Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Snapshot of alcohol lamp and a variety of tools.
On this repair blog, we usually see photos of our repair technician, Rachel Baker, at her bench with many tools around.  We've discussed so many different repair topics with her, too.  So, we thought it might be time to take a closer look at some of the tools she uses in her work.  When we first asked Rachel which tools she uses the most, she replied with "My fingers!  Fingers are the most important part -- I use them the most."  Okay, well, we can certainly understand that, and we agree.  But, what about all the other interesting things?  Especially that big metal thing at the end of the bench...

Well, Rachel explained that she has a motor at the end of the bench -- a "bench motor."  She has several attachments that go into the the motor to help her in her work.  She often times uses the motor to straighten bent rods, fit pivot screws, and touch up (polish) keys (by adding various sized wheels).  When we stopped in today, she was using the motor to shorter a mechanism tube rod.

Other tools we see Rachel use quite a bit include some "common" tools and something every repair tech has -- an alcohol lamp.  She uses the alcohol lamp to float pads --- both putting them in the key cups and getting them out.  She also uses the lamp to solder spuds and heat up rods that are stuck.  We usually see her using screwdrivers to get rods out of mechanism tubes and for pad washer screws.  The screwdriver is often followed by pliers, which she uses to grab and pull things -- especially key mechanism rods.  Because everything is so small when it comes to flutes and piccolos, Rachel also uses tweezers quite a bit (she says "for everything!").  Tweezers help her grab shims and pick up very small parts.  When it comes to checking for proper pad seating, which she does numerous times throughout her day, she uses a feeler gauge.  Finally, although it may look like a small crocheting needle, she uses a "spring hook" to attach springs and also to add or remove tension in them once they are in place.

So, that -- in a nutshell -- is a glimpse of the common toolbox of our flute repair tech, Rachel!

Hands are important for checking the "feel" of the mechanism -- and for so many other things!
The bench motor
Close-up on the bench motor
Rachel placed a mechanism rod in the tip of the motor and is now filing it to shorten it.
Removing a key rod with the screwdriver.
Pulling out the rod with pliers.
Checking pad seating with the feeler gauge.
Un-hooking springs with the spring hook.
After using all those tools, the flutes often look like this -- and then everything is put back together using the tools again!

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Fallen Flute

It may be your worst nightmare -- your flute rolls off your lap and falls to the floor, or is knocked off a stand, or...  There are a number of circumstances that may result in your flute dropping to the floor, and it certainly makes every flute player panic!  We had two "fallen flutes" come into the repair shop this week and had a chance to catch up with Repair Tech, Rachel Baker, to find out what could be done.

Rachel showed us the flute that had the most visible damage.  There was one bent rib, one end of a rib that had come unsoldered, and a very loose mechanism tube.  So, how exactly will she she repair the instrument?  Well, there are a couple of steps:

1) For the bent rib, Rachel will put the flute body on a mandrel and hammer out the bend with a small hammer.  She will not hammer directly onto the rib, but rather hold a small piece of wood against the rib and hammer the piece of wood -- which in turn will press against the rib to straighten it out.  The rib is straightened because it is pressed against the hard, solid surface of the mandrel--as opposed to pressing against a hollow tube (the flute alone).  The straightened rib will then be resoldered to the body.

2) For the rib that has come unsoldered, Rachel will solder it back down onto the body of the flute.

3) Once everything is soldered back into place, Rachel will align the posts.  The mechanism tube that is loose has become that way because the posts which it lies between are misaligned from the fall.  Once the posts are properly aligned, the mechanism tube will fit  back tightly in the proper position between the posts.

The bent rib lifting off the body.
Rib that has come unsoldered.
Mechanism tubing is loose and not flush against the post.
Other end of the loose mechanism tubing.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Removing a Stuck Swab

Swabs get stuck when they become "bunched up."
This week's reader's choice question for the Repair My Flute blog comes to us from Teddy Chik.  Teddy asks, "Does getting a swab stuck in the piccolo damage it, and how do you suggest getting it out?  We checked in with Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, for this one.  Rachel tells us that getting a swab stuck in your piccolo can definitely cause damage.  However, the damage occurs when you try to remove it.  She says that the swab gets stuck because it is too tight -- there is too much material and not enough bore.  Trying to get the stuck swab out from either end could cause it to get "bunched up" even more and make the situation worse, potentially causing more damage.

So, what is the solution?  Rachel sternly told us, "Do not force it.  Bring it to a repair technician.  Even I brought my oboe in to a repair tech early in my career when the swab was stuck."  Whew.  This is obviously a serious issue with the potential to cause serious damage to your instrument if you try to remedy this yourself -- so don't chance it!  Also, try to make sure, ALWAYS, that you are swabbing your piccolo correctly.  Need some additional instructions?  Check out an earlier post on this blog where Rachel shows us how to properly swab at piccolo:

Sunday, February 10, 2013


If you've been to the Powell booth at a show or visited our shop in Massachusetts to try flutes, you may have noticed a small sign asking you to remove your rings before testing instruments.  Removing rings helps us to avoid scratching flutes accidentally.  But, there are other sources of scratches -- including clothing or even your own fingers!  We started to wonder how scratches affect a flute and what could be done about them, so we stopped in to the repair shop to see Rachel, our Repair Technician.

Rachel tells us that deep scratches are problematic, because you don't want to take off too much material when trying to remove the scratch. However, she assured us that surface scratches are not really an issue because they are merely cosmetic and really do not affect anything. Most of the scratches Rachel sees are surface scratches, and she is able to polish them out.  She says light polishing is done on a flute sent in for a C.O.A.  So, if you happen to have a light scratch on your flute, it's okay -- it really is harmless and purely aesthetic.  It's always best to be careful to avoid scratching your flute, but if you do ultimately have some surface scratches, they can be polished out when you send it in for regular maintenance.
Sign to remove rings and a ring stand are seen in the top left corner of this photo taken in our testing room.
A better view of the sign at the Powell display at a trade show.

Friday, February 1, 2013


10K Gold Crown

Every part of a headjoint has an effect on the character of that headjoint.  The headjoint crown is no exception.  The weight and shape of the crown, as well as what it is made of, all contribute to the sound of the headjoint.  

In most cases, a heavier crown will give a headjoint a dark, rich tone.  Many players prefer a heavy crown made of 19.5K gold for this reason. A player might find, however, that a headjoint with a heavy crown reacts a little slower than the same headjoint with a lighter crown.  

The shape of the crown also affects the way a headjoint sounds.  A crown that is straight and hollow where the cork assembly attaches tends to allow a headjoint to vibrate more than a crown with a rounded, solid bottom.  Some players prefer a crown that is solid and rounded where the cork assembly attaches as headjoints with these crowns tend to have a more clear, smooth sound.  

There is no one perfect crown.  Like choosing a headjoint, it is a matter of personal preference. Trying crowns can be very interesting, and rewarding if a great match is found.

Left to Right: 19.5K, 14K, and 10K gold crowns.
Silver, 19.5K, 14K, and 10K crowns.