Stuck low whistle tuning slide

How to fix a seized whistle tuning slide

(please note this applies to metal tin whistles and low whistles -not wooden ones).

A seized tuning slide has long been a problem on many woodwind instruments.  I thought I’d take the time to talk through the ins and outs of seized tuning slides – an age old curse of woodwind musicians including low whistle players.

First I feel it’s worth mentioning that the best solution is to prevent the tuning slide seizing in the first place – as obvious as it might be to say so!   Contrary to popular belief tuning slides rarely, if ever, seize as a result of dirt getting trapped in the slide.  The two parts actually get stuck because the surface of metals corrodes as it reacts with air – in a similar process to steel rusting.  This reaction on the surface of the two adjacent and touching parts causes the parts to fuse together.  Some metals suffer more from this phenomenon than others.  Aluminium or steel are quite reactive in air and therefore fuse relatively quickly.  Brass and titanium are relatively stable (or ‘inert’) in air and will therefore take much longer to react.

The simplest way of stopping the two parts seizing together is to stop the reaction at the surface of the metal.  This is where tuning slide grease (or cork grease) comes in very useful – it coats the surface of the parts and creates a barrier between them and the air, hence stopping the reaction.  The handy thing is that putting a little on can last for long time.

So you didn’t use any Cork Grease and you have a seized tuning slide?

The tuning slide on your prized music instrument is seized – what should you do?  The first thing to remember is don’t panic!  …or start twisting it with massive pliers or hitting it off things in a blind rage!  The trick is to break the bond which has developed from the corrosion.  The easiest way to do this is heat the outside part.  When you do this, the outside of the slide  expands quicker than the inside causing the bond to break.  After doing this you’ll be amazed at how easily the parts come apart.  It’s a little like using hot water to heat your breakfast bowl to get dried cornflakes off it!

So how do you heat the outside of the slide?

By the far the best way to heat the outside of the slide is with a heat gun.  This, however, is not always readily available to us.  A compromise can be to run boiling water over the outside of the part at the tuning slide.  Care must be taken during this not to burn your hands – as the parts do heat up it can be a good idea to use gloves – ideally wool gloves though even rubber washing up gloves are a good start.  This wont always work but it is a good starting point.  In extreme cases, where you don’t have access to a heat gun, using a blowtorch at a distance and sparingly will break the seal, though many would prefer to send the instrument to an instrument maker before reaching this point!

Of course once you’ve unstuck the tuning slide, make sure to keep some grease on it so it doesn’t happen again!

***If you think it would be beneficial for this article to be published as a video please let us know – if there’s enough interest we’ll publish it as an instruction video.

‘The Anaconda’

Looking for pictures of you holding a Low D.

We’re looking to get some pictures of people holding Low Ds.  As everyone has different sized hands they tend to hold Low Ds, or any whistle, sightly differently.  We’re currently trying to adapt the Toob chromatic whistle to fit as many peoples’ hands as possible.  It would be very much appreciated if you could take a quick snap, similar to the ones right, and email through to  The picture doesn’t need to be a work of art – just something that shows the position your hands play in and ideally the top of the whistle also – just to give us an idea of scale.



The Slow Game

Sometimes it can seem like the most frustrating thing: 12 years after starting out and only the D and the F have made it into the hands of musicians.  As a musician it often seemed that an idea cooked up that day, or even on the spot, could make it out into the world and be enjoyed by others right there and then.  As an instrument maker it all changed.   Things took years, decades, or even lifetimes to come to fruition, and the more you tweaked, tinkered and listened the longer it took.  I’d like to think that it pays off though.  Well made musical instruments are not only capable of incredible feats with the right partnership, but they can also go and go for many years.

Working late into the Night

low whistles makers


Fruit on the G Tree?

Design Options – In Depth: Part 3

It has been a revealing experience so far going back over all this previous work on the toob key design. All these ideas have had the first flush of enthusiasm hammered out of them now and it’s good to look back at them in a new light. This week in particular we’ve been seized by a new passion for the fabric hinge seen in the previous ‘Part 2‘ post. Talking it through again we really feel that there’s more work to be done to explore the potential of this approach to the design.

Today however, I’d like to show you another design idea we’ve been considering;

In previous posts you’ll have seen us exploring a wrap round flat leaf spring to provide the spring force to the key. This concept takes this one step further with the idea of a formed and profiled spring that carries both the spring and hinge functions.

This is similar to the fabric hinge, but the defined hinge point is provided by the formed spring. The advantage of this is that it could be a very simple and elegant assembly, only requiring the key and the spring. The spring can be cut as flat sheet by etching or laser cutting giving potentially more complex forms or engraving.

Looking further into spring production suggests we may need larger production runs to justify them or tooling up the mk workshop with some new kit.

Below is a short video capturing the output of a quick analysis model I did to get a feel for how a key like this would behave in terms of its displacement.

101216 spring fea

To be a successful key, the spring action of the key needs to be responsive, we have a concern that the shape shown above would actually offer too much resistance because the material at the hinge part and the ‘leaf’ part both contribute. This could probably be engineered out at a later stage though.

Another interesting potential for the design is the idea of linking the springs together into one smooth element, for examples between the Bb and C natural keys which happen to be closely spaced.

This concept has stalled a bit at the moment due to the difficulty of getting spring samples made up, but as ever we’d be interested to hear your views on this.

Design Options – In Depth: Part 2

Following on from my previous posts on the toob key design (overview, Part 1) and moving further through the “family tree” I’d like to take you through our ideas on a fabric hinge for the toob keys.

This idea came out of our pre-occupation with the offset of the fingerpad from the tonehole along the toob. This was combined with the desire to achieve a low profile solution to hinging the keys.

As you may have seen in Misha’s video post earlier, his model based on this concept worked well and gives us the sort of feel that we’re aiming for. The main unresolved issue is how to fix the fabric in place. Mechanical fixings seem to be unlikely to be the answer due to the thinness of sheet or plate being used and the difficulty of achieving a reliable thread in it.

Adhesives would be the more likely solution to assemble this concept, however we will need to do some further research to find production quality adhesives with a known reliable lifespan.

As always your comments are always appreciated, I’ll be trying to get this updated more regularly too…

Notes from the workshop: keeping the edges

One of the most challenging parts in making whistles (and I suspect lots of other instruments) is keeping the corners and edges sharp.  The fipple – the edge the airstream is directed onto – for example,  is one of the most important parts in the formation of a good tone.  Also, the edges of the tone holes are the extremely influential with tuning and intonation.

But by their very nature, edges are exposed, making them vulnerable to getting rounded off.  From a makers perspective it’s awkward because if we didn’t have to maintain the edges, we’d just be able chuck the assembled instruments in an automatic polishing machine and collect the beautifully shiny whistles an hour later.  In a similar vein, it’s always been said that you can tell the quality of a flute by whether the keywork has any hard lines or edges – on the cheaper models everything’s been rounded off in the finishing process.

Obviously edges need to be deburred and finished so as to be safe to touch, but rounding out the tone-hole edges on whistles means that some form of ‘indiscriminate’ finishing has been used, which attacks the edges – pushing sandpaper or a scotchbrite pad up against the body as it spins on a machine might be an example.  The difficulty here is that, although it gives a good overall finish to the eye, it rounds off the edges, and by the very nature of this kind of abrasive process, it’s difficult to do consistently, with these inconsistencies then work their way through to the tuning and intonation.

It’s one thing to identify a problem though, and an entirely different matter to solve it!   It’s also true that soemtimes the answer might’ve been starring you right in the face – for ten years!  Thankfully focusing in on this has produced some good processes and techniques, and it’s something we’ve made good progress with.

Mk D Datasheet

Here’s a first draft of a Datasheet for the Mk Low D.  What do you think?  Is there any info which isn’t there but could be useful?  Any inaccuracies?

Please use the comments to let us know what you think – your feedback is much appreciated.





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