Thursday, October 31, 2013

Felt and Foam

In our series of "repair or replace" topics, we thought it would be interesting to look at "tail felts and tail foam."  These are found on the "tails" of the keys where the tail hits the body of the flute.  The purpose of these felts and foam is to control key height and stop noise (from the mechanism).  Some flutes have all foam tails, some have all felt, and some have both.  It really just depends on the flute.

So, we asked our repair technician if these are repaired or replaced.  We had an inkling that they would be replaced, because it isn't really possible to "repair" such a small piece of foam or felt.  Indeed, they are always replaced.  When?  Well, they are replaced when you send your flute in for a complete overhaul.  Why is this?  It's because in an overhaul, the keys need to be removed from the flute so that they can be polished on a buffing wheel.  Since the entire key (including the tail) gets polished, the felts and foam are removed.  Then, they are replaced in the process of putting the keys back on the flute!  In general, the felts and foam are left in tact during the light polishing during a COA.  However, a felt or foam tail can always be replaced if necessary from wear.

Finisher adding felt to keys.  Yellow arrow points to finished felt on key.
Orange arrow points to foam on key.
Red arrows point to foam, yellow arrows point to felt.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Base Shim

Stopped into the repair shop and found our technician, Rachel, working on an overhaul.  As usual, she had a tray full of keys and mechanism components, including some round, rubbery discs that we hadn't noticed before.  So, we had to ask -- "What are these?"  Well, Rachel explained that they are "base shims."  They are used at the bottom of the cup, underneath the shims and pad.  These base shims are used with Straubinger pads, because Straubinger pads are much more compact and take up less space in the cup.  The base shim helps take up the extra space so that the builders and repair technicians do not have to put an over-abundance of shims in the cup to raise the pad to the correct position.  Rachel added, "One thick piece of material is much more stable than many thin pieces."  Certainly makes sense to us!

Taking a closer look at the base shims, we noticed two types.  One type is a rubbery plastic that is somewhat translucent.  It is used in cups that are flat on the inside.  The other type of shim is made from a harder plastic and has "rings" that interlock with the ringed surface of the bottom of cups with a "rings."  The top of the "ringed" shim, however, is flat so that shims and pads can sit properly.  Rachel also told us that base shims have been made out of different materials over the years.

How long have flute makers been using base shims?  Well, it's a bit difficult to pinpoint exactly, but for many years, flute makers used felt pads.  The felt pads are "fluffier" and take up much more space in the cup, so they do not need a base.  Felt pads may be made from either woven felt or pressed felt.  The Straubinger pad is made from microfiber, so it is much thinner in comparison with the felt pads.  Rachel mentioned that there are many types of pads available now, and many will use a base shim because they are much more thin or "compressed" than older felt pads.  Base shims are pretty sturdy, so in terms of "repair or replace," they generally would not to be repaired or replaced -- they are just part of the pad-fitting process.

Pads left to right: Straubinger, pressed felt, woven felt.
Rubbery plastic base shims for cups that are flat on the bottom.
Cups with "rings" inside take a different base shim.
Harder plastic base shim for cups with "rings" inside.  Base shim's "rings" interlock with cup, and flat side is up.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Repair or Replace: Springs

Continuing with our "repair or replace" series, we met with repair technician, Rachel Baker, to talk about springs.  Is a spring something you would repair -- or replace?  Once again, the answer is both.  Springs can be "repaired" or replaced.  When they are repaired, they are really adjusted.  Springs allow keys to open and close, so proper spring tension is critical.  Spring tension can be adjusted, and this is the most common spring "repair."  If a key is too weak, you can create a bit more tension.  If there is too much tension, you can adjust it so that there is less.  Rachel tells us that spring tension can be adjusted at any time.  She uses a spring hook to adjust tension.  She can make this adjustment whether the spring is on the key or simply on the body.  She tells us that often times it is hard to get to the spring when it's on the key, so you take the key off to make the adjustment.

So, when are springs replaced?  Rachel says, "Springs don't ever leave the flute once they are attached -- unless they break."  The installation of the spring keeps it in place because there is a tapered fit.  The end of the spring in the spring hole is "flared" to hold it in place.  If a spring is broken, it must be replaced.  If a spring is severely bent, it would also need to be replaced.  In general, springs can become "oddly" or severely bent after several repairs over time, or if something happens to the flute (i.e. -- an accident) that would bend the springs.

Should springs be replaced if they don't "match" -- like pads?  Well, the answer is yes!  Springs on the flute should all be the same material.  Different materials have different strengths and tension.  So, you want consistency and evenness of tension.  If there are a few springs that don't "match," they will have to be replaced.

Aside the the tension adjustments and replacement scenarios above, there's not much else to it!  Rachel says, "Springs have a job -- they do it.  You replace them when they stop doing it."  That surely seems to sum it up for us!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Repair or Replace: Pads

We thought it might be interesting to look at a few components of the flute over a series of posts and examine whether they get repaired or replaced when a flute is sent to the repair shop.  Of course, we stopped in to see Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to help us begin this series.  We wanted to start with pads, so we asked, "When a flute comes in, do you repair or replace the pads?"

Well, in the case of pads it's an either/or situation.  Pads can be "repaired" or replaced.  What would constitute a pad "repair?"  Shimming!  Rachel says that the type of repair most commonly done with pads is shimming.  Shimming is done to correct leaking pads.  When it comes to replacing pads, there could be a couple of things that would lead to this solution.  Obviously, if a pad is torn, it needs to be replaced.  Also, like anything else, pads age over time.  As they age, the skin on the pad can get brittle, and the pad would need to be replaced.  Brittle skin is more likely to tear, which (as we know) is certainly cause for pad replacement!

When it comes to pads, a "matching set" is very important as well.  Felt pads and Straubinger pads have different compression rates, so it is important to make sure that all the pads are the same type (or rather, "match") on the flute.  You don't want to mix the pads and have a few felt here and there and then a few Straubinger.  Definitely not a good thing.  If a flute comes across Rachel's bench and has "unmatched pads," well, some of the pads would need to be replaced.

So, in the case of pads, they may need to be repaired, or they may need to be replaced.  Visual inspections, play tests, and checks with the feeler gauge can all help determine whether the pad should be "repaired" or replaced.

This pad's edge has been "lifted up" and definitely needed to be replaced.

This flute has matching pads and is good to go!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cleaning Your Plug-Os

Plug-Os in French keys
We recently had an inquiry from a customer with a "stuck Plug-O" and thought it might be time to talk a bit about prevention...  You see, if you have a Plug-O stuck in one of your flute keys, the best remedy is to take it to your repair technician.  But, there is something you can do to keep your Plug-Os from getting stuck -- clean them!

The Plug-O has a rubber "O ring" that fits inside the hole in the middle of a French key cup.  The rubber is meant to grip the metal to provide a secure fit.  However, the Plug-O can accumulate some "grime" after a period of time, simply from normal wear and tear.  The oils from your hands can get down around the edge of the Plug-O, mixing with dirt and dust particles and creating a build-up that makes the Plug-O difficult to remove.

So, how can you keep this from happening?  Well, you should remove the Plug-Os periodically and clean them -- and the keys as well.  Start by removing the Plug-O with the tool that came in the package.  It is specially designed with a small plastic tip that goes under the middle of the Plug-O.  Push up gently, and the Plug-O should come out.  Then, you should take a clean, dry Q-tip and wipe around the inside of the hole in the French key cup.  Now it is time to clean the Plug-O.  You can run the Plug-O under a bit of water and then wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth (or clean, dry Q-tip).  Make sure the Plug-O is completely dry before you put it back in the key cup!  Once it is clean and dry, it should be good to go!

Water really is best for cleaning the Plug-O.  Do not use alcohol (no matter how tempting) because it will dry out the rubber O ring and cause it to crack or break.  Also, if you are wondering how often you should clean the Plug-Os, well, it depends on the player.  It could be once a month or once every now and then.  It really depends on how "grimy" your flute gets on the outside from regular wear and tear.  Whatever frequency you need for cleaning, it will all pay off in the long run!

Red arrow points to built-up grime on the Plug-O's "O ring."
Red arrow points to clean O ring.
Removal tool that comes in the Plug-O package.

Top of the tool has a small plastic tip to help remove Plug-O.