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 Post subject: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 10:02 am 
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Hi everyone! I recently acquired a Bleazey keyless flute in olive wood. It's quite lovely, but coming from a background in bullet-proof instruments, it scares the dickens out of me.

I tend to pick up and play at all times throughout a typical day, and within a short while, I noticed that the tenon near the head joint was swelling and harder to disengage. When I did pull it apart, there was definitely residual moisture there.

So, do I need to change anything about my playing habits (i.e. restrict playtime to a single block, then disassemble and wipe dry) or is wood sturdier than I fear it is?

I was just wondering how one achieves greatness upon a wooden instrument if the thing can't be damp for long periods of time. I could, in theory, play a Carbony or a Tipple until my lips fell off, but 6 to 8 hours a day on a wooden flute seems like it might be a dicey prospect.

How do you perfectly maintain a flute that you also want to play? Does it just need to be thoroughly dried once a day?

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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 10:38 am 
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Your issue may be the olive wood. The Wood Database says: "Olive has high movement in service and is considered to have poor stability." Translation: it swells and shrinks a lot, which seems to be your experience.

My 22-year old blackwood flute stays assembled most of the time and doesn't move at all, as far as I can tell. Never a tight cork. Never a loose ring. Part of that is the wood and part may be the finish. It was vacuum-infused it with linseed oil at the time of manufacture. It took several weeks to fully polymerize, but since then it's been completely stable.


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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 10:53 am 
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ryarbrough wrote:
Your issue may be the olive wood. The Wood Database says: "Olive has high movement in service and is considered to have poor stability." Translation: it swells and shrinks a lot, which seems to be your experience.

My 22-year old blackwood flute stays assembled most of the time and doesn't move at all, as far as I can tell. Never a tight cork. Never a loose ring. Part of that is the wood and part may be the finish. It was vacuum-infused it with linseed oil at the time of manufacture. It took several weeks to fully polymerize, but since then it's been completely stable.



Good to know. I've wondered about the less dense-looking wood types. I've got a blackwood 6-key Lehart on order for October, but this was a gift from a friend. It's had at least two other owners, so I'm hoping the relative instability doesn't translate to being more crack prone. Swelling alone doesn't bother me if the wood maintains its integrity, and the sound isn't adversely impacted.

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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 6:03 pm 
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I'm sure that humidity stability is important. Also, I'm sure leaving excess moisture inside the flute is just asking for mold or dirt build-up.

I always dis-assemble and swab out my flutes after playing, and then put them into a plastic container with a guitar humidifier at 50% humidity. I live in a climate that is dry in the Winter due to heating.

Despite these habits, the barrel rings are somewhat loose on my blackwood flute, and the tenon tightness is variable.

I notice that the barrel-body tenon tightness increases after playing for a while, and it loosens in the humidifier box. I'm not quite sure what that means, but it is not a good idea to force an over-tight tenon.

I've owned a Mopane flute with rings that loosened unless I kept it in the humid box.

My most stable flute is my Firth, Pond & Co made of Coccus. I notice that the rings only loosen if I leave it outside the box for a long time. That must be an extra-stable piece of wood, as the flute is over 150 years old with no cracks.


Last edited by tstermitz on Thu Feb 13, 2020 11:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 6:30 pm 
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AngelicBeaver wrote:
I've wondered about the less dense-looking wood types.

Density itself isn't a guarantee of less shrinkage and expansion. I had Pat Olwell make me a dogwood flute as an experiment (no warranty, of course), and while dogwood is very hard, dense, and structurally stable, I also discovered that it shrinks and expands very quickly; I had to wrap the tenons for an unusually loose fit, otherwise during playing they would swell so much that afterward I couldn't take the flute apart for a couple of hours. That was scary. Pat had already pressure treated it with linseed oil, and I oiled it and oiled it, especially the exposed grain, but none of it ever made any difference. Hard and dense as it is, dogwood's like a sponge when it comes to humidity.

When it comes to absorption and desorption, the ideal flutewoods are going to be resinous. The integral resins and oils that naturally permeate the wood are what slow the process. Dogwood, like most North American hardwoods, is not resinous; otherwise it would be a good choice for flutes. It's also why ebony fell out of use: while highly dense, unlike blackwood ebony is not resinous, and is known for being especially prone to cracking when used for wind instruments.

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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Thu Feb 13, 2020 6:56 pm 
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AngelicBeaver wrote:
Hi everyone! I recently acquired a Bleazey keyless flute in olive wood. It's quite lovely, but coming from a background in bullet-proof instruments, it scares the dickens out of me.

I tend to pick up and play at all times throughout a typical day, and within a short while, I noticed that the tenon near the head joint was swelling and harder to disengage. When I did pull it apart, there was definitely residual moisture there.

So, do I need to change anything about my playing habits (i.e. restrict playtime to a single block, then disassemble and wipe dry) or is wood sturdier than I fear it is?

I was just wondering how one achieves greatness upon a wooden instrument if the thing can't be damp for long periods of time. I could, in theory, play a Carbony or a Tipple until my lips fell off, but 6 to 8 hours a day on a wooden flute seems like it might be a dicey prospect.

How do you perfectly maintain a flute that you also want to play? Does it just need to be thoroughly dried once a day?

You should at least blow out excess condensation if required during your play session, and swab out after finishing. Don't let it sit excessively wet. Disassemble if possible, but do not force it. If thread-wrapped, make sure you turn in the right direction when separating, and are not bunching up the thread.

Depending on how good the fit (tenon length to socket depth), you may have moisture pooling in the sockets. Some makers seal the end grain of the tenons (and/or sockets) with Superglue to slow absorption into the wood. Also, some tenon wraps, such as cotton thread, can hold onto moisture.

In any case, find & follow your maker's advice for care in your situation. If a new flute, respect the break-in period. Follow any oiling instructions the maker has. Some suggest mineral oil, almond oil, or (at least initially) polymerizing oils (such as linseed).

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 Post subject: Re: Accommodating Wood
PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2020 2:33 am 
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One thing that hasn't been mentioned so far is that if the flute has cork on the tenons, you should put cork grease on the cork every time or every other time you play (you can tell when it needs the grease by touching the cork). (I don't know about putting cork grease on threaded tenons, but I'm sure someone else here can advise you about that; I would think that the threads need to be waxed or greased regularly also.) Also be sure to oil the ends of the tenons and the sockets. Finally if condensation pools in the bottom of the sockets be sure to shake it out or dab it out with an ear bud ('Q-tip'). Chet


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