Friday, November 22, 2013


If you've ever heard the term "swedging" from your repair technician and wondered what that meant, we are here to answer that question!  We stopped in to see Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, and ask her about the process.

With normal wear and tear, mechanism tubing loosens.  Extra motion in the mechanism caused by this loosening is what is known as "play."  You can read more about "play" in a previous post here at  When there is too much play, the mechanism can actually move from side to side.  To tighten the mechanism back up to where it should be, your repair technician will "swedge" the mechanism tubing.

Swedging requires a special "swedging tool."  Rachel uses a "vise" to hold the swedging tool as you will see in the photos below.  She begins by running a steel through the mechanism tubing and then places the tube (with the steel inside) in the swedging tool.  She says that it is important for the steel to have a snug fit through the tubing.  If a steel is too loose, the metal tubing will get crushed during the process.  The tip of the swedging tool is comprised of three parts that can contract when tightened and expand when loosened.  When you are swedging, the tip contracts down onto the tubing.  Rachel turns a handle on the back of the swedging tool to tighten the tip down onto the mechanism tubing.  She does not want it to be too tight, because she needs to be able to turn the keys on the mechanism tubing.  The pressure exerted onto the mechanism tubing from the swedging tool lengthens it (or "draws it out"), because, as Rachel says, "The metal has no place to go but out."  She then turns the key around the tubing to "burnish" it against the inner steel.  After this, the swedging tool is loosened to release the mechanism tubing and steel.  Rachel then puts the tubing back into place on the flute and checks the feel.  She says that the best way to swedge is to do "a little bit at a time," so the process takes a few cycles of swedging and then checking the fit.

One point that Rachel made is that mechanisms will always have a bit of play -- and that is normal.  However, if there is too much play, the tubing will move too much and will need to be swedged.

Rachel places the tubing and steel in the tip of the swedging tool (which is held by the blue vise).
Tightening the tip of the tool onto the tubing and steel.
Close up of the tubing and steel in the tip of the swedging tool.  The tubing is fairly short -- the steel running through it is much longer.
Even closer here -- you can see that the tip of the swedging tool is in parts (sections).
Rachel turning the key around the tubing to burnish it against the steel.

Placing the key section that was swedged back on to the mechanism.
Checking for movement in the section to tell if more swedging needs to be done.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Changing a Mechanism?

Last week's post on mechanism wear prompted another common question about mechanisms.  Many people ask if their mechanisms can be changed.  For instance, they may have a silver mechanism and are wondering if they can change their mechanism to one that is gold.  The answer is technically yes, but the recommendation is quite the opposite.  We sat down to chat with Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out more.

Rachel helped shed some light on the situation.  She said that in order for a mechanism to be changed, you would have to completely retrofit a new mechanism to an existing flute body.  This can be extremely time consuming, complicated, and expensive.  Why is this?  Well, flute mechanism designs change, and flute bodies may as well.  Say you have an older Powell with a Traditional Powell scale -- or even a Powell with the Cooper scale.  The Modern Powell scale is currently used, and a new mechanism would be fitted to the current flute bodies (built with the Modern Powell Scale).  The positioning of the tone holes on the body is what determines the scale, so the positioning of the tone holes on a Powell with the Traditional or Cooper scales would be different that the current positioning.  This would mean that a new mechanism would need many modifications to fit the existing flute.

Very different mechanisms on 2100 and Conservatory.
In addition to the tone hole positioning, there may be other differences in the design and location of keys, posts, and ribs, which would also mean that the new mechanism would need to be modified to fit.  This can be a tremendous endeavor, which Rachel tells us is really not very cost effective.  She estimates that the cost for changing the mechanism is often more than half the cost of the flute, so you are better off purchasing a new flute.  Also, if you have a pinned or pinless mechanism, you cannot switch "back and forth."  So, if you have a pinned mechanism and want a pinless mechanism, it would not be possible to retrofit a pinless to a pinned body.  You can only go pinless to pinless or pinned to pinned.  But, again, probably best to look into a new flute altogether.

Finally, the question of changing a mechanism is probably related to a common misconception of flutes.  You may have heard other flutists say, "Yeah, I bought a silver flute with a silver mechanism, but I will upgrade to a gold mechanism later."  Well, that just may not be possible.  You can certainly upgrade to a different model, but swapping out the mechanism is not a guaranteed option!  Our best advice from the repair shop is that if you would like a new mechanism, you should pick a new flute that has it!

Another view of 2100 (left) and Conservatory (right) mechanisms.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mechanism Wear

We recently had an artist ask our repair technician if a mechanism can "wear out."  We thought that was an excellent question, so we decided to find out more...

Our technician, Rachel Baker, told us that a mechanism doesn't "wear out," but it does "wear" over time.  The mechanism tubes are constantly rotating on the posts and the inner steels, which causes the mechanism to wear.  Specifically, as the mechanism becomes worn, it becomes somewhat loose.  This loosening creates extra side-to-side and radial "play" in the mechanism.  The side-to-side play comes from the mechanism tubing moving against the the post, and the radial play comes from the movement of the mechanism tubing against the inner steel.  You can read more about "play" in a previous post here at

As the mechanism wears, a couple of issues arise -- noisy keys, unstable adjustments, and unstable pad seating.  All of these problems can easily be solved by the repair technician.  In fact, worn mechanisms are always adjusted when a flute is sent to Powell for an ovehaul.  During an overhaul, the mechanism will be tightened and the keys fitted to restore proper function.

When do flute mechanisms begin to wear?  Well, it all depends on the amount of usage over time.  If a flute is twenty years old, but has been sitting in a closet untouched, there may be very little wear on the instrument's mechanism.  If you have a new flute and practice regularly for several hours each day, the mechanism may become worn faster.  The more use a flute gets, the more it will wear -- just like many things (tires, shoes, and the list goes on...).  There is no need to worry, though.  It is all part of the instrument's life cycle.  Plus, as mentioned above, a worn flute mechanism can be easily adjusted by an authorized repair technician.

Flute on the far left was made in the 1940s and has its original mechanism, which has just been adjust in an overhaul.  Two flutes to the right are Conservatories, which were both made after 2002.
Close-up on the body mechanisms of the three flutes.
Close-up on the footjoint mechanisms.