Dedicated to Paulo, who plays my recorders in Portugal, sometimes to destruction.
Playing in a new instrument |
Moving parts |
Recorder blocks |
This site is designed to help players of wooden instruments of all types to get the best from their instruments and protect them from harm. The instruments covered are those made of wood, not the nasty plastic things, and blown using the players lungs, it will be obvious that bellows blown instruments only require some of the attentions described here. The introduction of moisture or oils to the inside surfaces of bellows blown instruments can be positively harmful- BEWARE
Throughout this document the generic term flute may be taken to include recorders and whistles, Many reed instruments may benefit from these techniques, if in doubt contact the maker.
Playing in a new instrument
With a new instrument, unless you have good evidence to the contrary, assume that your instrument is not played in. This also applies to any wooden instrument whether purchased second hand or found at the back of a cupboard and also to instruments which have not been used for some time.
Why play it in ?
The instrument maker dries the wood before making your instrument to avoid distortion or cracking during the manufacturing process. When you start to play you introduce moisture from your breath into the bore of the instrument. The playing in period allows this moisture to permeate slowly through the wall of the instrument until an even moisture content is reached throughout its thickness. If you ignore this vital procedure then the damp wood on the inside will expand while the dry wood on the outside will not and, like an unpricked sausage it will burst!
How to play it in
Oil the instrument before playing it for the first time. (see oiling)
Play the instrument each day for no more than ten minutes, drying it after each session.
Play the instrument each day for no more than twenty minutes, drying it after each session.
It will then be safe to play for as long as you like. Play your instrument regularly, if you do not and it dries out over a period of several weeks it will need playing in again. This should not be seen as particularly onerous, or reason not to buy a wooden instrument as it does not have to be you who plays it, anybody's breath will do, nor does it matter if you miss a day or three, a little bit of spit goes a long long way.
Primary drying is achieved by use of a swab or mop. These are available from music shops or you can make one up for yourself. A piece of 1.5mm. diameter brass wire is my favourite, it is available from model shops or engineers' suppliers. Bend one end into a small loop making sure that the end is not sticking out to scratch the bore of the instrument
Cut up pieces of lint free cloth (old tee shirts are best) into small squares which can be threaded through the loop in the wire. This gives you the chance to change to a fresh piece if you need to have a second wipe through and to change again for oiling.
Leave the instrument out of its' case, dismantled in the case of multi jointed instruments, in a dry, airy place for an hour or so after swabbing it out. Avoid hot places like sunny window sills or over radiators.
There are two reasons for oiling an instrument.
1. To retard the ingress of moisture especially in the areas where end grain is exposed such as shoulders in sockets and on tennons, and in tone holes.
2. The oil will enhance the surface of the wood which improves the internal resonance of the instrument to the degree that both tonal quality and pitch are affected quite noticeably.
When to oil
There is a distinct improvement to the sound a flute produces when it is properly oiled. when you oil your flute play it before, and again immediately after, the oiling, you will notice the difference. you will, after a while, develop an ear for when oiling is overdue.
Types of oil
Drying oils such as LINSEED or DANISH oil leave a soft varnish like deposit in the bore and if used too often will build up to the point of changing the interior profile which can only be detrimental to performance and you will have to get the maker to clean it out. That is, if he is still alive, if you can find him, and if he still has the original reamer, if not it will be a time consuming and expensive job.BE VERY CAREFUL IF YOU USE THESE OILS. on the plus side, drying oils last longer and the lazy player will only need to oil his flute once or twice each year.
Non Drying oils such as ALMOND oil is by far the most frequently used although I know of players who use WALNUT oil (people with nut allergies beware) and even OLIVE oil, (smells a bit). These oils are not harmful if used as often as every time you play, as the residue is mopped out when you dry your flute.
Where NOT to oil
Do not under any circumstances allow oil to enter the windway of recorders or whistles. The blocks of these instruments are made of pencil cedar which is especially porous, and it is oriented with the grain vertical to enhance this property. Droplets of moisture which clog the windways of plastic and metal instruments are absorbed through the top of the block and eventually evaporate out through the ends.
Do not get oil on the moving parts such as tuning slides and keypads or your instrument may suffer a seizure, requiring careful freeing up to avoid damage.
Where to oil
Oil the bore of the instrument where it is made of wood with special attention to the edges of tone holes, embouchure holes and end grain where it is exposed in sockets, on tennons and at the ends of the instrument(NOT the blocks of recorders and whistles.)
Use a wire rod as shown in DRYING with a clean piece of cloth, dipped in oil and the drips shaken off. Wipe up and down the bore two or three times until, when held up to the light it appears uniformly wet and shiny. Use the same cloth and wipe carefully in the tone holes, embouchure on transverse flutes, the surfaces of the ramp on whistles and recorders and also the ends of all the joints not forgetting the exposed shoulders inside sockets. After oiling the head joints of recorders or whistles should be stood vertically to ensure that any drips of oil drain away from the windway. Cotton buds may be useful in applying oil and in removing any excess from tone holes etc.
You can use oil or a good quality furniture polish on the outside of your flute.
The moving parts of flutes
The best lubricant for tuning slides and corked joints is good quality , food grade silicone grease which lasts for ages without drying out and is unaffected by temperature. You may find this difficult to source but try companies that sell bearings or plumbers' suppliers, otherwise use the cork grease available in your local music shop, or even a little Vaseline.
Keywork hinge points and the rubbing areas of springs will also benefit from the addition of a little silicone grease but some dismantling may be required to get it in the right place, alternatively tiny amounts of sewing machine oil applied with the eye end of a needle will find their way in.
Only attempt this if you work well with your hands and feel confident, if in doubt consult a maker or flute repairer. Keys are usually hinged on a metal shaft called a trunnion between two metal posts or two raised wooden blocks. The latter type may have the end bent up to help in pulling it out, before doing so ensure that the other end is clean and undamaged, twist gently back and forth and pull the pin out carefully Trunnions in metal posts are often screwed in, select the correct size of jeweller's screwdriver, check that the other end is not damaged, and remove by unscrewing anticlockwise viewing from the slotted end. Trunnions which are neither slotted nor bent over will have to be pushed out with a wire pin of slightly smaller diameter than the trunnion itself. First push with a pointed pin such as a scriber and measure the end thus exposed. Chose a wire at least 0.2 mm. smaller to push the rest of the trunnion out. the push pin should be straight and its end filed square and flat, this is most important with block mounted keys as the wooden blocks are easily cracked. Once removed trunnions can be cleaned with a nylon scouring pad of the dish washing variety and the hole in the key can be cleaned with a length of woollen yarn dipped in Brasso or some similar mildly abrasive metal polish. Coat with silicone grease or Vaseline before careful reassembly. Put the trunnion back in the same way round and make sure the end which enters first has a slight chamfer (0.1mm) to prevent it "picking up" in the hole.
Replacing loose mounts and slides
Rings (mounts) often fall off and slides come loose due to shrinkage of the wood and subsequent failure of the adhesives. Ahesives used to replace them should be capable of filling the inevitable gap where the wood has shrunk and should also be flexible when set, a tall order. Read the specification before you buy the adhesive and always follow the instructions carefully. my favourite is Penloc 1 to 1 from Eurobond, eurolink trading estate, Sittingbourne, Kent but there are some readily available alternatives from your local D.I.Y. stores. Always remove all traces of old adhesives and make sure the surfaces to be bonded are free of oil, (use alcohol, meths, or dry cleaning fluid) and not too smooth, roughen with abrasive paper if required. My latest flutes are grooved to hold the adhesive which makes a mechanical bond, which, even if the adhesive fails stops the ring from falling off and getting lost. The groove on the inside of the ring is a spiral so that if it comes loose the ring can be unscrewed, the original glue left in place and a little super glue used to re- fasten it.
If you have a lathe you might want to modify your instrument in the same way.
Joints and lapping
Loose lapped joints
These are often found with numerous layers of different gaily coloured thread which have been added over the years which, although usefull to get you out of trouble in an emergency, is not the best way to deal with the problem.
Put plenty of time aside for this job as it is slow and labourious and as with all jobs if it is worth doing it is worth doing well!
You should replace the lapping entirely when it becomes too tired to hold the instrument together firmly, this is the only way to achieve a regular surface which is the key to a firm joint. First remove all of the old thread, a sharp scalpel may help but be sure not to damage the tennon underneath. Ensure that the groove or grooves which stop the thread slipping are cleaned out, you can use an old toothbrush. use natural cotton or linen thread, which I find beds down btter than the synthetics, a thin thread is better than one which is too thick, start by taking the first few turns over the loose end to secure it and then cut off the excess. Continue winding making sure that each turn lies snug next to its neighbourwith no gaps, and that no turn overlaps its neighbour, even thickness of the layers is vital. When you reach the end of the grooves stop and try the joint to see if you will need another layer, ypu probably will, if so work back over the first layer being equally careful. Keep adding layers untill thejoint will not quite go together, then comes the tricky bit, unwind the last six or eight turns and using a spsre piece of thread make a loop and lay it under those last turns as you put them back on, cut the thread a couple of cm.over length, pass it through the loop. Then pull out the loop which will bring the end through under the last turns where you can cut it off. Hey presto no untidy ends or knots. Massage some cork grease or vaseline into the lapping and try the joint for fit, if it feels tight DON'T FORCE IT but use the end of a rule or some other flat object to rub the lapping, pressing the layers together until you have the required fit.
Loose cork joints
This is best avoided by storing the joints apart but if a joint still becomes loose you have two options:-
1. If the cork apears undamaged, you can expand it by holding it in the jet of steam from a boiling kettle
WARNING STEAM CAN CAUSE SEVERE BURNS
Watch out for the jet of steam which suddenly shoots through the bore of the instrument to scald the hand at the other end ! Steam is also harmfull to the flute in too great a quantity so work quickly and confine the steam to the surface of the cork 10-20 Seconds should be sufficient to expand the cork and release all the dried up grease, if not, go to step2.
2. Damaged cork or cork so badly compressed that steaming will not bring it back to size should be replaced. The old cork must be removed and this can be achieved with a sharp modelling knife or scalpel, blunt penknives and the like are NOTgood enough. A fine needle file will help to remove traces of old glue and strips of fine abrasive paper will get you back to bare wood. Suitable sheet cork can be obtained from instrument makers, their suppliers, craft shops and some automotive accessory shops where the composite type of cork is sold for making gaskets,which, after all is what we are using it for too. Ideally the cork should be 0.5mm. thicker than the depth of the groove in the tennon. poor manufacture or serious distortion may mean you need thicker material and this can only be determined by careful measurement. Cut a strip of cork which fits snugly in the groove and which makes a neat butt joint with itself. A light smear of glue is better than too much, use white P.V.A. and hold the cork in place with masking tape while the glue dries, or use one of the impact types following the manufacturers instructions. Before assembling a newly corked joint make sure the socket has a smoothly rounded edge and if it has not then make it so with abrasive paper, there is nothing worse than having the new cork all rucked up by a sharp corner on the tennon rub plenty of grease into the uncompressed cork and the inside of the tennon and assemble while twisting to assist the new cork into the socket. Over compression of the cork is best avoided by not leaving the flute assembled when it is not in use.
Dents or bruises
Dents or bruises caused by dropping or knocking an instrument can be disasterous if in the area of flute embouchures or recorder fipples, they can be ractified by steaming in the same way described for rejuvenating cork. Try this before resorting to fillers and the like.
The block in both recorders and whistles is crucial to the performance of the instrument. The tiniest chip bruise or scratch may render a high quality instrument next to useless. Only remove the block if you have good reason and if you are a skilled worker and have confidence, if not consult a maker or professional repairer.
Removing Recorder Blocks
To remove the block you will need a wooden dowel which is straight and about 1 mm. less in diameter than the bore of the instrument. The end of the dowel must be flat, square to its axis and sanded smooth, removing all sharp edges. You may find that it helps to leave jointed instruments together to guide the dowel. Insert the smooth end of the doweling through the foot of the instrument until it contacts the front of the block. Check through the window to ensure that there is no dirt or other foreign matter between the end of the dowel and the front face of the block, then strike the end of the dowel sharply but not too hard with a small hammer or mallet, holding your hand over the other end to catch the block when it pops out. Several blows may be required especially with parallel blocks. If the block does not start to move after the first few blows it may be that someone has glued it in, in which case there is little you can do. Some blocks are held in place with a metal pin which must be removed in the same way as key trunnions.
Cleaning Recorder Blocks and Windways
Once removed the block and its associated windway can both be cleaned. A piece of hard felt, available from engineers suppliers or from the chemists where it is sold for making pads for corns and bunions, can be used to gently rub off any accumulated dirt from the top of the block; piano felt is ideal if you can get it. A piece of the same material (it is sometimes self adhesive) glued to a piece of wood shaped like a lolly stick can be used in the windway. Oily deposits can be removed by dipping the felt in alcohol or methylated spirits, Dab-it-off type dry cleaning fluids may also help. Always work carefully with the lightest of pressures and avoid contact of the instrument parts with anything sharp or abrasive.
Replacing Recorder Blocks
To replace the block in recorders, first line up the upstand on the block in the wind way, enter it carefully by hand and finish with a light tap to a dowel held sideways under the beak of the instrument , this will prevent the block being driven in too far and will help with the alignment of whistle blocks which have no upstand. It may be necessary to tap a whistle block back and forth a couple of times to get it lined up correctly under the beak.
Cases or bags?
A rigid case obviously provides the best protection especially for instruments with keywork, however, the need for ventilation should not be overlooked. A damp flute should never be shut up in an airtight box as this may promote the growth of moulds and fungi, always leave your flute to air after playing, or keep it in a cloth bag where it can breathe.
Special moisturising inserts are available from most music shops for people who live in especially dry climates(their instruments, that is!).
Do not leave wooden instruments in direct sunlight especially in cars or on window sills.
Do not leave them near radiators or other heat sources.
Do not slam them in car doors (not as uncommon as you might think).