April 09, 2015
How to Replace Your Flute Pads
Although replacing flute pads isn’t an inherently difficult task, it does require a certain element of skill and expertise. For this reason, Music & Arts recommends having your flute pads replaced by a professional repair technician who not only knows exactly what they’re doing, but has access to all the right tools. Do not attempt to replace your flute pads if you don’t have access to or aren’t completely comfortable using the required tools. Music & Arts and The Vault assume no liability for any damage you may cause to your flute while attempting to replace flute pads on your own.
Step 1: Remove Flute Keys
Before you can even think about re-padding your flute, you’ll need to spend some time removing the keys first. You’ll need access to these tools to complete the entire removal and installation process:
- Flat nose pliers
- Spring hook tool*
- Nylon pad pliers*
- Fire safety equipment
- Pad prick or needle
- Replacement flute pads
- Adhesive, if necessary
*Although these tools are optional, you may find the process is easier if you have them.
Now that you have the appropriate tools lined up and ready to go, it’s time to start the process. Start by removing the trill keys before moving your way down the rest of the flute. Make sure to gently place the keys on a soft, clean towel in the exact order you removed them. This way, you’ll be re-attaching them later in the appropriate order. Some first-timers photograph or take video of the entire process, while others trust themselves to keep things in order for easy reassembly later. Some individuals find that re-inserting the screws immediately after they’ve removed a key helps remove confusion on where the screws belong later on. Regardless of your process, make sure your work area is kept clean and free from dust and other debris.
Step 2: Remove & Measure Flute Pads
Now that the keys have been removed and you have easy access to the pads, carefully remove all of the flute pads. If your flute pads are glued in, this step of the process will require some heat to melt the glue. Fortunately, most flute pads are held in with screws so you may be able to avoid using heat altogether. Once the old flute pads are removed, measure and compare them with the new set of flute pads. To make this step as effective as possible, measure and compare them individually and do a test fit with each key. If the flute pad doesn’t fit comfortably or you have to force the flute pad in, common sense should tell you that you need a flute pad with a smaller diameter. Similarly, if the flute pad is too loose you’ll need a flute pad with a larger diameter.
If your flute pads are too thin, flute pad shims can add thickness. If they’re too thick, it’s best to order thinner pads.
Step 3: Insert New Flute Pads
Before you move onto inserting the new flute pads, take some time to puncture the side of the new flute pads with a pad prick or needle. This allows moisture to be released when replacing them. If the flute pads require adhesive, this part of the process can get a little bit tricky. Apply heat to the flute pad cups, and make sure any leftover adhesive is thoroughly removed. Be careful not to burn yourself, and make sure a friend or parent is in the room with you in case you need any help. Once the flute pad cup is clean, insert a few adhesive pellets into the flute pad cup and apply heat–you need enough to melt the pellets, but nothing more than that. Once the adhesive is melted, insert the flute pad into the flute pad cup and wait for the key to cool. Allow the replacement flute pad to level itself over the tone hole. If need be, adjust the pad with a pad slick or another small, flat piece of metal. Check the pad for leaks. If you find a leak, apply heat and make the appropriate adjustments until the issue is resolved.
Slowly move your way up the instrument, re-installing each key with the new flute pad. This is also a great time to oil the pivot points of each key with flute key oil and check your flute key height with a flute key height gauge, if you have access to one. Adjustments can be made with a flute key leveling tool. If your flute was in good condition before installing new flute pads, very few adjustments will need to be made at this time.
Step 4: Finish Up
Once you’ve determined that your flute pads are leveled and there aren’t any leaks, it’s time to moisten the pads and wedge the keys shut. Moisten the front of each flute pad with a pad slick and a tiny amount of water. If you don’t trust yourself to only apply a minimal amount of water, use a sponge. Using key wedges, force the keys closed and allow them to completely dry overnight. Be very gentle during this step, as you don’t want to accidentally bend the keys or damage the cork. If everything has been done correctly, a ring should develop on the pad. Leave the keys shut for a day or two–the longer, the better.
Once a couple days have passed, your flute is ready to be played. Congratulations–you’ve successfully removed and replaced your flute pads! Have questions? Think this is better left to the professionals? Head to your local Music & Arts or learn how to find a qualified repair technician in your area.