So you got a free piano on Craigslist or Facebook, and now you need to move it to its new home? Here are some tricks and tips I’ve learned over the years.
Safety & Planning
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, are there stairs involved? If you need to get it up or down more than 1–2 steps at a time, I strongly suggest you either find a way to eliminate the stairs (ie. use a ramp/find another route), or hire a professional who has the proper equipment and experience for such a move.
1. It’s dang heavy.
There’s a lot of variation, but as a general approximation, spinet pianos weigh 300–400 lbs., consoles 350–500 lbs., studio pianos 400–600 lbs., and larger uprights 500–800 lbs. or more. Depending on its length and how it’s constructed, a grand piano can weigh anywhere between 400–1200 lbs. This page deals mostly with moving upright pianos, but some of these tips and techniques can also apply to grands.
2. Keep it on the ground.
A piano has an intimate relationship with gravity. It doesn’t want to leave the ground, and when airborne, will do everything in its power to reconnect with the ground as violently as possible. That’s neither good for the piano, nor for you. Plan your move so that at least one end of the piano or dolly will be firmly on the ground, a ramp, or other stable surface at all times. This way, you’re never lifting more than half the weight of the piano at once. Never forget that when a piano is in the air without support, one little slip, mistake, or bad move can easily prove fatal to you or the people around you.
Notice how this mover always keeps the piano in contact with the ground, and never lets it out of his control. He makes it look simple, but don’t try this alone. You’ll need at least three people to safely tip and roll a heavy upright like this:
3. Ramps are your friend.
Dead lifting a piano up or down stairs, over obstacles, and into vehicles is foolhardy and dangerous, not to mention brutally difficult. Occasionally, there’s no other choice, but most of the time you can overcome this with a ramp; what might have been a dangerous job for four or five people becomes a walk in the park for two or three. I’ve seen sturdy boards, reinforced plywood, and solid-core doors used as ramps with good results. Just make sure they’re very stable, non-slip, thick, and strong enough for the job.
4. Use a dolly.
A piano has wheels so you can move it a foot or two away from the wall to retrieve the music books that inevitably fall behind it. That is the wheels’ only purpose, and sometimes even then they’ll cut into your carpet, gouge great divots in your hardwood floor, or crack your tile. Get your piano on a dolly as early as possible in the moving process. If you’re lucky and don’t have any extra lifting or tipping to do, you can keep it strapped to the dolly through the entire move, all the way up to its new location. Then you can tilt it off the dolly, roll it on its destructive little wheels a couple feet into its corner, and commence dropping music books behind it.
Here’s how to safely tilt a piano on and off its dolly. Of course, this person has years of experience. I recommend you have two folks to tip, and one to place the dolly:
The best dollies have soft rubber wheels at least 4″ in diameter, with a sturdy maple or metal frame. Molded plastic dollies from UHaul and $20 carpet dollies with hard black wheels from big-box stores may be fine for the smallest pianos, but I’ve seen them deform and break under the weight of heavier uprights.
5. Choose your vehicle carefully.
Should you use a trailer, van, pickup, or moving truck? The vehicle you choose will have a big impact on how simple and safe the job will be. Due to a piano’s immense weight, you should minimize lifting and steep inclines/declines throughout the move. So select a vehicle with a similar loading height to your piano’s origin and destination locations, which will allow you to easily roll the instrument in and out at both ends of the journey. Lifting even a small piano three feet in the air, from the ground into the back of a pickup truck, is something most folks care to try only once. That’s a real problem, of course, because you’ll probably need to lift it a second time to remove it.
If the piano is in a garage with no steps, headed for a home with only a step or two to the door, use a low trailer. (You can rent one for $15–$25 from UHaul.) Roll the piano in on its dolly. Roll it back out. Easy-peasy. If you have a single axle trailer with no loading ramp, unhitch it from the tow vehicle, teeter-totter the loading end to the ground, roll the piano in until it’s centered over the axle, then tip the trailer with the piano right back on to the hitch.
If your piano is in—or headed to—a home with multiple steps to the door, find a truck or trailer with a loading ramp which will extend right to the porch or door of the building. (UHaul rents a 15′ truck with a ramp for about $30 plus $.99/mile.) This allows you to bypass the stairs entirely. Once again, ramps are your friend.
If you must lift a piano into a truck or van without a ramp, tip it on its dolly—as in the video above—or onto its side, and slowly back the bed of the vehicle under the piano’s raised end. Then carefully lower the raised end of the piano into the vehicle. Once that’s in place, lift the other end of the instrument from the ground, and push/slide it the rest of the way into the truck. You’ll need at least three or four people to do this safely: one in the vehicle to pull and guide the piano, and 2–4 on the ground to lift and push. Pianos are top-heavy, so the helper in the vehicle must be prepared to keep the instrument under control and upright throughout this process. Sometimes, it makes more sense to slide the piano into the vehicle on its back; this eliminates the potential for it to tip over during the ride.
If the piano is standing upright in your truck or trailer, STRAP IT, STRAP IT, and STRAP IT AGAIN. I cannot stress this enough. If it escapes and starts rolling during the journey, or if it tips over, there’s absolutely nothing that will stop it without causing major damage to the piano, the vehicle, and possibly other vehicles and people around you.
6. When in doubt, hire a professional.
This one’s self-explanatory. It’s never worth breaking your back or your new piano just to save some cash. If you don’t have enough helpers, a suitable ramp or vehicle, a proper dolly, or a straightforward moving plan, you shouldn’t attempt to move your own piano. When in doubt, hire a professional. You’ll not regret it.