Basic Flute Pads

Flute Pads

    What does a flute pad actually do? Really, it just plugs a hole in the side of the body tube, like your fingers do on 'penny whistles', fifes and recorder type instruments. Your fingers have a lot of leaks though, they're called fingerprints. And remember, even if all the holes are blocked perfectly, there's still that big hole at the end. I wonder how many kilo-PASCAL's pressure get built up in the open bore tube?  Since a flute seems to have been deemed 'most difficult' we'll go there first. Because, when it comes to woodwinds, "If you can fix a flute, you can fix anything."


The MAIN THING to know here is, "There is Nothing hard or difficult about putting pads on or in a flute. Nothing hard or difficult about leveling pads on a flute. Nothing hard or difficult about seating pads on a flute. And if you pay attention; Nothing hard or difficult about adjusting a flute." The B30 and B31 type pads have been industry standards for at least 50 years and the premium quality pads like the yellow skinned B26 and B38 offer a little more pizzazz for the higher quality flutes or just to doll up a student flute.

    By the way, Ferree's flute pads fit YAMAHA flutes without any modification but, if you have some small holed pads that you got on sale someplace, we have a new cutter to go into your N79 French Flute open hole pad Punch Set. Just order the N79Y punch at only $14.50 plus s/h. It will fit into the N79 you ALREADY own. If you don't have this valuable tool, it's pictured on the lower left corner of page 28 in our 2001 green catalog.
All of the above mentioned pads are high quality wool and fish skin pads backed with single element cardboard, the same as all the conventional manufacturers are currently using. The cardboard keeps the wool flat and the fish skin seals it. Nothing hard so far, right?

    The above mentioned pads represent all that is available in the current world of conventional flute pads, except for the special purpose B29 pads listed below. The B30 and B38 are woven felt with white or yellow skin, respectively. The B26 and B31 are needle felt pads with yellow or white skin respectively. The use of woven felt or needle felt is pretty much a personal preference by a repairman. In terms of color, perhaps a request by the customer. Manufacturers usually use the woven felt pads because you don't have to be as accurate, and many Repairmen that work on 'Pro', school horns or with store rental programs usually use the needle felt because they retain your adjustments longer and usually match up better with previously installed woven felt pads that have compacted through use.

     As far as wrinkles go; hold the washer when installing the pad, so there are no swirls in the skin. Starburst type wrinkles are okay, but if extreme you should probably look into bending the key to correct the attack angle to the tone hole (using the E100) and then re-washer so the wrinkles are less severe. Many times you have to BEND keys in order to adjust them. If the flute is badly designed or the design was badly executed you won't be able to do anything about this because the hinge rod is in the wrong place or the pad arm is too long or too short. So, just get it as close as you can; taking into consideration using more or less spacers; having the pad centered and/or having the key or keys look in sync with all those around them. Some folks prefer to say 'straightening' instead of 'bending' when it comes to bending keys, but sometimes the key JUST NEEDS to be BENT. Why argue semantics?

    The real speed trick here is that if the flute was already in good shape and just needed pads, the hard work is already done. Just use dial calipers like the G5A, which are calibrated in thousandths of an inch, and duplicate the total thickness, IF it was correct in the first place. You can tell this by pre-checking as in the sax section. Many Repairmen do this, and it saves hours of your time. Flutes however, have the additional problem of pad retention. If you use too many spacer washers, the pad gets distorted upon tightening the screw. If you use too many spacer washers on an open hole pad, the grommet may not be able to hold it. By carefully studying the angle of attack, you will know which was to bend the key to avoid these conditions. The object being a flat pad that hits level every time.

    The B29 is a special, thinner woven felt pad made for compatible use in the old style Gemeinhardt flutes with non-rolled tone holes and metal washers in the back of the pad cups. I just throw those out and 'washer-up' to the correct thickness with a conventional needle felt pad and paper washer to the correct height. If everything goes right, you won't have to add any, since the B29 .098" thick pad and the .016" metal washer equals the .114" thickness of any of the B26, B30, B31 or B38 pads. Some people say that this makes for faster action because the cup assembly is now a little lighter, but I don't believe you could tell the difference. I do it so it will be easier to work on the next time, but, if you're restoring a flute for some particular reason, leave the metal washers in and use the thinner pads and just go for it, everything will be fine. {For the record, the original washers had a .180" (4.57mm) hole in them for the screwed in type pad cups and a .405" (10.28mm) hole in them for the open hole French style pad cups. You can use the .405" ones for all of the pads if you wish and avoid a double inventory for these 50 year old dinosaurs. Ferree's provides these as part A110, .016" (.4mm) thick, 16mm thru 18.5mm by .5mm graduations} The reason they did that in the first place was because all they had in those days was straight cut tone holes, really thin pads, that were hard to get flat and keep flat, (they looked like potato chips) and this approach worked for THEM in that case, for a while. Some newer instruments are being built with very thin pads and the same old problems are starting to show up, doesn't anyone remember the "good old days". Pads are much higher quality today and a little thicker cardboard in the pad has worked much better and eventually Gemeinhardt figured that out, too.

    In the last few years there have been several other types of pads developed (or in one case undeveloped) to make everything 'better' for you. One technology is akin to putting disc brakes on a horse, and the other is like trading your new car for a buggy with no horse. Does anybody really want to get into making their own pads again? What a giant step backwards. What part of the $950 re-pad is for making the pads and not fixing the flute. (What is that? A home made $300 set of pads and a $650 re-pad?) I don't know anyone that is so starved for work they want to do "crafts", like at the flea market and pay someone hundreds of dollars to learn how to, besides.
A production pad should totally out perform a 'home-made' one, time after time. Think about it! They're more consistent and they're all the same, plus they are built by someone who does THAT for a living, all the time. The pads are the least of your problems. Let's keep it that way.
Properly installed regular type flute pads can last 5 to 10 years or more, if not damaged. In fact, we use to give two years free service with every re-pad or overhaul that we did, and they stayed gone, unless damaged.  In fact, we used to tell them, "Bring this in, in about a year, even if you don't think it needs it." ("Normal wear and tear, not misuse or abuse; as determined by the repairman".) We never had a problem.


    Here is where everyone gets all screwed up. There is so much HOG-WASH about flute pads and how to put flute pads in, you could just go crazy.
If starting from scratch, you know, where the parent tries to save money by helping you by taking the pads out, saving you time so it won't take you so long, etc. When it will now take you approximately an hour and a half to two hours longer, having lost your index. Charge for the 2 extra hours above the normal price and advise them of why. If they take it somewhere else, someone else will lose what two hours is worth, if they don't charge for their extra time.

    So, having lost your index, just take a pad and bolt it in. Install the key and see how light the pressure of the pad is in the back, if any, because that will usually be the case. Estimate how much thickness you lack, remove the key from the body and then the pad from the cup, install the missing thickness with paper spacer washers, re-install the pad and re-install the key on the body and check the pad again. Don't cheat here, it doesn't pay. Repeat, if necessary. Maybe, twice.

    Now, if there hasn't been any damage to the instrument, this combo will probably prove to be the same for any similarly mounted keys, so just duplicate the measurement and install the pads in the key cups and then re-check them individually. Upper stack, lower stack, G, G# and foot joint. You notice, these various groups of keys are all mounted on the same hinge points. Are things getting a little clearer? Now, if a pad is still lighter in the back, take the key off and add some more thickness. IF it is now lighter in the front you may want to remove a little thickness until it is the same pressure or LEVEL all around. Be sure you check the bottom stack post. If those pads get progressively worse, the post needs to be moved back to its original location. If the post is bent toward the holes, the pads will get progressively lighter in back; if bent away, heavier and the pads won't be centered either. But, don't use centering as your only guide, sometimes they just don't. The pads MUST be level or the flute won't play.
DON'T just start bending the fronts of the pad cups down. The smart thing to do here is: DON'T BEND ANY KEYS IF YOU CAN GET OUT OF IT. And most important: DO NOT USE ANY PARTIAL WASHERS. There is a school of thought that believes in using partial pieces of washers, usually halves and that method may have some merit, but, like two great Repairmen, George Jameson and Dick Rusch used to say, "A half washer 'CREATES' TWO leaks". They would go nuts if they saw all the "CONFETTI" being used to "level" pads today.

    The pad cups are coined under tons of pressure, and are thick in proportion to their size. (Read: "They don't bend".) So normally, they do not distort. You may level the pad, side to side, by twisting the key arm a little, which is exactly what you're doing when you put the E61 Flute Pad Gauge or Leveling Tool under one side of the pad and push down on the other side, or you may want to lower the front of the cup by bending it down with the E61 under the back of the pad. This most likely will bend the edge of the pad cup a little, but, not enough to be noticeable. You may have to bend a key to correct a previous bend or damage. In some cases you need to bend the thick arm that goes from the hinge tube to the pad cup. Why? Because, the pad screws are only sooo long. Same goes for the grommets on open-hole French type flutes. If the pad is too tight in the back you can remove some of the spacers and change to a thinner total or if there are none to remove you may want to use the E100 here, it is more time consuming, but, be accurate and you can charge for it. If it is too light in back, you can add spacers, once again, only to a point.

    Be sure to 'quick check' post position anytime something just doesn't look right. There is a very small argument to use plastic spacers, but not enough to mention. After all, how much humidity can a .010" piece of paper hold? Especially when it is clamped under a SEALED .114" pad press-fitted into the cup. How about ALL the rest of everything? Maybe a thousandth or two off? Don't sweat it, it's all relative. NO worries here!

    Getting back on track. The tone hole properly made is, or should be, flat. (You can correct a slightly unlevel tone hole with the E98 tone hole leveling tool.) The pad cup is or should be flat. The pad is probably the least variable part and should be flat, using the standard .114" thick pads we mentioned. The cardboard used in their construction is thick enough that they usually stay flat enough. If it needs to be .123", just add a .009" or .010" or .011" washer. You can always bend the front of the pad cup down. By going a 'little heavy', you may not have to remove it again.

    THERE IS NO ROOM FOR PARTIAL WASHERS. Normally you can't control where they are all that precisely any way and in the grand scheme of things I believe that they are a total waste of time. I've been told that this is 'Old School' but, IT WORKS, HAS WORKED, and STILL WORKS. Why fix what isn't broke? You'd be chasing ghosts there. Just level the pad over the tone hole and you're almost done.

    So, what have we accomplished so far? We installed a pad. Big deal, huh? Somewhere around here we should do some adjusting. The adjustment screws that all good flutes have only function in one direction. NOT TWO. These time saving, wear reducing screws only work on the 'down stroke' of the keys. So, after all your bending and leveling is DONE, you use these screws as Stops to be sure all the pads hit at the same time in their Down position. The Up position is adjusted by 1) bending the tail of the key up or down or, 2) trimming off or adding additional cork under the foot. It's your choice, depending on what works for you in a particular situation. (and Yes, I have installed adjustment screws in a Haynes flute and man does that save time and frustration.)  With light pressure, just make the pad kiss the seat and make sure it hits evenly all the way around. Make sure all key combinations hit at the same time. Completely adjust the flute at this point. Check the openings for proper height, and re-check the bridge key and thumb key-B-Bb adjustments.

    I can hear you yelling, "HEY, you haven't ironed or seated the pads yet." This is part of the time saving. I have never ironed pads because, I use a feeler; but, if you want to or if you use a light, you would do that after getting them installed at the correct height. I have nothing against using a light, but, I'm color blind and can't SEE, using a light. So, I use a feeler to compare seat pressure. Don't use Elephant Fingers when comparing. Yes, we're going to seat the pads, but not yet. If you've put the pads in correctly, the wrinkles won't matter. Just make sure the pads are all level. Level means LEVEL, not almost. At this point, the flute will almost play and sometimes it does.
Now, we're going to seat the pads. If you've done every thing correctly up to now, all you have to do is put about 1 (One) drop of water on each pad using the loop end of the E34 blue pad iron. Dip the loop into the water and smear it around on the pad as you apply it. I use distilled water because there aren't supposed to be any impurities in it. Tap water works when it is softened or is low in minerals, otherwise it leaves impurities on the pad surface which could affect proper seating and promote premature wear (rust, calcium, iron); I guess. But, it's your choice. We'll use G26 or G82 spring clips to hold them shut.

    If you're new at this, you'll have better results with the G82's, because they're easier to adjust the tension on. Start at the top of the flute and work down. If you've never done this before, you have to think about what you're doing. These spring clips are adjustable in tension. It would be beneficial to you if you had them pre-tensioned and in order. Mine are all on a 4" hook screwed into the edge of my bench. They go on and come off in the exact same order every time. A couple are bent and cut to miss the G# key, or whatever and work around the thumb keys, but that's about it. Most important, they are tensioned to do what I want done.

    The un-fingered pads should have less tension on them because you don't want them to seat deeper than the other keys. For instance, the top pad on the bottom stack really doesn't even need a clip, but I put one on anyway, only lighter. The other three pads, if properly leveled and adjusted, will come down to that height when seated. Once again, if you have all the pads leveled and adjusted properly, all four pads will hit at the same time and the top pad will dictate the proper seat depth because the other three will use it as a stop. It is the same with the A-Bb, C-C#, and the bridge mechanism. Use very little spring tension on the pads your fingers don't touch, if they are taken down by another pad or are sprung down. Yes, I do put clips on the trills, low D#, both G's and upper C key. Why? Probably just habit, but what if a spring should fail? I'm covered and so are you. Besides, the upper C is sprung up!

     Now in this case, I recommend you use 3 B11 or B21 Clarinet pads (double skinned to match the rest) in the upper C and trill keys. If you don't, the extra glue used with the thinner flute pads will probably ooze out from behind the pad. Whereas, the thicker cardboard on the clarinet pads will maintain the proper projection or reveal of the pad from the pad cup and give you a cleaner and more trouble free job.

    Bake the flute in a pre-heated X100 Pad Oven (X100A 220Volt in Europe) for 6 minutes at 212 degrees, using a loud bell timer, remove and let set. If you're in a big hurry you can shoot your air hose thru the body tube to cool it, but I like to just let it set a while. I'm usually working on something else anyway. Deep seats do NOT guarantee airtightness. In many cases deep seats give you a false sense of security and make the instrument harder to work on and harder for the player to deal with as well, because it can and does slow the key action and key response.

    After the flute is cool to the touch, I remove the spring clips; from the bottom up and put them back on the hook in the exact reverse order that I removed them. USUALLY, there is NO FURTHER ADJUSTMENT needed, (or wanted). How could you get it any closer? Everything was just melted or 'born' together. But check anyway, maybe a cork puffed up. If you don't HAVE a pad oven, I have heard of people using a regular electric oven. BUT, I understand that the accuracy of common ovens is not too good and that they may vary up to 50 degrees, so it may get too hot even if you set it properly.
If it is off a little, just regulate it like you normally would do and let it go.

Ferree's Tools-"Because they work"