Some final thoughts, for the
Wrapping it up
This series started out
entitled "effects of extreme thread wrapping...", but I have taken out the
word extreme. Most of the old thread-wrapped flutes surveyed
(indeed, all but one) showed considerable bore compression or
strangulation. The test tenon was wrapped in a common
polyester-cotton sewing thread, with considerably fewer turns than I had
taken off the strangled cocuswood flute. The only extremes involved were the humidities of 25% and close to 100%, applied in quick alternation to
accelerate the passing of time. For most of us, these are not
Perhaps it's appropriate to
ask ourselves why, so long ago, makers of Boehm flutes, clarinets, and
oboes shifted to cork, leaving only conical flutes string-wrapped.
The simple, if painful, answer is that conical flutes were the cheap end
of the market, and string is cheap.
It is now safe to
conclude that it is clearly possible, indeed almost inevitable, to damage a tenon by wrapping it
in thread, and subsequently exposing it to the rigours
of weather and playing. Indeed, the question now becomes what can
we do to ensure such damage doesn't happen? Unfortunately, the rigorous and numerous experiments needed to prove
what is safe using multiple layers of thread might take dozens or
even hundreds of tenons, and years,
tens of years or even more! It may be misdirected energy to
conduct such tests. Indeed, maybe we should be putting our
energies in identifying newer, more appropriate materials and methods
than either cork or thread.
Perhaps the most surprising
discovery was that the free ends of the test tenon actually swelled in size,
probably explaining why the three tenons on the strangled cocuswood
flute jam on entry to their sockets.
This means that we may be misinterpreting what
the bores of old flutes originally looked like, and a more realistic test might be
warranted to help guide our interpretations. This
test would still take some time, because the thicker tenon attached to a
real flute body would have much longer reaction time, but at least such
a test would be achievable. Even so, it would still have to employ
artificial aging techniques, or the results may not be available within a
Even as I'm typing, I feel
another experiment coming on. The Richard Potter flute in the survey is
a total basket case at the moment, having lost many keys and blocks.
It's on my long-term list to try to save, but has no immediate hope.
I should carefully measure the LH section, strip the thread and subject
it to some deep humidity cycling to emulate the passage of the years.
But not attempt to steam and reform it as I did with the two strangled
flutes. The test would be aimed at finding out whether just removing the
constriction is enough, if given time and seasonal variation (either in
real-time or accelerated). If that doesn't work, it won't prevent me
from following the steaming and reforming approach later. I'll get
back to you when there's something to report....
Thanks to all those at Chiff & Fipple who took part in the lively
debate, including the sceptics! It was useful to conduct this
experiment in the light of public scrutiny, as it alerted me to the
issues people found hard to accept. Hopefully I've now answered
As with any topic, there are the deniers who will never agree with
any proposition, no matter how well proven. Some of these are just
downright argumentative by nature. They deserve our compassion -
life cannot be easy.
Others clearly feel that their business interests are being threatened.
If they put their business interests before the interests of their
customers, they cannot expect our sympathy. Others quibble about
details of the experimental approach. They would have criticised
poor Fleming - he didn't predict penicillin after all, he merely
discovered it. It is clearly possible for anyone sufficiently
motivated to repeat or improve on the experiments conducted here.
I'll happily advise them. Anyone not sufficiently motivated is not
worth listening to.
To all of them, we simply pose the question: "If the thread didn't
squash these tenons, what did?" Aliens perhaps? Come up with
a plausible alternative scenario and we'll sit up and take notice.
Thanks to Neville Fletcher for
clarifying the calculation of forces involved. Thanks also to a
number of individuals from other flute email lists who have chipped in
with the benefit of their specialist knowledge. I'll decline from
naming any as I may forget some, but you know who you are!
Discussion of issues raised.
Discussions on Chiff &
Fipple about earlier versions of this article became so heated the
moderators felt obliged to lock the original and related threads a
number of times. After discussion, we have agreed to try a "For
Information Only" approach, in which I can announce any developments,
but further discussion is discouraged. That seems to be working.
I'm happy to hear from anyone directly,
and public discussion is available on any of these Internet fora:
- woodenflute, primarily
Irish flute players
flutemakers, a discussion group for makers of all types of
earlyflute, a discussion group aimed at early music flute
But wait, there's more!
I found I couldn't just leave it there, so there's a second series to
this discussion, starting at: Effect of thread
wrapping 2 - Introduction