Why do recorders need to be oiled?
Recorders are constantly exposed to heavy moisture and, as they are made of a natural material, must be maintained carefully to protect their tone quality and prevent cracking.
Which recorders need oiling?
Recorders made of boxwood, ebony, grenadilla, olive, plumwood, rosewood or maple that is not wax-impregnated need to oiled. Instruments made of maple and pearwood are often impregnated with paraffin and therefore do not need to be oiled often. However, oiling will not do them any harm.
How often does a recorder need to be oiled?
Instruments differ as to how frequently they need to be oiled and there is no hard rule. It often depends on factors such as the physical environment, the type of wood and how often the instrument is played. But typically, recorders need to be oiled between two and four times each year. And even an instrument that is not played should be oiled at least once a year. As a rule, the bore of your recorder should always be slightly greasy. You know your recorder is well protected when there is a light shine on the inside. If the bore ever looks dull and grayish, the instrument should be oiled promptly. It is best to observe your instrument carefully and treat it with respectful care.
Which parts of the recorder need to be oiled?
Wood that has been varnished does not need to be oiled. Otherwise, oil can be applied to all parts of the recorder except for the windway. The windway, and particularly the block, must be kept oil-free because its purpose is to absorb condensation. Oil will prevent absorption and lead to hoarseness and clogging. To prevent oil from getting into the windway, you shouldn’t apply oil to the block and to some parts of the labium and you should always hold the head joint upright when oiling. Avoid getting oil on the corks, as well, as this will eventually loosen the glue.
Which oils can be used?
Sweet canola oil or sweet almond oil (with vitamin E added to prevent rancidity) are recommended because they are thin, odorless, and absorb easily. These oils can be applied easily and do not leave any sticky residue. When they are absorbed by the pores of the wood they form a film that protects the recorder from moisture. If you are oiling the hinges of keys, we recommend using sewing machine oil or oil specifically designed for keys to prevent the mechanism from gumming up.
Note: Many professional players and recorder makers use refined linseed oil, which is thicker, hardens slightly and eventually seals the instrument. However, linseed oil has its disadvantages. It often leaves a resin-like residue on the surface of the wood, which is very hard to remove. Linseed oil also goes rancid rather quickly, as indicated by a rancid smell. Furthermore, linseed oil is flammable and not very safe to work with. Cleaning cloths soaked with linseed oil should be disposed of carefully. For these reasons, we advise our customers against the use of linseed oil.
What materials are needed to oil my recorder?
Recorder oil – we recommend sweet canola or sweet almond oil with vitamin E
An artist brush or paintbrush – as fine as possible
- A cotton cloth
An oil brush – you can also use bottle or spout brushes available at supermarkets. These brushes are made of pig bristle or plastic and are quite stiff, but they will not damage your instrument if used carefully. Fluffy, woolen cleaning mops are not recommended as bits of fluff can get stuck in the bore.
A protected work surface - it is best to oil recorders on a plastic sheet to avoid inevitable oil stains.
How to oil your recorder correctly:
Prepping your instrument: Before oiling your recorder, it should be thoroughly dry – at least eight hours after playing. Never try to oil a recorder you have just played on as the moisture from your breath will become trapped in the wood. Protect your instrument’s key pads by carefully wrapping them in plastic wrap as the oil may reduce keys’ flexibility and prevent them from sealing well. Always hold your instrument with the keys turned upward to keep oil from dripping or running onto the keys.
Oiling the middle joint: Hold the middle joint with the finger holes to one side to prevent any oil leaking out. Apply several drops to the interior of the smaller end (bottom) of the joint. The amount of drops needed varies by size: 10 drops for soprano, 15 for alto, and 20 for tenor. Keeping the finger holes to the side, tilt the joint down so that the oil runs down the length of the joint. Level out the joint as the oil reaches the end. Slowly insert the oiling brush, rotating it as you go, so that oil is dispersed over the entire inner surface of the joint. Examine the joint carefully by holding it up to a light. Check that the entire inner bore is covered with a smooth coat of oil. It should be wet and shiny. If there are any spots that were not oiled, use the brush in that area, adding more oil if necessary. Finally, use a small paintbrush to oil the fingerholes.
Oiling the head joint: When oiling the head joint, always take great care to ensure that no oil drips onto the block. Always hold the head joint with the beak pointing up in order to prevent oil from trickling into the windway. DO NOT add oil directly to the head joint, as it may drip onto the block. Use a brush that is already oily, but has no oil on the point, or take a dry brush and add a few drops of oil to the tips of the bristles. Slowly insert the brush into the head joint, rotating as you go, until you see the top of the brush at the window. Continue rotating and pushing very carefully until the non-oily point of the brush lightly touches the block. Remove the brush, continuing to rotate, and check the inside of the head join to ensure it is evenly coated with oil. You may need a flashlight or other strong light source. If necessary, add a few drops of oil to the tips of the brush bristles and repeat the process.
Oiling the foot joint: After oiling the middle and head joints, there should be enough oil remaining on the brush to oil the foot joint. If not, apply a few drops of oil to the bore of the foot joint and proceed as described for the middle joint.
Oiling the exterior: The exteriors of recorders that are not varnished can be lightly oiled to give them an attractive, warm shine. Using a slightly oiled cotton cloth, gently rub the exterior of the middle and foot joints. Use the same cloth to rub the exterior of the head joint except for the beak and the blowing end. Always take care that no oil drips into the windway. Oil the surfaces of the labium with a fine artist brush or paintbrush, taking special care to avoid the windway. Since oil wicks, it will cover the side surfaces of the labium by itself. If your instrument is varnished, wipe away any oil with a clean cloth to prevent fading or stains.
After oiling: After oiling, the joints should be stood vertically (e.g. on a plate) and left to dry for several hours or overnight. This allows the wood to absorb as much oil as possible. If the bore of your instrument looks dry again after one hour, you may need to apply more oil. Take care that the joints are left in a safe area where they cannot fall. After allowing the oil to soak in, remove any excess oil with a clean cotton cloth or paper towel. Clean excess oil from the inner circumference of the fingerholes, taking care not to remove any tuning wax, as any residual oil may affect tuning.
And now you’re done! Enjoy your newly oiled instrument.