Repadding Wooden Flutes

I'm often asked for instructions on repadding eight key style flutes...  

Types of Keys

Most old flutes used a variation on the "saltspoon" key.  The pads for these took the form of a little purse of fine leather stuffed with wool.  One of the drawbacks was that, with time, the pad started to migrate down the hole.

Later on, these keys were replaced with a style using lower, flatter cups.  Pads for these were still based on leather and wool, but employed a flat disc of card as a backing, which prevented the problem mentioned above.

Sources of Pads

Needless to say, no-one makes pads for old flutes any more.  But don't panic, there is a perfect substitute in the form of clarinet and saxophone pads.  These are made in around the right sizes and from the right materials - leather, felted wool and card.  The main difference is thickness - the sax pads are about 4mm while the clarinet ones are around 3mm.  Skin and synthetic clarinet pads are also available, but I don't find them as useful.  Leather clarinet pads come in white or tan - both are fine.

Most woodwind repair shops can supply pads and indeed fit them for you at a fairly low price.  If you are not near such a shop, you may wish to keep supplies in stock to be self sufficient.

You will need:

  • supplies of pads appropriate to your flute
  • some pad cement (available in stick form)
  • an old fashioned nail file
  • a small flame (a small alcohol burner is traditional, but at a pinch a cigarette lighter might do)
  • any tools required to remove your keys
  • some corks or rubber bungs suitable for plugging the ends and finger holes (optional but handy!)
  • A hat pin or something similar
  • A feeler gauge.  A thin strip of cellophane cut from a cassette cover taped on to the end of a pencil makes a fine feeler.

How to do it...

  • Remove the offending key or keys from the section of the flute.
  • Inspect the pad seat - the depression in the side of the instrument that the pad seats into.  If this is damaged, you may need to get professional help to have it re-cut.
  • Check that the remainder of the section is not leaking by covering the open holes and one end, and sucking on the other.  No leakage should be discernible.
  • Remove the old pad by heating the back of the pad cup in the flame.  Stab the pad with a hat pin and remove it once the old wax melts.
  • Clean out any remaining wax (not critical).
  • Hold the wax stick over the flame till it is about to drip and put a few drops on the back of the new pad.
  • Melt some fresh wax into the key cup again by heating the back of the cup.
  • Place the waxed pad lightly into the waxed cup.  Allow to cool.
  • Remount the key on the instrument.  Inspection or repeating the suck test will probably indicate that the pad is not seating well at all.
  • Offer the back of the key cup to the flame.  Be careful not to scorch wood or pad.  After a few seconds you should see the pad settle as the wax melts.
  • Do the suck test again.  Often this is all that is needed.
  • If you can detect leakage, use the feeler gauge to determine which side of the pad is not seating.  Open the key, insert the feeler, release the key and withdraw the feeler.  Try this all round the pad until you know which way it needs to go.
  • Remelt the wax by offering the back of the cup to the flame and use the tail of your nail file to guide the pad in the desired direction.
  • Keep this up, guided by the suck and feeler tests, until you are happy that there is no leakage.
  • Once satisfied, peel any excess wax away from around the pad with a fingernail or a dull instrument.
  • Finally, prick the edge of the pad with your hat pin.  This small hole lets any moisture leak out and prevents the pad from swelling.
Hope that works for you!

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