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Author Topic: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys  (Read 139 times)

Offline windydankoff

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Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« on: January 31, 2021, 03:41:09 PM »
The professional way to repair loose keys (where possible) is by “swaging” or “swedging” if you prefer. Here is a reference on that:  https://musicmedic.com/swedging-woodwind-keys

I don't have the tools or experience (yet) to swage loose keys. Also, some keys cannot be swaged. Here is a technique that has been working surprisingly well for me. Dental floss makes an effective shim. It compensates for excess space inside the tube and on the ends. I have had great results eliminating loose motion on both worn and new instruments. So far, all my floss-fixes have stayed in place and functioned perfectly, feeling perfect even after several years of frequent playing. The photo shows an example, before the rod is screwed in and before the ends are trimmed off.

I collect packs of various sizes of floss. I mark them with their thickness (measured with a micrometer). I test the fit OFF the instrument first, to select the best size of floss. Occasionally, I use two pieces to get it perfect. IMPORTANT - Apply oil BEFORE inserting the rod, so the floss stays in place. After assembly, I oil it again. (I use synthetic motor oil.)

When I’m happy, I trim the ends with a sharp blade. If it’s a work in progress, I leave a little floss visible. When I’m finished, I cut it back so it’s nearly invisible.

In my records and on repair invoices, I list any keys that have been “shimmed with dental floss”. (I believe in full disclosure.)
« Last Edit: February 02, 2021, 09:59:33 AM by windydankoff »
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Offline TMHeimer

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2021, 02:18:34 PM »
You learn something new all the time. Sounds a little high tech. for my skills. I have explored the other usuals-- rubber bands, scotch tape, bending stuff to a point, taping stuff closed that you infrequently need to function, but it leaks.
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Offline modernicus

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2021, 08:56:46 PM »
Swaging/swedging isn't that hard (at least where it's possible to reach) but I did get alternate pliers from the traditional type (I'll dig them out and get the details) and I've found it easy to overdo it, actually.  Now I got some reamers to try to loosen up where the tube is too tight. Also, my ham fisted use made it easy to leave marks the tube as well.  For really large end gaps that remain even after the tube is squeezed down on the rod, I believe the correct way is to solder extra tubing on the end/s.  Obviously, a more suitable option on an unplated key...
« Last Edit: February 02, 2021, 08:58:25 PM by modernicus »
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2021, 12:08:38 PM »
This topic rivals only "clarinet lamps" for lack of enthusiasm.
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Offline modernicus

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2021, 06:29:48 PM »
Oh, I may give it a try, I have a clarinet where I think somebody might have sawed the register key tube and screw to get the stuck screw out.  It looks like they replaced the screw, but there's a gap now.The key seems to match the rest, but there's not this much wear anywhere else.  Seems like the likeliest scenario, but anything could have happened in the last 125 years.  Do you think it could take up about half a jeweler's saw blade width on each side?
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2021, 08:02:07 PM »
You want the thickest and widest floss you can find. My thickest floss is .1mm (.004"). It's the one in the photo. If you use two pieces, it surrounds most of the rod, which is ideal but not necessary.

Unfortunately, floss packages never tell you the thickness. So beg, borrow, steal or buy a variety and you'll have a good selection. Ask your dentist for samples. Maybe people you know have some that is too thick for them. I keep four different packs handy, and that's all I need to find the right size, in some cases doubling it. Remember to add oil before inserting the rod for testing or assembly.

You are describing a large amount of end-play. Maybe the floss that works inside the tube will not be sufficient for the end-play. A way to take up end-play is to wind some polyester sewing thread tightly in the gap, tie a half-knot at least, then secure the knot with a precise droplet of thin CA glue. Keep the thread free of oil so the CA can absorb and harden. The thread forms a durable spacer, if the glue secures the knot. I just revisited an old repair I did, and found an old thread spacer that was so invisible, I had forgotten that it was there. It held up fine. If anyone knows where to get really small washers that can do this better, please write in!

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Offline modernicus

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2021, 08:54:49 AM »
« Last Edit: February 16, 2021, 08:58:09 AM by modernicus »
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Offline windydankoff

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2021, 09:31:09 AM »
The model train ones have the perfect dimensions:
   "Bronze Shim Washer, 2mm ID - 3mm OD, .010" Thick"

Amazing! I'll order some. Message me with your address and I'll mail you some in gratitude (I won't ever need 100)
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Offline modernicus

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Re: Using dental floss to fix loose instrument keys
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2021, 08:14:29 PM »
Yeah, sounds like a plan!
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