Packing & Moving Household Goods/Procedures
You should be aware of the weight of the piano being moved before you move it. Most of the weight of any piano comes from its extremely heavy cast iron harp. Small upright pianos only weigh 300 to 400 lb because they have a smaller cast iron harp than big upright pianos. Big uprights run from 600 to 800 lb. Big old player uprights can even hit 1000 lbs. because of the heavy player mechanism. The biggest upright piano height only runs up to 60 inches, topping out in weight at 800–900 lb.
The smallest grand piano starts at 54 inches long which is equivalent to a 54 inch tall upright and weighs about 500–600 lb. Grands can extend out to 108 inches long for a 9' concert grand topping out at 1000–1200 lbs. Liberace's piano was a specially-made, monstrous 12-foot long grand piano weighing over 1500 lbs. He had it custom-made just for him because he knew that the longer the grand piano is the better the bass notes sound during play. Higher piano notes come from straight strings so their length doesn't matter much but bass notes come from wound strings so the longer the piano, the longer the bass string, the better it resonates.
Large grand pianos are quite heavy, even more so than large upright pianos. Grand pianos can weigh anywhere from 500 to 1200 lb. Baby grand pianos are 4 foot 6 inches to 6 foot 6 inches long and they can weigh between 500 and 800 lbs. But longer grand pianos weigh much more and should always be moved by professionals because the piano dollies have about an 800 - 900 lb. weight restriction. In fact, just because of their extreme weight, big uprights over 42 inches high or grand pianos which are 5 1/2 feet long or longer should always be moved by professionals. Pianos smaller than that can be moved by 4 or 5 amateurs with a little bit of training as long as they do not have to traverse over 4 steps in the move path.
PIANO CASTERS[edit | edit source]
Pianos should not be rolled around on their casters. The casters are mainly decorative and not very functional at all. Over time, as the piano sits in one place, the casters tend to deteriorate and jam up and when you go to push the piano on them they can stick in place and then they'll gouge your hardwood floors or tear your carpeting.
Pushing a grand piano around on its leg casters puts pressure on the legs and has been known to cause a leg to break. The same is true for a small upright piano with 2 front decorative legs. Big uprights are so constructed that they can better endure being pushed around a bit on their casters but their casters tend to jam up easily. Therefore, all in all, pushing a piano around on its casters is not a very good idea.
However, if you've checked to see that none of the casters are frozen, a few of you can lift a grand piano up a bit and move it around. Just don't push it on its legs. With a small upright a couple of you can lift its front end up a bit as you push it on its rear casters but only when its weight is not bearing down on the front legs.
4 WHEEL PIANO DOLLY[edit | edit source]
Besides the danger of a jam, casters do not virtually eliminate the weight of the piano as happens when it is mounted up on a 4-wheel piano dolly. So, whenever a 4 wheel piano dolly can be used to transport the piano - muscle power to move it on the part of the crew is reduced to almost nothing because a properly balanced dollied piano is almost weightless and easily overcomes inertia on level surfaces. On inclines or ramps the piano's weight is reduced considerably but what's left is expressed on the low end of the incline. The steeper the incline, the more weight that will be expressed there. Consequently, at least 3 men are needed when moving even a small upright piano because at least 2 men need to be positioned on the heavy side of the incline to handle all of the piano's expressed weight.
Below is a picture of a small upright piano properly mounted on its side on our 4-wheel dolly. Notice that no one is holding it. This is only possible because it's on flat ground and it's balanced correctly on the dolly, so it just sits there as is, without needing a steadying hand or any other support.
Below is a picture of the same piano properly mounted on its feet on the dolly. Again, no one is holding it so it just sits there because it's centered and therefore balanced on the dolly and it's on flat ground. Notice that in this centered position the dolly juts out a bit in front of the piano. This is how the dolly must be placed under the piano in order to balance the lighter weight of its keyboard as well as the heavier weight of its case.
DO AS MUCH OF THE PIANO MOVING AS POSSIBLE WITH AS LITTLE HUMAN EFFORT AS POSSIBLE[edit | edit source]
The dolly is to be used as much as possible. It is simply the easiest way to move a piano around (other than the miles covered when the piano is being transported just sitting lashed to the wall of a truck). It can be used to move a piano over level ground or on inclines and ramps or for tipping it up or down to get over a curb or 1 step. The piano dolly also can be used to transport the piano on top of plywood or masonite in order to go over grass, cobblestones, gravel, sand or any other uneven or loose surface. When doing this though always use at least 4 or 5 amateurs to push it because of the inherent instability of this kind of ground.
So, once the number of people needed on your crew has been determined (this is based upon piano size and if any actual piano carrying is to be done which will be further discussed), the first thing they will have to do with an upright piano is to mount it up onto a dolly. As simple a task as this might appear to be to the uninitiated, it is really somewhat involved because you're elevating 400 - 800 lbs. onto an unstable rolling platform that can easily scoot away. So very thorough instruction in dolly mounting techniques will be given.
Below is a picture of a grand piano up on its flat side on a piano skid board centered on a piano dolly.
At first glance it doesn't look like this grand piano is exactly centered on the dolly but it is because its weight is balanced. Remember, the left part of the piano with the keyboard has very little weight compared to the cast iron harp within the rest of the piano's kidney shape. So most of the piano's weight resides from just a little left of the leg brackets to the back end of the piano. If observed with an x-ray vision perspective you'd see that the piano's heavy cast iron harp is centered on the dolly even though the piano's case is not.
Grand pianos have to be broken down (without breaking them of course), by removing their 3 legs and the lyre and mounting them on their long side onto a piano skid board, which is an involved process. But here, we don't want to get too bogged down in our discussion so we suggest you view our 5 minute grand piano moving slideshow presentation on this subject at burrowsmoving.com/resources/piano.swf. Instead, we will here go on to speak in general of all the things that must be done in order to teach you how to move your piano from its origin point to its final destination point.
TIP, LIFT, CHEAT one STEP ONLY[edit | edit source]
The way to move your upright piano over 1 step is that it should be placed on the dolly on its feet because one step can be easily traversed on the dolly by just using a slight tip of the piano up or down as it is being pushed along. So, starting at the place where the piano is now sitting, if there will be no more than one step on the move path going to or from the truck, the piano is to be lifted or tipped up and onto the piano dolly, placing it on its feet (on its bottom) onto the dolly's padded rails as shown previously.
To do this you will use the hump strap to reach under the dolly and lift one end of the piano. This lifting force causes the piano mounted on the dolly to be welded together with the dolly as one unit. In this manner, the piano is lifted over the step (as is shown in the picture below). In the moving industry, this is called doing a little cheat because we cheat gravity out of one step of carrying effort without having to take the piano off of the dolly and carry it over that step and then put it back onto the dolly.
Just using a tip of the piano on its feet on the dolly in the above-shown manner will not work to cheat more than one consecutive step with an upright piano because the bottom edge of the piano (on the low side of the tip) will scrape the ground, potentially chipping it. Mounting the piano on its side and doing this will not work either because a two-step cheat has too much angle for safe piano moving.
Grand pianos are mounted on a piano skidboard on top of the dolly as shown previously and you can also use this little cheat technique for them. But in the case of moving a grand piano, you can sometimes even use it for two steps if the piano skidboard is sticking out in back enough to absorb and protect the grand from all of the back bottom scraping when tipped at that much of an angle.
TIP, LIFT, LOWER TO CHEAT 2 - 4 STEPS ONLY[edit | edit source]
In order to do bigger cheats with an upright piano (up to as many as 4 consecutive low steps or as many as 3 consecutive higher steps at any given point on your move path) a different technique must be utilized. For 2, 3, or 4 step cheats up / down the stairs, the upright piano is first placed on its side on the dolly. Then, with the bottom of the upright facing the steps, it is positioned on the dolly up to and (if possible) over the 1st step. In this position, the 1st step has been automatically cheated by the height of the dolly as the piano's bottom is butted almost up to the side of the 2nd step.
We then finish cheating the other 2 steps by tipping the upright so that its bottom is made to lean against the remaining stairs to be traversed.
Notice that as the tip begins on this 3 step cheat we have so balanced the upright on the first step, so as to not to let the weak decorative leg touch the stair and break it. Then we extricated the dolly from under the bottom side of the piano and placed it between the piano and the stairs to protect the piano's bottom and to expedite the dolly remount at the top of the stairs.
Since this was an older beater upright piano just used for these pictures we did not bother to pad the first step but for any nice piano - even though wood won't normally scratch wood, that should be done to be certain to not damage the piano's bottom edge.
Next, we carefully lift the upright piano up and over the top step keeping the dolly in place.
If we had just one more step to traverse we couldn't push the upright up on the dolly like was done here. Instead, we'd not use the dolly at all but instead just lay it all the way up to the top step. Then using a pad or some cardboard placed as a covering between the piano and the top step to prevent scraping abrasion to the piano's bottom edge or undercarriage, we would tip it up and push it over the top step.
This same process is reversed coming down the stairs. It comes down the steps with its bottom facing the steps just as it went up them. The piano is dollied out to the 2 bottom men and they hold it up until it's out enough to tip it down to the bottom step. Then the dolly is removed and placed on the ground under the piano. It finishes its descent by being tipped right up onto the dolly. Again use a pad or a piece of cardboard as a buffer between the piano and the top step's edge if there are 4 steps.
These cheating techniques are so much easier than having to get under the piano and actually carry it over these few steps.
For grand pianos a cheat can cover as many straight steps as there are. The same technique is used as with the upright piano but instead of the bottom of the piano facing the stairs, the piano skidboard faces the stairs. If the abrasion of the piano skid board is not going to damage the edge of the steps then just slide the grand down the stairs or push it up them.
Once all the steps have been traversed using the cheat and the piano is safely standing on top of the steps, again it must be mounted onto the dolly. For upright pianos, this dolly mount and every dolly mount will depend upon the consideration of the number of consecutive stairs to be further encountered in the remaining move path. If there will be 1 step or less on the move path, put the upright piano up onto the dolly on its feet. If there will be more than 1 step, put the upright piano up onto the dolly on its side. For grand pianos always mount them on the piano skidboard on the dolly.
CARRYING A PIANO OVER MORE THAN 4 CONSECUTIVE STEPS[edit | edit source]
If there are too many consecutive steps at any given point in the move path these tip and lift - cheat techniques will not work. More than 4 low consecutive steps in the move path automatically dictates to the crew that they must carry the piano.
Notice in the picture below that the first step has been cheated with the dolly and just 3 more steps are well covered by the piano's bottom. The 4th step that it could reach would not be covered enough for a safe cheat and in this case, there is even one more step above that one so this crew will absolutely have to carry this piano in order to traverse all the steps.
Carrying the piano up / down stairs is the most dangerous part of piano moving and this is the reason why we try to convince you to not move your piano yourself. Once the piano is being carried, even if it is only being raised or lowered 1 or 2 steps at a time, it can very easily go out of balance and get away from the crew causing terrible things to happen very, very rapidly resulting in severe injury and / or piano damage. So please pay close attention to that part of the website's instruction about actually carrying the piano. For now we will just stay general in our discussion about how-to-move your piano.
TRUCKING A PIANO[edit | edit source]
Dollying the piano to and lifting or carrying it over steps is repeated as many times as necessary until finally the piano can be dollied up the ramp or be lift gate loaded onto the truck. Then, once on the truck, the upright piano has to be taken off of the dolly and placed on its feet, keyboard side facing into the wall of the truck. A grand piano is taken off of its dolly and placed on its piano skidboard with the top side of the piano facing the truck's wall. Never truck a piano on the dolly because it might break loose and roll around in the truck while it's being driven causing terrible damage.
You place the piano with its keyboard side (padded) facing the wall of the truck so that it if it gets accidentally scraped it only happens to the piano's backside which does no effective damage to the piano's finish. Its front keyboard side is protected from truck wall scraping damage by its pad. You place a grand piano with its padded top facing the wall for the same reason.
The piano needs to be securely double or triple belted to the truck wall and then it can be trucked. Drive it to a position on the street or in a parking lot as close to the destination point as possible. Remember - always first use the truck as much as possible for transport and then use the dolly for what's left of the move path, right to the set down point in the new residence, only cheating or carrying the piano when necessary.
CONSERVING HUMAN ENERGY DURING PIANO MOVING[edit | edit source]
In the picture below the ramp would not reach all the way up to the top of the porch so the movers had to place it one step down from the top and then use a little cheat to get the piano up and over the top step on the dolly. This is an excellent example of conserving human energy because lesser trained piano movers would have given up on using the ramp because it was too short and instead carried this piano up all of the stairs to the porch. These guys did it the easier way up on the dolly using the ramp and a little cheat.
Again let us reiterate, you always want to try to use as little human strength during a piano move as possible as they are doing here. The secret to do-it-yourself piano moving (or any kind of self-moving for that matter) is to have plenty of people on each segment of the move so that you don't get overloaded or rushed to get the job done. You also need to have the right equipment to do the job as easily as possible. Everyone should use the piano moving equipment and good piano moving technique and should be constantly thinking of easier ways to accomplish each moving task with the minimum amount of human exertion. Always try to only make exertions when absolutely necessary because, besides exhausting people of their strength, any exertion, especially strong exertions, can lead to an unwanted injury like a hernia or a back problem. Strong exertions can also lead to damages to the piano!
Once you arrive at the destination and are safely parked, the upright piano is unbelted from the truck wall and remounted on the dolly, again on its feet or on its side depending on the aforementioned 4 consecutive low steps rule. Next, it is dollied and cheated and / or carried (as circumstances dictate) over stairs to its destination point. Then it is dismounted from the dolly, being careful not to nick or chip the piano's bottom edge or the floor, and it is set in place (sometimes into cups for the casters so as not to gouge the floor in the future). Grand pianos of course, need to be fully reassembled before they are set in place. The piano move is now completed!
Sounds pretty simple doesn't it? It can actually occur that way for you and your crew if all of you carefully study all of our instructions and take your time and use our techniques and our piano moving equipment correctly and think! Think! Think! Also again let us remind you, before you proceed please be sure to review our sections on piano moving warnings and piano moving equipment costs.