Thursday, August 29, 2013

Changing the Oil

You've probably sent your flute in regularly for a C.O.A. and have heard that you should not oil the flute mechanism yourself -- but why is this?  Well, we had a chance to catch up with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out more about why you should leave the oiling to a professional.

When we stopped into the shop, Rachel was in the midst of completing a C.O.A. on a silver Conservatory flute, so we though it would be the perfect opportunity to find out more about key oiling.  Rachel told us that you should really leave the oiling to your repair tech for a couple of reasons -- mostly centered around proper procedure and the properties of oil.  She said that when people try to oil the mechanism themselves, they oil from the outside.  Oiling from the outside usually results in oil getting all over the flute body, causing the adjustments to fall off.  When your repair technician oils the mechanism, s/he takes the mechanism apart to oil it -- oiling from the inside instead of the outside.
Adding oil to the outside of the mechanism is not correct!
Also, having your key mechanism oiled is essentially like having the oil changed in your car.  When you take your car in for an oil change, oil is not simply added.  First, the old oil is removed.  When it comes to oiling your flute mechanism, the same holds true.  You have to remove all the old oil before adding the new.  There are a couple of reasons why this is important as well.  You see, not all oils mix well -- some are more synthetic, and others are more natural.  Also, oil is "hygroscopic," meaning it attracts moisture.  However, oil and water do not mix well, either.  Moisture, in turn, is generally not good for the mechanism because it is not good for metal.  Moisture in the mechanism can cause sluggishness, lead to corrosion, and cause the mechanism to not function properly overall. 
Applying oil to the inside of the mechanism after old oil has been removed is correct!

So, in order to fully restore proper functioning in the key mechanism, all the old oil is removed.  Then, the mechanism is oiled and will be back to functioning properly so that all the rest of the steps in the C.O.A. process can be completed.  As Rachel says, "I can't seat pads and make adjustments without the mechanism functioning properly," and as we have read, that proper function stems from proper oiling -- which certainly is best to leave to your repair technician!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Packing It Up

So the time has come to ship your flute for repair, and...  Well, what happens next?  How will you ship it so that it doesn't move around in the box?  What kind of box do you use?  What other materials do you need to pack the box?  These questions may arise, and they often do right before you are ready to box up the flute and send it on its way.  We met with Powell's Shipping and Receiving Administrator, Chris Lavoie, to find out exactly what shipping materials are needed and how to properly pack the flute.  There are a couple of different options as you'll see below. 

One of the ways to secure your flute in the box is with packing peanuts.  You'll want to cover the entire bottom of the shipping box with the peanuts, then put the flute on top.

Next, you'll need to add more peanuts around each side of the flute box.  Final step is to add a layer of peanuts all across the top, and then you are ready to close and seal.

Another great way to secure you flute is by using foam inserts.  You can find foam at most fabric and craft stores. You'll want to cut each foam piece to size.  With this packing option, you'll start by placing one piece of foam at the bottom of the shipping box.

Next, place the flute inside the shipping box, on top of the bottom layer of foam.  You'll want to add foam pieces around each side of the flute box and a small piece inside next to the flute.

Flute is secured with foam inside the flute box.  Flute box is secured with foam inside the shipping box.  Ready for the final step.

Take one more layer of foam (same size as the one on the bottom of the box), and place it on top of the flute box.  Close and seal the shipping box, and you're ready to go.  Note -- you can buy a shipping box with pre-cut foam inserts on the Powell website at  Add coupon code SHIP2ME for a 10% discount on the shipping materials!

 A third option for securing the flute is bubble wrap.  You can usually find bubble wrap at shipping supply stores or even larger stores like Target.  You'll want to start by covering the bottom of the box with about two layers of bubble wrap.

Place the flute inside the shipping box.

Add layers of bubble wrap around the sides and over the top of the flute box.  Close and seal.

If you don't have the flute box, it's okay.  You can use peanuts, bubble wrap, or foam and follow the same procedures as you would if the flute were in a box.  We use foam (as you can see).  You will probably need to add extra padding around one or more sides of the flute.

Cover with a top layer of foam, close box, and seal.

Shipping a piccolo follows the same procedure as shipping a flute.  Below, we see two shipping boxes: one for the flute (21 x 10 x 6) and one for the piccolo (14 x 8 x 6).  (Box measurements are in inches).

Piccolo almost all packed up.  Just one more foam layer on top, and it will be ready to seal.

Here at Powell, the shipping box for piccolos is also used for headjoints.  A little extra foam on the side might be needed if you have only one headjoint.

And you can always ship more than one!

 As always, foam layer on top before closing and sealing.

Shipping crowns?  We start with a small box that is 9 x 6 x 4 inches.

Jewelry boxes are great for protecting crowns.  Place the crown in the jewelry box and close the lid.  Place the jewelry box inside the shipping box.  Same padding principles apply, so make sure to properly pad the bottom, sides and top.

So, that is it!  As you can see, there are many options for securing your flute for shipping.  As mentioned before, we do have shipping boxes with pre-cut foam available in the VQP Shop online at  Don't forget the SHIP2ME coupon code at checkout for the 10% discount!  It's fairly quick and simple to pack your flute, too.  In fact, we have a video below with Chris to demonstrate. You'll see that it took him just over one minute to pack the box, and that is "slow time!"

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Case of the Gurgles

The 2013 NFA Convention has come and gone, so we thought it would be great to check in with Powell Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, and see what types of questions she answered at the conference.  However, she told us that there really were not many people with repair issues -- except one person.  Rachel shared that one customer came to the booth with an interesting issue.  The customer was having trouble getting low notes out, and there was a strange yet very noticeable "gurgling" noise when she played.  So, what could it be?  A pad leaking?  A loose part of the mechanism?

Well, it was actually very simple to diagnose the problem.  Rachel knew exactly where to look when the customer mentioned the "gurgling."  Rachel took a peek inside the embouchure hole of the headjoint, and there was a buildup of some material on the undercutting of the headjoint.  How did this happen?  Well, we all know that as air travels through the flute, it contains microscopic particles -- no matter how many times we brush our teeth and try to keep everything clean.  Particles had accumulated on the undercutting over time, and it is likely that this buildup was not removed in the swabbing process.  Rachel told us that sometimes, a thinner silk swab might not get everything, and that could be the case in this situation.

So, how did she solve problem?  Well, it was easy.  She took a dry Q-tip and wiped it around the undercutting to remove the buildup.  It was that simple!  She handed the flute back to the customer, and the gurgling noise disappeared.  The customer also had no trouble getting out the low notes.  As we can see, a seemingly large issue can be traced to something that is quick and easy to remedy.  Make sure that you check periodically for buildup, and take a dry Q-tip to clean the undercutting, just as Rachel did.  One small swipe can make a world of difference in a case like this!

Arrow points to buildup on undercutting.
Cleaning the undercutting with a dry Q-tip.
Gunk came off on the Q-tip.
Undercutting is clean!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Surprise "Under the Crown"

Let's face it, we all have a bit of curiosity about ways to enhance our sound.  Some of you may have experimented with your flutes -- tweaking things just a little to see if a difference could be made...  Our Customer Service Manager admits that even she had experimented in the past.  This week, she was working on a headjoint that came in, and when she took the crown off, she was really surprised...  Boom!  A bunch of lentils came out, spilling all over the floor of her office.  But, not all the lentils came out -- some were stuck on the cork assembly.  The lentils had absorbed moisture, so they softened, expanded, and really made it difficult to remove the cork.

So, you may be wondering why someone would try this experiment.  Well, our Customer Service Manager is understanding.  She knows that people may experiment with different objects under the crown for various reasons.  They may be looking to enhance their sound by adding weight or objects that they feel will increase vibration.  Whatever the case, we know it is a temptation to try a homemade "enhancement."  In this case, the objects in the headjoint between the cork and crown were organic material that naturally expands with moisture.  Headjoint corks wear out and need to be replaced from time to time, so at some point, moisture can accumulate from air getting into the area between the cork assembly and crown.  With something like lentils, if they were put in the headjoint to increase vibration, they certainly didn't move much when they started to absorb moisture -- and they surely did not make the cork replacement procedure very easy!

So, if curiosity gets the best of you, and you are inclined to try some "enhancement," you have to be very careful.  Before you try anything, think about what you are considering.  Ask yourself how the material will react if it gets wet.  You do not want to harm your flute -- and you certainly do not want to turn your headjoint into a cooking appliance!