Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wooden Flute Tone Holes -- and More

If you've looked closely at the tone holes on a wooden flute, you may have noticed that they look a bit different from tone holes on metal flutes.  At Powell, metal flutes have either drawn or soldered tone holes, but those choices are not possible with a wooden flute body.  After all, with wood, you wouldn't have the option to solder something onto the body or "pull" the hole up from the body.  No, wood is definitely not as flexible as metal.  So, how exactly are the tone holes formed on the wooden flute?  Are there other differences in how the holes are covered by the keys?

The answer is rather simple, actually.  It's all about subtracting material and sculpting the wood.  With a wooden flute, the tone hole is cut out of the body in a process that is referred to as "milling." However, after the tone hole is milled, more material around the hole must be removed to allow clearance for the key cup.  Since it is a wooden body, you are actually carving or sculpting the wood to create the convex shape around the tone hole.  The tone hole itself has a flat edge, so the key mechanism functions exactly the same as it does on a metal flute.  The key cups and pads are exactly the same size and shape as those on a metal flute -- and they cover the hole exactly the same way as they would with a metal flute. 

But what about the rest of the body?  Is it the same thickness as metal?  Obviously, no.  A wooden flute body is thicker than a metal flute body.  The wood has to be thicker so it doesn't crack.  However, the inner bore diameter of a wooden flute is exactly the same as the inner bore of a wooden flute.  So, there are some differences with the wooden flute but many more similarities. 

Wooden flute bodies before and after tone holes are cut.
Close-up on the tone holes (notice carved covex shape around hole for key clearance)
Final assembly with keys in place.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The New Powell Sonaré Piccolo

You've probably heard some buzz going on about a new piccolo from Powell.  Just what exactly is different about this, and when will it be available?  Well, there are several unique features, and we will be debuting this piccolo next month at the 2012 NFA Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada.  If you are attending, make sure to stop by the Powell booth (#317) and see us! 

The new Powell Sonaré piccolo was designed with elegance and durability in mind.  The body is made from an American hardwood that is available in three different color choices: American Amethyst, Indian Onyx, Tuscan Umber.  The photos below show the piccolo in "Indian Onyx" and were taken during a builder's workshop sponsored by NABIRT last April in Pennsylvania.  The keys are square as you can see, and they are made of stainless steel.  This feature is especially nice since stainless steel will not tarnish.  Although the keys are square, you'll also see from the photos that the tone holes and pads are still (traditionally) round.  The stainless steel keys are also available in "golden steel."  Golden Steel is comprised of a high tech ceramic coating over stainless steel.  The finish is durable and a golden yellow color which provides the appearance of yellow gold without the cost.  Additional specs on the piccolo include: 
  • A-442 pitch
  • Modern Powell scale
  • Pisoni Star Pads
  • Stainless steel springs
  • Classic style hand cut headjoint
You might be wondering, "Well, where exactly is this piccolo made?"  The answer is right here at the Powell shop in Maynard, MA!  Handmade just like all the Powell flutes and piccolos.  Hope you will have a chance to try it!  For more information, we have a terrific video on our website -- take a look at  A full article from MMR Magazine may be found at

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Polishing to a Perfect Shine

So, how exactly do our flute headjoints get so shiny?  Well, they certainly do not start out with a perfect shine.  We recently caught up with our shop manager and one of our polishing technicians.  As you can see from the photo below, when a headjoint arrives at the polishing room, it is far from "shiny."  It actually goes through several steps before the final result.  In pre-prep polishing, grease is applied to the headjoint, and the headjoint is then buffed on a specially-tuned buffing machine.  The buffing machine has a wheel made of cloth used to buff and polish.  Pre-prep polishing is an important step since it allows the technician to clean up any solder and imperfections.  This step also polishes the headjoint to some degree to make it shiny.  After each buffing and polishing step, the headjoints are cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner.

The final step in the polishing process is where something known as "rouge" comes in to play.  It may sound like an item from the cosmetic department, but it is a polishing compound that is made of iron oxide (rust) in a wax base.  It gets its name from its color as you can see!  The rouge is applied to the buffing wheel, and the headjoint is polished.  Rouge is excellent for polishing because it has very fine particles that remove metal in smaller pieces, thereby producing a very high shine.  In addition to our flute builders using rouge as a polishing agent, jewelers use it as well.  Makes sense to us since our flutes are made of precious metals!

Headjoints in an early phase of polishing
Rouge for the final step
Technician applies rouge to the cloth buffing wheel in the final step of polishing
Headjoints that have been polished and are ready to go!