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Collection Dayton C. Miller Collection

Key and Key Mounting Nomenclature

Pin in block refers to the early methods of including key mounts as an integral part of the tubing or body materials of woodwinds, whether carved from wood or ivory (DCM 0088). Oversize ferrules or beads were left during the outer turning operation and designated to be channeled and drilled to mount one or more keys. The entire ferrule supporting such keywork either remained in place, partly as a decorative device, or had most of its circumference cut away, leaving only a block with a channel for the key. In either case, each key was usually mounted with a brass pin as the fulcrum or pivot.

Post and rod refers to the later mechanical method that employed all metal keywork replacing the block mount with two posts which would support one or more keys (DCM 0097). Each pair of posts might be drilled to receive a fulcrum pin like the pin used in the pin in block method or, more commonly, the posts were drilled and one tapped to retain a steel screw that functioned as a pin. Instead of drilling a hole through the key for a pin, a larger hole was made to accommodate a hinge tube or hinge rod that was inserted and soldered through it to rotate either on a pin or screw, or between two short, steeply tapered pivot screws in the posts. By increasing the effective width of the key pivot, the hinge tube improved stability and alignment. It also permitted easy repair of misalignment resulting from lateral wear by the technique of stretching the hinge tube over its pin with swedging pliers. If stretched too far, the original hinge tube or a replacement could be quickly adjusted with a hinge tube end cutter.

Direct mount refers to the direct method of attaching a post whereby each post was threaded on the bottom and screwed into a hole tapped in a nonmetallic instrument body.

On ribs refers to the indirect method of attaching posts whereby the posts are silver-soldered to long, narrow metal (often nickel silver) ribs and are either screwed to a nonmetallic instrument body or soft-soldered to a metal instrument body.

On flanges refers to cases in which (usually) only two posts were soldered or riveted to a single flange, often of a diamond, crescent, or other decorative shape, that was attached to the instrument body . The flange method applies almost exclusively to nonmetal instrument bodies that were sometimes mortised to have the flanges recessed to be flush with the surface.

The saddle or key saddle is a metal version of the pin in block key mount but also shares aspects of the post and rod mount. The key saddle was made from fairly heavy-gauge sheet metal, usually brass, most often rectangular, which was bent, cast, or forged into a form, staple-like (or U-shaped) in cross section, to duplicate in metal the pin in block key channel principle. It was sometimes mounted on a flange, and usually took a steel or brass screw rather than a pin for the fulcrum. Like the post and rod mount, it was a separate piece, and was usually attached mechanically using flat-head wood screws. Key saddles were applied to all early woodwinds but were usually reserved for large instruments such as bassoons and serpents.

Key flaps or flat key flaps refer to the flat, pad-retaining end of an early woodwind key that was padded with a piece of soft leather to cover its tonehole. The shape was usually square or round, with many decorative variations. For an excellent illustration of the flat key shapes on early woodwinds, see Phillip T. Young's 4900 Historical Woodwind Instruments (London: Tony Bingham, 1993), p. xxxiii.

Saltspoon refers to those later key flaps, actually key cups, that were concave--nearly hemispherical, like a saltspoon--to receive a stuffed leather pad for more convenient pad seating. The back of the pad was essentially the shape of the cup and would automatically swivel to seat itself over the tonehole when applied with a heated adhesive such as shellac.

Modern style key cup refers to those early key designs having a modern style pad retainer or cup. Early examples of such key cup designs were similar to the modern recessed key cup form, which takes a disc-shaped stuffed pad, but were otherwise old-fashioned with respect to mounts and other elements.

Pewter plug refers to a nineteenth-century type of key in which the flat leather, or formed stuffed-leather pad, was replaced by a tapered plug of pewter or other soft metal riveted loosely to the key end. The tonehole covered by such a key was then lined with a similarly tapered metal bushing or sleeve that supposedly ensured an airtight seat. Plug keys were liberally used during the first three quarters of the nineteenth century, usually only for foot joints, although some flutes, especially if made in England, were outfitted completely with plug keys. It is rare to find plug keys applied to any woodwind other than the flute, the wind instrument most popular with amateurs. While amateur flutists may initially have found their durability an advantage, the reverse was true when repairs required costly professional assistance.

A flat spring or leaf spring is a hammered brass or tempered steel spring tongue that is riveted or screwed to the finger spatula end of a key. It was also sometimes tucked or screwed into the mount assembly, so that it exerted an upward pressure on the rear of the key. Keys mounted in metal saddles were frequently sprung in this optional reverse manner in the early stages. In some cases each key will have both types of flat spring exerting pressure on each other for very efficient key return.

The term needle spring pertains to some of the post and rod key designs in which round, tapered springs wedged into small post holes controlled key return for some or all of the keys that pivoted on a hinge rod assembly. They usually work in parallel to the axis of the key, and the narrow end of the spring is engaged by a small hook brazed to a key element.