three 13″ strips (lengthwise, each the full 96″ length), off the panel. This left a cutoff of approximately 8″x96″ for which I will find another use. Two of the cut panels will be for each side, the third will be resawn into pieces for the shelves and top.

The one tabletop tool I do have is a radial chop saw. It has a 14″ sawing capacity, so this is perfectly adequate to process my 13″ wide panels which I have had cut. I want each cavity in the cabinet to have a 12 ¾ high x 13 ¾ wide dimension . This provides a space for 6 x 6 standard rolls (or 36 per cavity), while ensuring the scale of the cabinet fits where I need it to go.

So, based on my fixed dimensions of the cavities, I will be able to fit 5 of these in the height of the cabinet (which I have fixed at 73 ¼” overall), with a little left over on the bottom (which I actually prefer, to not have the rolls on the bottom shelf nearly touching the floor). This meas cutting each shelf at 13 ¾”, they will be butt-joined into the cabinet sides (to be explained soon). The top as well will be butt-joined down onto the sides, so it needs to be ( 2 x ¾”) longer to accommodate this. Therefore, our cutlist for the cabinet looks like this:

• 2 sides @ 72 ½ inches
• 1 top @ 15 ¼ inches
• 5 shelves @ 13 ¾ inches
• 2 spacers @ 12 ¾ inches (to be explained)

Keeping in mind that we are using the pre-cut 13″ strips for all these cuts; the planning aspect is minimal but still necessary. We just need to realize that the cutoffs from each side panel will be used as a shelf (or spacer – does not matter in this case), and we will have enough wood to spare without running out! Some projects require very meticulous cut planning, when specific wood is rare (valuable) or simply in limited supply.

Now that the cuts are done, it is joinery time. The way I conceived the design of the assembly makes use of pocket hole joinery. This is obviously not the traditional “purist” way to make cabinets, but for this project that is not my concern — as I have explained.*

What I need for this project is my Kreg Jig, and some finishing nails for the trim. No glue required! Glue really only works well on face joints, and there are none of those to be found in my design.

These pocket holes need to be drilled (in my design) in the inside top of each side panel (to fit the top), and on the sides of each shelf piece. Some pictures, to save me 1000 words:

Drilling process with Kreg Jig
Drilling process with Kreg Jig
pocket holes in shelf
pocket holes in shelf

Assembly consists of fitting the top to one side panel, then using the spacers (mentioned above) to lock in the position of each succeeding shelf, working your way down from the top. When the first side of each shelf has been completed, gingerly flip the assembly onto the inside of the second side panel (pay attention to orientation!), secure the other side of the top, then proceed with the spacers again to finalize the assembly of the case.

Partially assembled cabinet
Partially assembled cabinet

To complete the cabinet you can trim it out with a ¾” wide trim of your choice. I used finishing nails to fasten them, with no wood filler. Since I am using stain and not paint, wood filler really sticks out as much as nail holes, so I didn’t bother. A light sanding to smooth down any rough spots and then finishing as per your taste. I chose a two-tone approach, as I had a little of two jars (golden oak and natural) leftover, once again from another project. Such a cheapskate I am! (thrifty Scottish heritage, methinks).

The “finished” project:

Finished cabinet, drying
Finished cabinet, drying
Chock full of good stuff
Chock full of good stuff

Now that this diversion is complete, on to the main event!

*If you wish to see true historic cabinetmaking, a good point of reference is Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. At Hay’s cabinet shop a master and his journeymen labour the days away making fine furniture using strictly traditional techniques. Of particular interest to me is harpsichord making (mostly done by Ed Wright). Between time taken to manually attend to each detail, and constantly answering tourists’ questions, I frankly don’t know how they manage to build anything at all!

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