Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cutting Wooden Headjoints

Measuring angles

What does it take to cut a wooden headjoint?  Is it the same as cutting a metal one?  Luckily, we stopped into the headjoint room this week just as Lindsey McChord was working on wooden headjoints, so it was the perfect opportunity to find out more...

Powell's wooden headjoints are available in the Philharmonic and Soloist styles.  The process of cutting these headjoints involves different tools but produces the same shapes and angles that a metal headjoint in these styles would have.  Of course, working with wood is very different from working with metal.  In fact, Lindsey tells us that the characteristics of these two materials are quite opposite from one another.  Wood does not respond well to steep angles and metal does.  Wood also does not respond well to very deep undercutting and overcutting -- and metal does.  With wooden headjoints, rounded shapes and edges create a much better response.  Essentially, when it comes to cutting a wooden headjoint, it is all about blending without disturbing the shape.

When Lindsey works with metal headjoints, she uses tools to scrape and cut metal.  The tools are quite sharp so that they can remove material.  However, with wooden headjoints, Lindsey uses mostly files and sandpaper to make chages.  There is one small tool that allows Lindsey to scrape wood, but it is much more rounded at the end (as you will see in the picture).  The rounded end allows Lindsey to remove material without the risk of gouging the wood.  

To begin cutting a wooden headjoint, Lindsey must first adjust the height of the riser.  The riser is not a separate piece as it is with metal headjoints, so Lindsey makes the height adjustment by filing the top of the lip plate until the riser is the correct height.  She does this with a mill file, as you will see in the photos below.  The mill file is also used to create the shape of the lip plate -- which is completely round at first.  If she needs to remove a lot of material, she will also use a very course, 180-grit sandpaper.  Then, Lindsey must create the shape that one would see on the lip plate of the same style headjoint in metal.  With a metal headjoint, the lip plate can be bent, but with a wooden headjoint, the lip plate must be filed. 

Lindsey then uses small sandpaper file (or sometimes a razor file) for the inside of the wall.  She says it's important to use a firm touch, exerting equal pressure on the wood so you can detect and smooth out any bumps or knots.  The very smallest files (that you will see in the photos below) are used for  undercutting and overcutting the embouchure hole,  as well as for blending.  After she is done cutting the headjoint, she oils the riser and then leaves the headjoint overnight or for a couple of days, allowing the oil to soak in and the headjoint to settle. Then, she tests the headjoint.  After this, she will make any additional adjustments that are necessary.

Aside from the tool differences and opposite response tendencies in wood and metal, it is also very difficult to see your work with a grenadilla headjoint because the wood is so dark.  One does not have the reflections that a metal headjoint would provide. However, Lindsey told us that when cutting wooden headjoints, she also cannot use any type of motor with the tools because the wood is much different than metal.  With metal, the headjoint cutter has to use motors to power some of the tools because of the hardness of the metal.  The headjoint cutter must still control any tool powered by a motor when cutting a metal headjoint. With a wooden headjoint, the tools are "hand powered," so it is a very special process -- and certainly one that brings great pride and satisfaction to the skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who create these headjoints.

Headjoint and tools
Wood scraper has much more rounded tip than the metal scraper (blue handle)
Using mill file to adjust riser height
Using mirror to see inside
Sanding riser
Using wood scraper
Filing to blend and create overcutting

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