#23 -Weather or Not

A Quick Repair Kit for Irish Flute Players

I live in the State of Rhode Island, which is in the Northeastern section of the United States. Since early June this year, we have suffered through blast furnace levels of heat. We have subscribers now in many parts of the world but we all have various weather conditions that can affect your instrument. This is especially true with the tenons of many flutes. The cork and wood tend to swell or contract depending on the temperature. What to do about this? Hmmm? You could buy a flute which features sterling silver tenons that don't expand or contract based on the weather. Gee, I wonder who makes those kinds of instruments...?

For everyone else, here are some of my suggestions for an emergency repair kit that you can keep with your flute as you travel.

  1. Roll of Teflon tape a.k.a. plumber's tape (General Repair Skill)
    When the tenons on your flute contract, or the cork cap gets too loose, a few wraps of Teflon tape (which has no glue and won't stick to the cork) will build up a sufficient joint.

  2. Cigarette Papers - glueless preferred (General Repair Skill)
    These can also serve the function of the previously mentioned Teflon tape. Also, if you play a keyed flute and suspect you have a key is leaking, follow this procedure. If it is a glued paper, then fold over and then rip off the section containing the streak of glue. Now, wet a corner of the cigarette paper, push down the key to expose the tone hole, carefully slide the paper between the pad and the hole so that it covers the entire tone hole, release the key so that it clamps down tightly on the paper (apply pressure with a convenient finger), and give the paper a gentle tug to tear the excess paper. This will serve as a temporary "gasket" for sealing the tone hole. You can also use paper napkin in emergencies, but it doesn't work as well.

  3. Small Ponytail Holders (General Repair Skill)
    These are about 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter and usually are joined by a small metal clamp. If you have a spring that is weak, the key also will not seal well. Wrap one of the ponytail holders around the flute across the arm of the key (above the cup) if possible. With a little luck, this will enable you to continue to use this key.

  4. Q-Tips (General Repair Skill)
    Not the kind for pool cues, but the small sticks with a soft ball of cotton on the end. If you have gunk of some type in either the embouchure or a tone hole, you can use this to remove the offending substance. I recommend running the Q-Tip under hot water first as this will help loosen the material. I do not recommend fishing around with a knife or other sharp implement inside the embouchure or tone holes of your flute.

  5. 1200 Grit Sandpaper (Intermediate Repair Skill)
    It is not uncommon for a bit of grain to rise around the embouchure hole of wooden flutes. For gentle refinishing of these areas, I recommend using a small piece of 1200 grit sandpaper. Tear a piece about 3/4 of an inch wide by 3 inches long. Sand the raised area very lightly, and then using the back (smooth) side of the sandpaper, repeat this process. This will buff and blend in the sanding you have just done. Remember, it is very important not to sand the embouchure hole itself.

  6. Krazy Glue (Advanced Repair Skill)
    The best wood in the world is still made out of wood, so it could crack. One of the things common to most wooden flute makers' workbenches is a tube or two of Krazy Glue or its local equivalent. If a crack opens on your flute, and you need to seal it yourself, here's what to do. Make sure the crack is free of debris, oil, or other contaminants. Apply a thin line of sealer to the crack and wait a few seconds to allow it to sink into the crack. If the crack reappears, wait a few seconds and apply again. When the line of sealer remains intact on the surface, the crack is filled. Wait the appropriate amount of time before attempting to use the flute. Advanced skills in the use of jewelers’ files and sandpaper are required to remove residual sealer afterwards. So, be careful not to use too much or being sloppy with the application of the sealer.

  7. Matches or Cigarette Lighter (Advanced Repair Skill)
    Pads are generally secured into the cups at the end of the key by shellac, or other similar substances. In the case of pads using shellac, the padder heats a stick of shellac to allow a small amount to flow into the cup. The pad is then quickly placed into the cup, which is then mounted to the flute. Often, the pads will become loose. For those repairpersons who are confident with their skills, you can heat the cup (on the flute if you are VERY careful, but preferably after removing the key), trying not to shift the position of the pad, if possible. Hold the key about an inch, or slightly less, above the flame until the shellac bubbles a bit. Press down on the pad to secure it in the cup and quickly remount the key to your flute. Be careful touching the cup, as it will be quite hot. Press down on the cup to help the pad form to the configuration of the tone hole.

These are some simple to advanced skills that will aid you in your playing of wooden flutes. They range in complexity but all should be approached with caution. Remember, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...