Making keys

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Making keys

Postby Dally » Wed Aug 24, 2011 10:07 pm

Markus Gabel has a new series of videos up on youtube in which he makes a twelve key NSP. His key making process was fascinating to watch. I had imagined hand forged keys to be beaten and filed more than that. Why are cast keys not as strong as forged keys? What is the best plating material: silver, nickel, chrome?
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Re: Making keys

Postby pipemakermike » Thu Aug 25, 2011 6:53 am

A link would be helpful please
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Re: Making keys

Postby RobSay » Thu Aug 25, 2011 8:29 am

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Re: Making keys

Postby Francis Wood » Thu Aug 25, 2011 11:15 am

The plating material will depend as much on the player's preference as anything else. An NSP player who comes to the instrument from a mainstream woodwind background as many seem to do, may well prefer a very bright finish such as you would find on a new clarinet or oboe. Chromium needs less cleaning whereas silver oxidises readily, especially in urban environments. As a very robust metal, it may well be a suitable choice for a professional player whose instrument gets intensive use. However, silver behaves similarly to the brass beneath it and may be less prone to the cracking which has been observed on some chromium-plated NSP keys. To my eye, silver also looks an awful lot nicer.

Traditionalists liking the early 19th century appearance (that's me!) will prefer no plating at all.

Cast keys tend to be very prone to accidental damage since the casting process leaves the metal relatively soft. The raw key-making metal used for forging usually arrives in its manufactured hard state and this needs to be softened locally with heat so that the key touch can be forged, whilst leaving the shaft in its hard state. NSP keys on some modern very extended chanters are sometimes much longer than the simple lever system is really comfortable with, and those need to be particularly robust. As to the science of metal hardening and softening , I'll appeal to anyone with some metallurgical knowledge to help here!

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Re: Making keys

Postby pipemakermike » Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:28 pm

This guy has some seriously interesting methods. It looks as though he is geared up to make pipes to a high quality in significant numbers. His key shapes are a bit non-traditional but very interesting and the making method has some very good ideas. I love his use of jigs and he has found a method of measuring the forces on the keys.
I also really enjoyed his chanter making video. His methods are more wood turning than mine but his use of a router as a turning tool is definately worth a look.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxUm4_NE ... re=related
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Re: Making keys

Postby Francis Wood » Thu Aug 25, 2011 3:02 pm

Excellent videos! How different these web-rich days are from when there was only Cocks & Bryan.

This maker shows some resourceful awareneness of industrial woodwind-making methods. It's worth having a look at the promotional video of the Buffet Crampon firm near Paris (possibly the world's finest) presenting the manufacturing methods for clarinets:

http://youtu.be/HoIQDHyVXY0

This all raises other issues concerning the commercial price of smallpipes in comparison with other hand-made woodwind instruments. I'm not in touch with the current prices of early flutes (one key with three or four wooden joints) or oboes (a baroque model has 3 joints and 3 keys, 2 of which duplicate) but I'm certain that the comparison would confirm the very low prices that NSP customers expect to pay for that amount of expert work involving an instrument with so many precise hand-made components.

A younger generation of pipe-makers, whoever they are may well need to take note of lowish volume mass production methods.

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Re: Making keys

Postby Richard Evans » Fri Aug 26, 2011 12:15 pm

pipemakermike wrote:This guy has some seriously interesting methods. It looks as though he is geared up to make pipes to a high quality in significant numbers. His key shapes are a bit non-traditional but very interesting and the making method has some very good ideas. I love his use of jigs and he has found a method of measuring the forces on the keys.
I also really enjoyed his chanter making video. His methods are more wood turning than mine but his use of a router as a turning tool is definately worth a look.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sxUm4_NE ... re=related


I too was very impressed with the jigs and various good ideas. Food for thought. Particularly the maching of the loops which I do mostly by hand, no jigs at all, pretty time consuming.
I haven't actually seen the chanter-turning video yet, but I have been using a router for several years with excellent results. There is no pressure on the wood since you are cutting sideways apart form the initial plunge and hence no bending or chatter. It is great for long SSP chanters, really quick. The surface finish is a bit odd, almost a braided effect, but the marks are very shallow and clean up easily which is most important.

Cheers
Richard
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Re: Making keys

Postby Richard Evans » Fri Aug 26, 2011 12:35 pm

[quote="Francis Wood"

This all raises other issues concerning the commercial price of smallpipes in comparison with other hand-made woodwind instruments. I'm not in touch with the current prices of early flutes (one key with three or four wooden joints) or oboes (a baroque model has 3 joints and 3 keys, 2 of which duplicate) but I'm certain that the comparison would confirm the very low prices that NSP customers expect to pay for that amount of expert work involving an instrument with so many precise hand-made components.

Francis[/quote]

This is an issue.The more complex a set is, the less (money) I make by the hour for more technically demanding work. This is of course down to what we decide to charge so it's our own fault! It's a complicated situation but customer expectations certainly enter into it.
For a comparison it's worth looking at the price of keys on uillean pipes, which I think are generally over expensive. A cursory Google shows one maker of irish flutes charging 150 dollars per key and another 400 dollars!!!

Cheers
Richard
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Re: Making keys

Postby pipemakermike » Fri Aug 26, 2011 3:09 pm

The cost of manufacture of pipes is an interesting topic. Most of the makers don't seem to have a handle on the actual costs. I remember that Colin did record various timings of part manufacture but I don't think he has published the data.
I can now tell some of the costs of manufacture of the School pipes.
Image
The data is from early 2005 The design has 3 drones and an unkeyed chanter
The cost of a set of parts including the drone reed bodies = £70
Bag (from Australia) £17.5 ( I don't have a copy of the actual invoice so this price is based on the original quote I got in 2001 and the exchange rate for April 2005)
Bellows £100 (these look as though they came from the same maker who supplies David Burleigh).

So the total cost of the parts = £187.5 for a set of parts to assembly into a 3 drone unkeyed concert pitch set
Assembling the set takes about 10 mins
Reeding is a difficult to predict activity
I have recently assembled 6 sets so I can say with some authority that making and assembling the tongue onto the reed body takes about 2 mins. Getting the reed set up and working (using my setting tools) takes 10 to 20 mins so the cost per reed can be predicted as follows:-
parts £2.5
Time 20 mins = £14 (based on the current skilled man rate of £40/hour) - practice will probably halve this

Chanter reeds - I haven't done any timings but my feeling is that it takes me about 10 mins to make a reed (un-thinned), about 15 mins to thin the blades till a crow is achieved and about 20 mins to tweak it to reasonable working (in my rig) and only about 70% of reeds survive the whole journey. This means that the cost of a reed based on the £40/hour = £(10+15+20)*1.43)*.67 = £43
Note that this is for a finished and working reed ready to put in a chanter.

Keys - I also haven't done any timings for traditional hand made keys although I believe that Colin has done this in the past. It would be interesting data to have available!
What I do have is a quote from Oct 2000 for the investment casting of keys
Cost of each design of key = £14.85/key in a minimum batch of 100 This was for keys cast in aluminimum, other materials would be more expensive.
If the batch size increases to 200 the cost per key drops to £9.2/key
I have included the tooling cost in the key price but it is worth considering that it was £1120 for each unique key design in Oct 2000 and my current experience is that it is at least double that now so for a set of keys for a 7 keyed chanter (6 unique key designs) you would be looking at an investment of about £13500 for the tooling plus about £8/key for a batch of 200 in brass. This is about £18/key for 200 off or about £30/key for 100 off. The keys would still need springs, pivot holes, drilling, fitting and polishing.
From this you can see that the biggest problem for the NSP maker is batch sizes and the cost of tooling. It does look as though NSP will continue to have hand made keys for the future.
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Re: Making keys

Postby Richard Evans » Fri Aug 26, 2011 4:35 pm

pipemakermike wrote:The cost of manufacture of pipes is an interesting topic. Most of the makers don't seem to have a handle on the actual costs.


I did try to get some idea but gave it up as a bad job. As you have done, any discrete operation can of course be timed/costed. The problem comes in the other activities needed to support the job- how much for sweeping the floor and emptying the bin?
Maintaining and making tools? Going to town for bits and pieces? Etc....

How much for watching videos on YouTube? Essential research!!

One issue is the smallness of scale. When we used to take online card payments, Anita used to get enormously complex instructions and questionaires about security issues.... addressed to 'The IT Manager'! This was no joke, they had to be dealt with and took ages. So we don't take cards any more! That's obviously a side issue compared to the making, but it's the sort of thing that's unavoidable to some degree in the modern world if you run a business on a shoestring.

Cheers
Richard
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