Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Powell Pin

In a recent post, we shared a 1974 Powell pricelist (which you can view by following this link) and noticed that a "flute pin" was on the list.  We were very curious and had not seen any in the shop -- until now.  Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, had a customer who owned one of them!

Maureen McKibben came to the Powell shop in 1963 to purchase her Commercial model flute and received the pin as a souvenir of her visit.  This month, when she sent her flute in for regular maintenance, she included the pin for us to see.  The actual pin is about three inches long and is made of sterling silver.  As you'll see in the photos below, the flute on the front of the pin is quite detailed!  We would like to thank Mrs. McKibben for sharing this very special memento with us fifty-two years after she received it!

Front of pin

Side of pin
Back of pin (with sterling indication)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Aurumite Headjoints

Aurumite 14k Custom

If you've attended a convention like the NFA, you'll know that the Powell booth is filled with many flutes, piccolos, and headjoints to try.  The selection is vast, and we certainly want visitors to try different things.  But have you ever found yourself selecting a flute and headjoint combination to try, only to discover that the headjoint would not fit into the flute?  If so, you may have had a combination of an Aurumite 14k Custom flute and a silver headjoint.

Why would the silver headjoint not fit into the Aurumite 14k Custom flute?  Well, in a previous post (available through this link), we discovered that the .018" silver Custom does not have a .018" headjoint -- it has a .016" headjoint (and .016" barrel).  With an Aurumite 14k Custom, the flute has a thickness of .016," but its headjoint has a thickness of .014" -- and a barrel thickness of .014" to fit the headjoint.  The headjoint and barrel are made from the exact same Aurumite material as the flute (silver on the outside and 14k rose gold on the inside) -- they just have a different thickness.  Since the Aurumite 14k Custom has a .014"  barrel to fit the .014" headjoint, a silver headjoint of .016" thickness would be too big. 

As for the other Aurumite flutes, the headjoint and body thicknesses are the same, so the barrel is as well.  The Ruby Aurumite Custom has a .016" headjoint, barrel, and body.  The Aurumite 9k Conservatory also has a  .016" headjoint, barrel, and body.  In these cases, a silver headjoint of .016" thickness would fit. 

What is the reasoning behind the Aurumite 14k Custom flute having a .016" body and .014" headjoint?  It is actually the same as the case with the .018" silver Custom.  It's all about sound and response.  When the Aurumite 14k Custom was developed, different headjoint thicknesses were tested, and the best sound, resonance, and response came from choosing a .014" headjoint for the .016" body!

Aurumite 9k Conservatory
Ruby Aurumite Custom

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The "Original Crown"

This week, we met with Powell sales associate Daniel Sharp to talk about crowns.  In his travels to flute fairs, he has been asked if Powell still makes the "original crown" or "old crown."  So, what exactly is the design of the "original" or "old" crown?  We discovered it was quite different than many flutists may be picturing...

Daniel shared that Verne Q. Powell modeled his earliest flute crowns after the Louis Lot crown.  In the photo below, we see the crown from Louis Lot #6412, made in 1898:

Photo courtesy of National Music Museum.

Taking a look at Powell #4, we can see the similarity:

However, many flutists are familiar with a style of Powell crowns with two knurled rings, as shown in the photo below with Toshiko Kohno, former principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra.  Her flute was made in 1969.

Although we do not have an exact date for when Powell began using this two-ringed design, we can tell that the design dates at least as far back as 1938.  In the photo below on the far left, we see a headjoint from 1938 with a lip plate engraved by Verne Q. Powell.  To the right of this headjoint are two recently made Powell Signature headjoints.  This two-ringed design is currently used on all Powell Signature headjoint crowns.  It is the design that most people are familiar with and consider to be the "original" or "old" crown.

However, in the photo below, we see a Powell silver crown that is currently made for Powell Custom headjoints.

The final photo below shows the current silver Custom crown next to a current Signature crown (on the headjoint).  You'll notice the difference in the two crowns.  The current silver Custom crown resembles the earliest Powell crowns, and the Signature crown resembles the crown with two rings that many people recognize and consider to be the original design.  So, the answer is clearly, "yes!"  We still make the "original" style crown...

Friday, December 12, 2014

1974 Price List

This week, we went into the archives and found a price list from 1974.  Hard to believe that was 40 years ago, but alas, time flies -- especially when you are making flutes.  Times change as well, and 1974 was the first year the Powell offered the Cooper Scale for the Handmade and Commercial models with drawn tone holes.  The Powell Scale, at that time, was offered for Handmade models with soldered tone holes.  After being introduced as an option in 1974, the Cooper Scale was available on Powell models from 1974 - 1984.  Follow this link to read our previous post on the introduction of the Cooper Scale at Powell.

Other items that were offered in 1974, as you can see from the price list, were an 18k gold lip plate, a left hand low B lever, and a metal piccolo headjoint.  Another interesting option was that of either closed or open hole keys.  Finally, you'll see in the section of "extra items" that a flute tie clasp and a flute pin were available.  We haven't see any of these in the archive, so if you have one, please let us know in the comment section below!

Powell flute with left hand low B lever.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fitting a Wooden Flute Headjoint

We see our flute finishers fitting metal flute headjoints and footjoints regularly, and this week, we had the opportunity to catch up with finisher Matt Keller while he was fitting a wooden headjoint. The goal for the wooden headjoint is the same as for any other (metal) headjoint -- a secure fit that is not too tight or too loose and that is even all the way around the tenon. Since the wooden headjoint has a metal tenon, the process for fitting the wooden headjoint is essentially the same as it is with a metal headjoint. The finisher can sand the metal tenon on the wooden headjoint as you will see in the photos below.  S/he can also expand the tenon on an arbor if the fit is too loose. However, when we caught up with Matt, he explained that fitting the headjoint can be quite complicated, because it is possible for a one area of the tenon to fit too tightly (or loosely).  The headjoint he was fitting seemed to be a bit too tight, but it was only tight at the end of the tenon.  This meant that Matt needed to even out the tenon, which he did by burnishing it on an arbor. Click here to read a previous post on burnishing the body tenon to fit a footjoint.

With a metal headjoint, there is more room to work with when burnishing the tenon because the circumference is the same around the full length of the headjoint.  However, with a wooden headjoint, the metal tenon has a smaller circumference than the wooden area   So, there is very little room to work with between the end of the tenon and the top (where it meets the wood).

As Matt worked on fitting this particular wooden headjoint, he reminded us of one other basic rule of thumb for fitting both wooden and metal headjoints -- small steps.  It's always better to make very small changes in very small steps.  This gradual process takes patience and practice -- which is certainly worth it!  Changes in the metal that are done too quickly and are too much of a change certainly would not give the finisher the desired result.  In fact, it would most likely lead to something that is not reversible -- like taking off too much material!  Once it's gone, it cannot come back...  So, in the case of fitting headjoints (and flute making in general), careful, precise work is key!

Carefully sanding the metal tenon.
Closer view -- headjoint spins rapidly as it is sanded.
Red lines outline the edges of the wood and metal, and the base of the wood.  There is only a small area (the metal) that can be burnished.
Burnishing the metal tenon.
Another view of the burnishing process.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Material Matters

With the help of flute finisher and headjoint cutter Lindsey McChord, we’ve been learning a great deal about the art of cutting flute and piccolo headjoints.  After speaking with her about cutting metal flute headjoints, wooden flute headjoints, and Profiled piccolo headjoints, we started wondering -- what about different metals?  Is the process different for cutting headjoints made from different metals?

The answer is – yes, there are differences.  The overall process is essentially the same, but the technique differs.  In fact, Lindsey told us that she has a different technique for each metal – including the different karats of gold (9k, 10k, 14k, and 19.5k).  Of course, there are also platinum and Aurumite (9k and 14k) headjoints to be cut!  The main factor amongst the metals is hardness.  Silver is the softest, gold is harder, and platinum is the hardest.  With each increase in karats gold, the hardness increases as well. 

In regard to metal qualities, silver is the easiest to work with from what Lindsey shared.  She said when cutting silver headjoints, the pieces come off evenly and smoothly in strips – almost like pieces of curling ribbon.  Gold, however, is much harder, and the pieces come off in chunks.  Because it is so much harder, Lindsey must exert more pressure on the gold with her tools.  Gold headjoints also require more sanding and are so hard that they can actually tear sandpaper in the process!  That being said, Lindsey told us that her sanding technique definitely varies from karat to karat in the gold family. 

But what about Aurumite?  It is either gold on the outside and silver on the inside, or silver on the outside and gold on the inside.  Well, the riser is where most of the cutting takes place.  So, if the riser is silver, it would be just like working with a silver headjoint.  If the riser is gold, it would be like working with gold.  With the Aurumite 9k, the riser is silver.  With Aurumite 14k and Ruby Aurumite, the riser is 14k gold.

It was great speaking with Lindsey to find out more about this cutting metal headjoints.  We knew the processes for wood and metal were different, but it truly was eye-opening to find out just how specialized the techniques are even within the metal category!

Silver shavings definitely look like curling ribbon!
You can see silver scrapings next to the headjoint Lindsey is cutting here.
Close-up on shavings -- red circles around the chunks of gold.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Engraving Process

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with Weiling Zhou, our engraver and one of our flute finishers.  After seeing so many examples of his engraving work, we were curious to know more about the process…

Weiling engraved his very first flute with a small screwdriver!  As he became more interested in the engraving , he went straight to the library for extensive  research.   Powell’s VP of Production, Rob Viola, asked Weiling to engrave for the company and then provided Weiling with tools and engraving bowl base.  Weiling now has about 50 different engraving tools.

He also has a book of his own engraving patterns, although he makes many custom designs for people.  Custom patterns can be especially difficult on lip plates due to their complex shape.  One of the most popular engraving requests he receives is for bird patterns.  Weiling has several books with photos of birds that he uses to guide his engraving.  When it comes to birds, Weiling tells us that engraving images of them from the side is easier, and some birds (like the eagle) are very distinctive.  Because engravings do not have color, it may be difficult to tell the difference between a blue jay or cardinal -- so it's best to stick with something simple that looks good in black and white.  Initials are another popular engraving request, which Weiling tells us takes about 10 minutes.  Engraving a key cup takes roughly 40 minutes.

So, how exactly does the process work?  Weiling showed us with the example of a key cup.  He marks lines within the cup to help as guides and then sketches in the shapes or patterns to see, roughly, how they will fit and work best.  The engraving bowl vase can be adjusted to hold headjoints, barrels, and anything he is engraving.  When it comes to a smaller part like a key, the key is first "stuck" to an adapter with a waxy substance known as “pitch”  He then takes the appropriate tool for the cut he is going to make and begins.  Because the bowl rotates, it makes it much easier to engrave something round like a key.  Each line is cut with a single stroke, and these lines are engraved in a series to make the pattern.  To engrave texture, he uses more pointed tools and lightly taps them into the metal with a small mallet.

We were quite mesmerized watching Weiling create these patterns and textures all completely by hand.  He did mention that it is best to engrave solid metals because engraving through plating causes rust.  So, if you've wondered whether hand engraving is really done by hand, well, we can see that it is!  If your flute is not plated and you are interested in having engraving done, make sure to contact our Director of Quality and Service, Rebecca Eckles, and she would be happy to help.  She can be reached at or by calling (978) 344-5160.

Engraving bowl and tools. 
Heating "pitch" to hold keycup.
Initial sketches on keycup.
Different tool used to make texture.
A few sections of the pattern.