Woodwind instrument making (reed instruments)

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Woodwind instrument making (reed instruments)

 

The making of reed instruments. Single reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone; double reed instruments include the oboe, bassoon and cor anglais.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Instruments
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  1-5 (across the range of reed instruments)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50 (across the range of reed instruments)
Current total no. of craftspeople  21-50 (across the range of reed instruments)

 

History

Until 2003 Boosey & Hawkes was a major manufacturer of brass, string and woodwind musical instruments.

 

Techniques

There are several techniques required to make woodwind instruments. Some are common to all the instruments and others are instrument specific.

Keymaking is common to all. It requires using a number of different techniques to create a key. It also requires a lot of experience and skill to design and fit the keys to be functional and aesthetical pleasing.

Traditional techniques require forging, filing and silver soldering skills. In recent years casting has become good enough to create acceptable keys, but they still require traditional key making skills and understanding to design and make the master patterns and to finish and fit the cast keys.

The website of Howarth of London gives a good description of how an oboe is made: the wood is selected, cut into billets and seasoned; the billets are turned; the body is made on a CNC mill; the keys are made, fitted and plated; the instrument is assembled and padded and then tested.

 

Local forms

Musical instruments from different countries can sound very different from each other.

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: The School of Musical Instrument Crafts at Newark is a good course run by skilled people but doesn’t provide the necessary skillset to become a maker and existing makers feel that students could do with more work experience as part of the course to make them more appealing. It is a useful course to begin with but it is impossible to learn everything in three years and gain the depth of understanding required to earn a living from the craft – the best anyone can hope for when leaving college is to set up a repair shop. Existing makers would prefer apprenticeships/benchside training to college training. Dan Parker of Canadian Institute of Musical Instrument Technology (CIOMIT) has been suggested as a positive model – originally ran a very busy repair shop, had a great interest in training staff so became a training centre with a repair shop on the side and train people to make and repair as part of his business. Suggested that college training should be linked to industry so that students are employable and the existing business could expand. A few makers do take people on as apprentices. Daniel Bangham established the Cambridge Woodwind makers to encourage people to enter the trade by having a go and then going on to Newark if they like it.
  • Recruitment issues: Recruiting staff is the biggest issue – although there is plenty of interest, it is nearly impossible to find people with the necessary skills. Ideal trainees are in their late twenties, and have seen a bit of the world and have some work experience – the danger if they start too young and are not completely dedicated is that they are always looking for other things. Howarth of London take on staff from all over the world but they tend to leave after a few years making it hard to sustain a workforce in the UK.
  • Ageing workforce: The number of makers is getting smaller and smaller and the workforce is getting older and older.
  • Business issues: In order to take over an existing business (such as one belonging to someone looking to retire) or to start up on your own, you need capital, business skills, and vision and be prepared to endure some financially tough years. Never going to earn millions – need to be dedicated.
  • Market issues: There is a huge trade in importing instruments and rebadging them. All companies, from the biggest to the smallest, do this – especially on the student ranges. Most people choose ‘built in England’ rather than ‘made in England’, although it can be hard to tell the difference.
  • Market issues: People like to buy cheap things – affects every industry and is difficult for any high-end retailer, and the quality of products from the Far East is rapidly improving. But usually there is an area of business that doesn’t succumb – a case of getting the balance of pricing right. Many makers have a student line imported from abroad and sold at a cheap price, and then a professional/high-end line made in the UK and sold for a high price.
  • Mechanisation: Reed instrument making is no longer a ‘craft’ – instead it is more like engineering with a lot of technical equipment.
  • Loss of skills: A lot of the specialist skills are disappearing, and there soon won’t be anywhere to get advice from until it reaches a point when the specialists will come back.
  • Lack of support: European trade shows can cost as much as €20,000 – French and German companies might get government support to cover their attendance, but it is very difficult to get any support in the UK

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

In the UK, reed instrument makers tend to specialise in particular instruments.

  • Howarth of London – makers of double reed instruments (oboes, bassoons and cor anglais). Used to make clarinets but gave up about 12 years ago, although still have all the jigs and would like to set it up again as a course. Have 35 people in the workshop, which includes an engineering department, wood department, key department and finishing department, and 25 people working in the shop. Whereas other companies buy in screws, keys etc., Howarth make all the parts and supply screws to other individual makers etc. Train people up – have taken people on from colleges but the college training is very broad and not very useful – but at least it gives an indication of interest. Have recently taken on two apprentices.
  • Peter Eaton – makers of clarinets, particularly the ‘elite clarinet’ inspired by a Boosey & Hawkes English clarinet, and clarinet mouthpieces. Peter is full time, plus four other part time staff – make about fifty clarinets a year. A handful of parts are imported from abroad, but the keys are made in the UK. Peter is in his 70s and is looking to retire.
  • Hanson Music – makers of clarinets, saxophones and guitar components. Used to also make metal flutes, but haven’t made one for eight years. Buy in key sets. Also do repairing. Has 3 full time makers, including one apprentice – all can repair saxophones, clarinets and trumpets; one specialises in saxophones, one in brass instruments and one in clarinets. Take on an intern from France/Germany every year for six months.
  • Pillinger London – makers of clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces
  • Peter Worrell – embarking on very niche clarinet market, making mechanisms for one-handed clarinets/recorders.

There is also a small number of bespoke manufacturers.

 

Other information

 

References

Woodwind instrument making (flutes)

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Woodwind instrument making (flutes)

 

The making of ‘flutes’. Open flutes include the transverse flute and panpipes; closed flutes include the recorder, ocarina and organ pipe.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Instruments
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  11-20
Current total no. of craftspeople  11-20

 

History

Since World War II, flute and other wind instrument making has largely ceased in the UK. Until 2003 Boosey & Hawkes was a major manufacturer of brass, string and woodwind musical instruments. The most famous names in flute making today are American or Japanese. There are many businesses offering the repair of instruments, although none concentrate on flutes alone.

A flute is divided into three parts: the head joint – the most intricate part of the instrument which contains the mouthpiece and is where the sound comes from; the middle section; and the foot joint. The latter two comprise the ‘body’ of the flute. Most flute makers around the world, both factories and hand makers, offer a complete instrument. However, there are also many independent head joint makers working under their own business names and supplying to shops – the head joint requires far less equipment to make than the rest of the flute. A lot of musicians will discard the original head joint and replace it with a handmade one. In the UK, there are several head joint makers and one body maker, plus perhaps three makers who make the whole instrument, although none of them work full time at it. In total, there are probably fewer than fifteen people making complete flutes or parts of flutes.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

Musical instruments from different countries can sound very different from each other.

 

Sub-crafts

  • Head joint making – the making of the ‘head joint’, the end piece of the flute which contains the mouthpiece and is considered to be the most important part of the instrument

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: There are no flute making schools in the UK. The School of Musical Instrument Crafts at Newark offers a useful course to begin with but it is impossible to learn everything in three years and gain the depth of understanding required to earn a living from the craft. Daniel Bangham established the Cambridge Woodwind makers to encourage people to enter the trade by having a go and then going on to Newark if they like it – so far there have been three hopefuls in the past 3-4 years.
  • Ageing workforce: Makers are retiring or dying and not being replaced. While the craft is currently classified as ‘endangered’ because there are still people who can do the work, in the next ten years or so it will become ‘critically endangered’ as there will be nobody to pass the knowledge on.
  • Recruitment issues: Young people are not hearing about musical instrument making as a career option. It tends to be mid-life people rather than younger people who are interested in taking up the craft. Also difficult to find people with the necessary skills to take on and train.
  • Market issues: To compete on the world market a handmade instrument has to be extremely good in every respect. If it is, then a high price can be put on it – but it usually takes many years to get to that point, during which the maker may suffer a very low income. However, there is often a mindset that it is not possible to compete on price so it is not worth bothering. On the flip side, it’s not that things can’t be made more cheaply, but it is important that makers charge according to quality.
  • Market issues: It is very difficult to make a living from flute making – there is no money to be made unless you can offer something almost revolutionary that the flute world promptly falls in love with. While developing their skills, a maker will suffer a very low income.
  • Market issues: Cannot keep such things alive artificially by giving them grants – ultimately it is the market that will determine whether such manual skills have a place in the modern world. Start-up grants are probably very attractive if you can get one but what then…?
  • Market issues: Professional players want an instrument that works for them – they don’t mind whether it is mass produced or handmade, as long as it works well.
  • Market issues: The digital revolution within the manufacturing world has brought costs sharply down on every front. Coupled with low labour costs in the Far East, more or less anything can be made quickly and efficiently and delivered to the customer within days. However, small makers are able to offer a certain amount of bespoke design – it really costs no more to put in some minor changes whereas a factory would avoid deviation from its standard designs.
  • Skills dilution: Making flutes is not very profitable, but repairing is doing well with good money. This means that there will be people with the skills to repair instruments but the skills to make instruments will disappear.
  • Loss of skills: Too much machinery dispels some of the handskill. However it is often forgotten that nothing can be made without deep understanding of both materials and methods. The computer takes you so far but the designer must know what he is doing.
  • Loss of skills: People no longer have the skills to make keys.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

  • Michael Allen
  • Robert Bigio – specialises in head joints
  • Albert K Cooper
  • Nick Crabb
  • Jack Frazer
  • Ewen McDougall
  • Ian McLauchlan
  • Andrew Oxley – specialises in head joint making and repair
  • Howel Roberts
  • Harry Seeley
  • Willy Simmons
  • Stephen Wessel – specialises in making the bodies of flutes. Looking to retire in the next few years
  • Peter Worrell – embarking on making very specialist clarinets with one-handed mechanisms

Further details about many of the makers listed above, including what they make and how many isntruments they have made, can be found on the Top Wind website.

 

Other information

 

References

Wallpaper making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Wallpaper making

 

The making of wallpaper by hand, including carving the blocks, either into wood or lino, and printing from the blocks.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Paper
Historic area of significance
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees  0
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  0
Current total no. of craftspeople  4

 

History

 

Techniques

Printing from wooden blocks: While companies such as Cole & Sons have an archive of their blocks to design from and refer to, they are not used today as working tools. There are no companies in the UK which currently print from wooden blocks – and perhaps only one in the USA who makes and prints from wooden blocks.

Printing from lino blocks: There is an artisan tradition of printing from hand-cut lino blocks. The design is laid out and cut into lino blocks, either in relief or intaglio. The paper is pre-coloured, paint is added to the block, and the design is printed, either with a handheld roller or a hand-planked printing press. There are three makers in the UK practising this technique.

Screen printing: There are some makers who produce wall paper by screen printing, but there is little history of this as a method of manufacturing wallpaper.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The demand for wallpaper is subject to changing tastes and fashion in interior decoration – block-printing currently seems to be in the zeitgeist.
  • Training: there is only one person running two introductory weekend courses a year in wallpaper making – while it is always fully booked and people very enthusiastic, rarely does anyone intend to set up a business or be serious in the craft.
  • It’s essential that those making block-printed wallpaper do so to the highest possible level. This includes the quality of the repeat design, the originality of the imagery, the mixing of inks, registration and presentation. People will only pay the premium attached to block-printed papers if the end result really sings.
  • Shortage of tools: The right machinery (offset litho press) is extremely difficult to either find or afford.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

 

Tile making (wall and floor tiles)

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Tile making (wall and floor tiles)

 

The making of clay tiles by hand or in small batches for walls and floors, for functional or decorative purposes. See the separate entry for tile making (roofing tiles).

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Cly
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK  Roman
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  100
Current no. of trainees  11-20
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  51-100
Current total no. of craftspeople  51-100

 

History

The word ’tile’ originates from the Latin ‘tegula’, used in Roman times to mean terracotta roof-tile. The earliest tiles in the UK were found in towns such as York and Winchester. Glazed tile making emerged in England from the Netherlands in the fourteenth century. Delft became famous for its pottery, known as ‘delftware’ or tin-glazed pottery, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with numerous skilled potters in the area. In England, the tile making industry rapidly increased during the Industrial Revolution leading to the mass production of tiles and widespread use of manufactured tiles inside public buildings. During the Victorian era, fireplaces were the most commonly decorated areas and were therefore decorated with more expensive tiles in comparison to other areas of wealthy homes.

 

Techniques

Once the clay has been extracted from the ground, unwanted matter is removed and it is mixed to the right consistency for tile making. The clay is then shaped in a mould, and sand used to prevent the clay from sticking it. When moulding a tile, it is vital that no air is trapped inside the clay. Excess clay is removed by running over the mould with a wire. The tile is dried until it is ‘white hard’ and then fired.

In some cases, tiles were made in a mould with a pattern carved in relief to indent a pattern on the clay slab. The slab would be dried and the impression filed with white pipe clay. After further drying this would be shaved flat. A glaze of lead ore was sprinkled onto the surface and the tiles were then fired.

Encaustic tiles are made by mixing two types of clay: plain clay and liquid clay. The plain clay must be left with an impression which is then filled in with the liquid clay of a different colour, these are then fired together. These tiles were made from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. This skill disappeared with the dissolution of the monasteries but was brought back to life in the nineteenth century by Herbert Minton’s development of dust-pressing.

The colour of the tile is determined by the chemical composition of the clay, the fuel used to fire the tile, and the levels of oxygen available during the firing process. Iron oxide give the brick a red colour, very high levels of iron oxide give a blue colour, limestone and chalk added to iron gives a buff/yellow colour, magnesium oxide gives a yellow colour, and no iron or other oxides gives a white colour.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: The market for handmade wall tiles comes and goes depending on fashion, especially between minimalism and decoration. There is some bespoke work for bathrooms, kitchens and swimming pool surrounds, but there is a more lucrative market in large commissions for new public and commercial buildings.
  • Market issues: No-one could make a living that would support a family or a mortgage. If a realistic hourly rate were to be charged the market would not bear it. A wall tile is still only a wall tile however much thought and time has gone into it. It is very difficult to get over to the customer what is involved.
  • Market issues: Handmade tiles cost more than mass manufactured tiles.
  • Marketing issues: Modern electronic marketing presents a dilemma in that it is always time taken away from making. It must be done however as gallery space is disappearing. Even the remaining galleries will often not take wall tile panels because they don’t do ceramics, and ceramic galleries do not often have the wall space.
  • Training and skills issues: The next generation will not have the necessary skills because courses are no longer available at colleges. Ceramics needs a three year training rather than a short section of one year. Also people are no longer taught to draw as everything is done on a computer. The general quality of work now is much lower than it was fifteen years ago. Studio training is possible in larger studios, but not when a person is working on their own, as each job needs the total focus of the craftsperson, and trainees can’t be set to do a particular task.
  • Shrinking workforce: Numbers have probably shrunk in the last twenty years from 400 to around 100. Within that is a reduced number of skilled makers able to pass on their skills.
  • Supply of raw materials: Finished tiles are very specifically connected to the clay source – different regions have different traditional tiles which depend on the local clay. Some clay streams are at risk of disappearing.
  • Supply of other materials: Certain types of tile are coal-fired to achieve the right finish and there are currently issues in the supply of coal.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

Sussex trug making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Sussex trug making

 

The making of trugs, an assembled wooden basket used mainly for gardening. A ‘Sussex trug’ must either be made in Sussex or with materials grown in Sussex.

 

Status Endangered
Craft category Wood
Historic area of significance Herstmonceux, East Sussex
Area currently practised East Sussex
Origin in the UK 19th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 1-5
Current no. of trainees 3
Current no. of skilled craftspeople 6-10
Current total no. of craftspeople 6-10

 

History

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

 

References

 

Split cane rod making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Split cane rod making

 

The making of fishing rods from split cane (Tonkin bamboo).

 

Status Endangered
Craft category  Sporting equipment; Plant fibre
Historic area of significance  UK
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK  19th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  11-20 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of trainees  Unknown (perhaps 11-20?)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  11-20
Current total no. of craftspeople  11-20 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)

 

History

Split cane rods were developed in the USA in the 1870s. Until this time rods had been made from whole cane or solid wood, and the split cane rod was a big improvement due to its lightness and flexibility (the ‘carbon fibre of the day’). Fibreglass rods were developed post-World War II and until the mid-1960s split cane and fibreglass rods were produced side by side, with split cane rods dominating the high end of the market. However, by the late 1960s fibreglass had improved and carbon fibre was introduced in the 1970s, marking the end of the split cane rod. Nevertheless, as long as it is the right type of rod, split can cane be just as good as carbon fibre, and for some specific purposes can even have an advantage.

Today, split cane rods are a luxury good, but they still need to have all the performance that split cane rods had in their heyday.

 

Techniques

Split cane rods are specifically made with Tonkin bamboo grown in a small area of southern China. It is a very sustainable crop harvested every few years and is one of the quickest growing plants on the planet. Only a tiny fraction is used to make rods – the rest used as scaffolding and furniture.

The cane is split out from 2” diameter culms which are 12ft long before the nodes are straightened and flattened before heat treating and planning to shape each of the 6 equilateral strips that make up a hexagonal section. The work is very precise with sections accurate to a thousand of an inch. Planed sections are glued and bound before finishing and adding handles, ferrules and guides.

Handmaking split cane uses hand planes and a ‘planing form’. Machine-made blanks use a powered bevelling to cut the strips. A hand mill uses machine technology but hand power.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

Most makers make all styles but some specialise in particular types:

  • Coarse rods
  • Fly rods
  • Spey rods

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Ageing workforce: Most of the people who learned to make cane rods when they were the normal thing to use have either passed away or retired.
  • Market issues: Falling demand for split cane rods due to introduction of modern carbon and plastic rods.
  • Market issues: Low demand for hand-made rods so makers must diversify, such as providing kit form rods and parts for amateur rod makers to build at home, as some companies did in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Market issues: It takes a long time to make a rod completely by hand so production is low (up to 80 hours per rod).
  • Market issues: Most hobby rod makers, and professionals, use hand planing forms, which takes many hours to set up and a lot of time and effort to make the strips needed to make a rod.
  • Training issues: There is no training available for rod makers in the UK, and the last apprenticeship scheme wound up in the 1980s. There are some short courses available in the USA but the quality is unknown.
  • Training issues: Long learning process
  • Dilution of skills: The internet means that it is very easy to make a business look professional and highly skilled, while the person running the business is still essentially a novice.
  • Dilution of skills: People will always want to make their own rods and there will always be amateur/hobby makers. However, learning to make a single rod is very different from making rods in increased numbers at a commercial level.
  • Lack of standards: There is no standard for split cane rod making.
  • Availability of raw materials: must use Tonkin bamboo.

 

Support organisations

None. There are many cane rod makers in the USA and in mainland Europe, especially in Italy – unlike the UK these countries have very active organisations, arranging meets and producing publications. The UK is very apathetic in this respect.

 

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

Status: People will always want to make their own rods and there will always be amateur/hobby makers. However, learning to make a single rod is very different from making rods in increased numbers at a commercial level.

Minimum number of craftspeople: It could be less than 11-20 but it needs to be worthwhile for someone to import the cane.

Total number of craftspeople: According to one rod maker, there are probably in the region of 11-20 rod makers: there are probably fewer than ten people making split cane rods professionally, and very few people making rods as their sole means of income, with an additional dozen home rod builders. According to another rod maker, there are probably 11-20 trainees, 21-50 skilled craftspeople, and 51-100 makers in total.

Handmaking split cane rods is really a one-man band activity these days, but as long as there is demand the craft will continue.

 

References