Sticky pads can be infuriating. However, they are something that nearly all flute players have to put up with to some extent. Very few flutes have no stickiness at all, and to be honest, there is not that much that you can do about it!
To look at what can cause sticky pads, let’s first look at the pad itself.
Most pads are made up of the following parts :
1. A card washer to give the pad some stiffness.
2. A felt washer (usually about 2mm thick) that sits on top of the card washer.
3. Two layers of ‘Gold Beater’s Skin’ which is stretched tightly over the felt washer and glued on to the underside of the card washer holding everything together and providing an airtight surface that will seal the tone hole.
When a pad becomes sticky, what has happened is that the surface of the skin has become dirty. This causes slight holding of the skin when the pad comes off the top of the tone hole, so that when it releases it makes the characteristic sticky noise.
The dirt usually gets on to the pad when the pad is damp. Dust in the air, or in the flute case, settles on the skin and it gradually becomes slightly sticky.
Another cause is players consuming sweet drinks or food before they play the flute. Stickiness seems to follow soon afterwards! To prevent this clean your teeth, or at least have a drink of water before playing after eating sweet things.
Probably the best way to clean the surface of a pad relatively safely is to use lighter fluid on a cigarette paper:
1. Buy a can of lighter fluid and some cigarette papers from any good newsagent. Make sure you buy lighter fluid, not gas.
2. Put two drips of lighter fluid on to a cigarette paper, and slide this between the sticky pad and the tone hole. Close the pad on to it and gently hold it closed for about 10 seconds. Open the key and then close it again with the paper in a slightly different position. Take the paper out, blow on it to evaporate the remaining lighter fluid, and replace it between pad and tone hole and close the key for the last time on to the paper to blot up any remaining fluid.
You should find that now the pad is not sticking, or at least the noise is reduced.
At no time pull the paper out from under the pad when the key is closed!
My feeling is that the above method is the safest for repairing sticky keys, but some people recommend the following tips. I am not certain that I can recommend these myself, and I have said why here.
‘Put talcum powder on to a cigarette paper and close this between pad and tone hole. The talc will stick to the sticky parts of the skin reducing the stickiness’
Whilst this does reduce stickiness, I feel that adding more ‘mess’ on to the skin surface is asking for trouble later on. Also, I’m sure the pad cannot seal as well after this treatment.
‘Wipe a soft pencil on to a cigarette paper and then close this between pad and tone hole’
Again, this is adding more and more mess to the pad surface. I cannot recommend it.
‘Place a dry cigarette paper between pad and tone hole, close the key and pull the cigarette paper out’.
Don’t do this! It ruins the pads very quickly. Paper is surprisingly rough and acts like sandpaper on the pad skin. When this has been done only a few times the surface of the skin looks frayed. This pad will not last long and will certainly not seal as well.
I hope the above helps with your sticky pad problems. Do remember though, even if using the lighter fluid method, that you should only do this occasionally.
This article was originally written by Ian McLauchlan for the Flutewise magazine.