Traveling Light: A Field Technician's Grab Bag

By Hannah Beckett, RPT

There are many skills required of field technicians that have nothing to do with pianos. Going in and out of people’s homes all day presents unique social and cultural challenges that require flexibility to navigate professionally. As a full-time field technician, I have learned the value of traveling lightly and maintaining an organized work environment. It is not easy to travel with your workshop in your car and constantly carry tools from house to house. If you don’t have a smooth transportation system worked out, it becomes very easy to make some critical, time-consuming errors. This article details some of my in-home routines, tips, and methods of providing professional piano service in an array of living spaces. Based on your preferences, physique, and geographical location, and other factors, what you will need may look different from this list. Be flexible, experiment, and find a reliable rhythm that works for you. 

Basic Tips

Bring in a maximum of two bags for your service calls. My setup is one light backpack with all of my tuning supplies, and one bag on wheels that has all of my other tools including my cleaning kit, quick/common repairs kit, and regulation tools. I have my tools organized for a “best-case scenario” appointment. Mu “worst-case scenario” tools stay in the car unless disaster strikes.

Avoid carrying heavy bags as much as possible. A bag on wheels will save your body from unnecessary strain. Tuning pianos requires healthy joints and solid core strength to avoid injury over time. Don’t be Hercules and get a set of wheels.

When you are working on a piano in a client’s home, try to define your workspace. Avoid “moving in” by spreading all of your tools on all the available surfaces or the floor. I carry a moving blanket with me and lay it on the ground by the piano. This does two things: It defines my workspace and communicates to the client that I respect their space by not littering it with my tools, and it gives me a safe space to tools that may damage a hardwood floor or carpet. One of the easiest ways to botch a job is to cause damage to the coffee table, floor, lamp, or random other objects that are perilously close to your Philips head screwdriver.

Tools You Should Have:

The Lifetime Height-Adjustable Craft Camping and Utility Folding Table (what a name!) is an absolute life-saver for grand piano jobs. The four-foot table folds in half and is small enough to transport easily from car to house. The middle height setting is the perfect height for removing a grand action from a piano. It is never a good idea to remove an action and put it on the floor, dining room table, or on top of the piano to do work. This table is an affordable and safe method of holding an action. 

It’s never professional to have to crawl under the couch looking for that action screw that rolled away… The Husky magnetic bowl keeps things organized and accessible. Best practice is to return action screws to the exact holes they came from, so I like to use the same placement pattern to keep everything in place.

Guys, hair straighteners aren’t just for girls. The Conair MiniPro is a wonderful and safe replacement for heat guns. When it comes to removing glue joints for things like loose hammer heads or broken shanks, this is far better to bring into a client’s home than a heat gun. It leaves no marks on the parts, doesn’t introduce a blast of heat into a living room, and is far lighter and smaller than the heat gun. Color options available. 

Gravity and sticky substances don’t mix well near pianos. Instead of risking glue spilling everywhere when you squeeze the bottle, use these wax carvers to scoop out small amounts of glue and apply precisely where you want it. Adopt a “no lids off” rule and quickly close the lid when you are finished. The wax carvers can be wiped off with a paper towel while the glue is still wet so you can put them right back in your tool roll. 

Lighting can be challenging, particularly when you have do an in-home regulation. The Commercial Electric 4-in LED is magnetic in multiple places, rechargeable, and lightweight.

The other light I can't do without is the Energizer pen light. Great for piano evaluations and peering into really small action cavities!

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Most of our photography was done by the talented ChiaYu Lee.

 To see more of his series from Heart One Pianos, visit his website. 

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