This blog is dedicated to the sublime instruments called nose flutes and which produce the most divine sound ever. We have chosen to discard all the native models from S. Pacific and Asia, for they need fingering to be played. We'll concentrate on "buccal cavity driven" nose flutes : the well patented and trademarked metal or plastic ones, plus, by a condemnable indulgence, some wooden craft or home-made productions.

Nov 12, 2012

Nickel electroplating restoration

When we think of a metal Humanatone, for instance, we have an inner sight more or less like that...

... which is a wrong and dull representation. Indeed, in the 1900's, the nose flutes were not oxydized, and even more, whether some were painted, some were nickel or chrome plated. Ditto for the german and british metal ones.

Some of these antique nose flutes still show traces of that plating:

I decided to restore/protect one of my german metal Nasenflöten from rust, the one in the worst shape, very rusty. The goal was not to get a mint nose flute, as if it was brand new: it would be impossible with this technique, since the coat of new metal will be very thin, and all the tin already digested by the rust would not rebuild, for sure. I thought it would be stupid to plate a coat of chrome, since it is so shiny that it would not fit with the damaged flute. With a nickel plating, it would be less shiny, a bit renewed, and protected from rust for years. That would be enough.

First, I removed all the existing rust, by dipping the instrument into a dedicated "rust removal" product (I used "Rustyco").

Then I sanded the flute with very fine steel wool and cleaned it very carefully of any possible remaining "finger grease".

The nickel plating was (and still is) made by electrolysis (electroplating), and is rather easy to do at home. The only precaution is to perfom it outside, not to breathe the gazes. On that purpose, we need one piece of nickel, to be used as an anod, and a nickel sulfate bath (NiSO4 dissolved in water). Plus some usual accessories: a pot, some wire, batteries...

Nickel sulfate:

In my case, I used an already made NiSO4 solution, found in a electronic shop, used for... nickel plating. Warning: if you do it, be sure not to ingest this poison, and avoid to touch it (nickel sulfate is cancerogen by ingestion, but not explosive nor inflamable). The best is to manipulate it outside, with gloves. I also bought a nickel anod, but I could have used any pure nickel item (a real nickel coin, for instance):

First, I build my generator, with 4 regular LR20 batteries, linking in series 2 pairs of them, each pair being connected in parallel. So, I kept a low voltage (2x1.5 V), but doubled the intensity:

I ended the wires with crocodile clips (on the pic, one is covered to avoid contact with the other):

So, I placed the anod in the liquid, used the nose flute as the cathod, and connected them to the batteries.

I first made a test with a copper coin, and a light plating was visible after 30 seconds:

The plating work is much quicker while the piece to be plated is small and the electrolyte is warm. But my nose flute is a rather large piece, I want to work outside (not to inhale gazes) and the weather is very cold. So, my electroplating session will last long. I also will have to change the flute position, and also the crocodile clip location.

Immediately, many small bubbles surround the nose flute. And the closer the flute is to the anod, the more effervescent the solution gets (intensity, and thus efficiency, raises).

A short video:

After a while (30 minutes) I checked the plating. Well, the nickel had already plated some parts of the flute, but not evenly. It was the sign that I hadn't cleaned the instrument enough (the dull color is a regular result, it needs a buffing to get the nickel shiny).

So I cleaned the nose flute more carefully and dipped it again in the electrolyte.

After 2 hours, the job was done. Almost. Indeed, just out of the bath, the nose flute was very dark and dull:

But after a gentle scrubbing with a nail brush with some dishwashing liquid, then a good buffing with a soft polishing clothe, the flute was ready. Oh, the result is not as impressive as a chrome plating would look on a brand new instrument, but as I told before, this german nose flute was so digested by rust that it is more "respectful" of its venerable age not to try to get a super-shiny result.

And here it is, compared to the same german model that has only been cleaned from rust:


  1. Super superb post!!! A great idea to do it and most of all show it! Wouldn't it be nice when the original packaging was brought back to life somehow as well?

    On the one hand I prefer the object as it was found: what you see is what you get. This way it shows its age and patina.

    On the other hand restoring it completely, bringing it back into its original condition, really does justice to the instrument: now we can actually see how it was when first presented. It surely wasn't the intention to present it in a rusty, crumbled form.

    It's the same with icons from the orthodox church: we seem to love icons for their damaged state, which is a romanticised and false interpretation. Icons were made to be as perfect as possible in order to glorify the image in the object. People went to great lengths in preparing it to last a 1000 years.

    Their damage by iconoclasm and ignorance has basically changed the perception of the item. It is very much like people thinking of their ancestors in black and white, from old black and white pictures. Well, the sun had already been shining long before that!

    To me the nose flute is an icon just the same: I would like to see it in perfect condition. At times though, the battered state of the original instrument somehow makes me appreciate it more, as a promise of what it could have been or once was.

    Actually, an overview of all states would be nice to have, by displaying several of the same model. They must be out there somewhere!

  2. Thank you a lot Mr. Mei!
    Well, I don't own nor even haven't I seen the original packaging of this flute, if ever there was one.
    Regarding the flute itself, I'm like you: I hesitated between doing something or not. But, on one hand, I have 3 of these german flutes, and on the other this one was particularly destroyed by rust. So, I thought it was better to try to restore it, not trying to make it new and shiny, but simply protect it "definitely" from rust.

    I like the result, because it still shows that the flute is old and damaged. The "restoration" doesn't try to disguise it into a fresh and crispy young girl.

    regarding orthodox icons (i'm an orthodox by inadvertance, because I married a greek girl by the past, but i'm an atheist), you are only half-right: in Greece, belivers ar used to kiss the corner of the icons. And I can tell you taht an icon do not stay "fresh" for long. Yes, we prefer the old wood (not only for icons! also for furniture and so).

    I would better take as an example either the Parthenon, either gothic cathedrals. Both were heavily painted with bright colour! When they began to restaure the Parthenon, architects and archeologists (and ministers:) immediately asked themselves "so, why not to put it back to it's original state?". Ditto for the cathedrals. And the answer was "certainly not, it would be awful, we are used to it dressed in white". But they had the right choise: letting the modern people still make the difference between what was restaured and what was original. The stones chosen for the restoration were not the same color. (see here how it was: and here what they did:

    They have been even smarter with Amiens cathedral: they restaured it in "white", but each night, during the "sound and light show", they project the original colors on the facade. No pain! Here it is by daylaight : and here it is at night!:

    I think that the best behaviour in restauring a "piece of history" is to respact not only the original "item", but also the traces of its history during the years: scars and wounds. That's whay i'm glad with what I did with the german nose flute: its scars are not denied.

  3. I want to say that I very much enjoyed reading this post, both the the post itself and the comments.

    I appreciate the work done to describe the process, and I think that the end result is great. It gives a good idea of the original without loosing the character from the aging of the instrument. It would be nice to see an original or an original looking reproduction.

    I have seen pre-columbian ruins in Mexico, It is good to see them as they are now, but also in reproductions that show their original state.

    I used to live right by the Aztec ruins in Tlatelolco:, (I was married in the church seen in the first picture, though I too am atheist). The ruins were visible from my apartment (lost it in the earthquake of 1985).


  4. Thank you Luis!

    If I collect enough of them, i'd be able to try the chrome plating on it. I think I will do it on a Humanatone some day.

    The advantage for nose flutes upon cathedrals or pyramids, is that we can collect several of the very same model, and thus, keeping one "as is", and restoring others, and differently.

  5. Great comments and examples, absolutely. Thanks for the links, both of you! What they did with Amiens is really cool and smart!

    The famous painting by Rembrandt, "the Night Watch" originally looked like a prize at the fun fair, so bright it was. It wasn't intended to be "the Night Watch" at all, as it was a scene shot in broad daylight, although inside. However, people nicknamed it that way because of its dark varnish!!! They simply assumed something that wasn't originally there...

    The Egyptian pyramids supposedly had their tops covered in gold leaf, using them as some kind of beacon. As Luis stated (how wonderful to have lived there!), the Aztec-Toltec-Mayan temples used to be totally different, brightly coloured and immaculate, but look at them now... By the way, this week it was confirmed that the classic-Mayan culture had indeed dispersed because of persistent drought. Dating the (lack of) growth of stalactites has given that one away.

    Funny that you both mention it: I am agnostic and once was married to somebody from the Republic of Georgia, whose father is a painter of icons. We met when I visited one of his exhibitions, and I ended up working together with him throughout the process! In Georgia and Russia I actually saw icons sooted and even chemically affected from candles burning below... After having been put away in moist cellars for a few decades, many had been showing horrible signs of decay. Some are so badly damaged, that the church has decided to put up pictures of them! After all, an icon is nothing but an image...

    I think you did a great job with the most deteriorated of the 3, protecting it from further decay. The new flute that Piet Visser built looked almost alien to me, as it was so brand new. Even my silver Swan has aged considerably. I feel that Piet Visser could actually create the perfect replica of this one, how wonderful that would be! How would you feel about replicating the packaging or at least the orginal ones that you own in your collection? It would really show the difference!

  6. ... And you do not mention the Sixtine... when they cleaned it, they were quite a bit disappointed to discover so flashy colors :)

    About replicating a model an original model I own, i dont see the real interest. I prefer to replicate the ones I don't have, from their patent, and even if they stayed "an idea" and were not produced.

  7. The Sixtine as well...!!! I see your point about replicas, although I would to love see brand new ones (as they were intended) next to the old ones. But hey: it's you who has to make them, not me! I can hardly imagine how much time and effort it must take, and the fact that it's all a labour of love!

    I think it's marvellous that somebody with the knowledge like you actually (re)produces them. I reckon there are still a few good old nose flute designs lying about, waiting to be executed for the very first time... I would love to see them lined up eventually!

  8. Well, when I have enough old Humanatone, I certainly will try to restore one the closest to a mint state. Chrome plated, etc.

    The time? Let's say 10 hours to study and draw the template, then around 15 hours to build the baby. I work very slowly, because I'm not a tinsmith. I miss a lot, have re-cut pieces because they do not fit as I want, unsolder/resolder, etc. I generally need a whole day free. I begin at 9 and work until midnight, sometimes longer, without stopping for having lunch or dinner (totally obsessional). Just tea, cigs and work.

  9. Antoine: the nose flute would be nowhere without you. I didn't call you the Nose Flute Governor for nothing!

  10. You should write "Ye" when you address me ! :)