It’s All in the Controls. . . .

I’ve been working with wood since I was 12 or 13. Had a woodshop in school and was my favorite class! My dad bought a ‘Shopsmith’ multi-purpose woodworking tool way back then, which I still have and use to this day. Of course it has been completely rebuilt with new variable speed motor and all. So, making high quality control sticks out of wood was surely not too big a stretch, and I always enjoy working with wood. Here’s some examples of some wood control sticks I fabricated on the old Shopsmith:

May not look like much, until you realize they are hollow from top to bottom, so that any controls that you would like interior mounted, they have a place to go. Actually that’s the hardest part of the process. I mean, making precision slots for the controls has its own challenges, but the hollowing out of the control stick can be a trick. Here’s a photo that will give you more of an idea of what I’m talking about:

The trick is first of all getting the hole fairly well centered, not only at either end, but on into the middle of the control stick as well. I will show the technique and jig for that in an upcoming instructional DVD I will be doing (as well as the slot milling process).

But that’s not to minimize the work involved in milling the slots for the control levers. There’s a lot of precision involved there as well. Whether doing all rod control like I did on this figure here:

Or a combination of rod control and cord control mechanics, its still nice to do quality workmanship on the wood slots, lever pivot holes and such:

Needless to say, fabricating high quality wood control sticks takes a lot of time, effort, and skill to make. And you fight with the wood a lot of times trying to convince it to behave while you are milling, drilling, etc., without splitting, splintering or other fun things that can happen along those lines.

What a lot of people don’t know is that I’ve also been making composite control sticks for some time. A long while back, I knew that I could make some high quality composite control sticks, it would just take some mad ‘model making’ and ‘mold making’ skills to accomplish it. Here’s a picture of one of those:

I like them in the ebony color, but they don’t show up so well in photos, so I have a neutral one next to it so you can better see what is there. These are very high quality and very strong. They won’t shrink and swell like wood can (although they have a wood grain pattern molded in). They won’t splinter or crack. And the best part? All the slots, pivot holes for the levers and the pocket holes at top are all automatically cast in place! Way cool, as they say!! Here’s some pictures of a composite control stick on one of my figures:

The interior mounted direct linkage jaw mechanism works effortlessly. The interior mounted eye control rod works pretty slick as well. The control stick has some internal flanges made for perfect placement of the eye control rod, and causes the brass lever to be centered up/down wise, so it does not rub anywhere on the milled slot.

Sorry for such a long post. I originally was only going to do something on the composite control sticks, but thought a little background with the wood control sticks might be of interest as well.

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7 thoughts on “It’s All in the Controls. . . .”

  1. Your control sticks are quite nice. The control stick is always the source of anxiety for me. I prefer to work with PVC rather than wood. I'd make slots if I could figure out a way to to do it without using a sharp and potentially dangerous power tool. (My wife monitors the danger-level of all tools I say I want. She has grown weary of trips to the emergency room). So until I figure out slot-making, I'll continue to drill holes for triggers that mount on the outside of the stick.

  2. Hey Kenny… thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I'm big on safety in the shop. The emergency room is definitely a place worth avoiding! Certainly nothing wrong with mounting triggers outside of the stick. Many have done that in the past, and many do that currently as well, and it works. Anything new that you try, you have to evaluate if it is worth the extra hassle. Sometimes simple is better. I have a new line of figures I'm working on, and I am looking at simplifying the controls quite a bit compared to my current figures controls. They will surely be easier to build, and I kind of look forward to that!


  4. Hi Mike,

    I would really like to purchase a few wood tubes without the slits and slots. I am a beginner in the art of flute making and your product looks interesting. Could you email me your response?

    Bdale Wakley

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