Wooden flute in dry climate?

Wooden flute in dry climate?

Hi all, I have been playing a cocus wood flute for a little while now. I am going to be living in a cabin (no climate control) in Colorado for two months this summer to do biology field work. I’d like to bring the flute there but I was curious if the dry climate at high elevation will be bad for the flute, and if so what precautions would I need to take to make sure it doesn’t get damaged. Thanks in advance for any advice!

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Here’s what Terry McGee has to say on the subject:
http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/temps.html

I think if you occasionally oil your flute and don’t leave it in direct sun, it should be fine.

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Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Agree with Ailin. Keep it oiled to keep it safe. A friend who lives in a California desert also wipes his flute(s) as usual after playing and keeps them in watertight zip lock type bags you can get from outdoor stores like REI. These are tight enough to effectively raise the humidity. Grocery store bags are not. He’s never had a problem. I live in Salt Lake and don’t do anything special and I’ve never had a problem either. Whatever you will probably be OK too. Enjoy your summer!

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

You can get electronic hygrometers for just a few pounds/dollars on Ebay. That would allow you to keep an eye on the humidity. If it goes below about 45% keep your flute shut in its case or in a plastic bag with a humidifier or a bit of damp sponge. Taking it out of the case when you want to play is no problem, the wood is only liable to shrink and crack if exposed to low humidity for longer periods.

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

I live in the western US—high altitude, low humidity. I keep one of these in my flute case: http://www.humistat.com/Humistat_Model-1.htm
Ambient humidity in the house is usually around 30-35%, but with a humistat in my flute case it’s a consistent 55-60%.

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

I’ve poached cigar supplies similar to these-

disk cigar humidifier - http://www.pipesandcigars.com/humidification/78837/pouch-moistener/#p-118211

cigar hygrometer - http://www.pipesandcigars.com/hygrometers/38384/small-analog-hygrometer/

I usually keep the humidifier in the case with the flute to balance out any changes, or add humidity, if necessary, only gauging every few months in FL, USA (70-80% avg. ambient humidity) if I’m not taking the flute out to play more frequently. NC, USA last winter was closer to 45-65%, and no problems - took oil the best that I’d ever seen it, actually (FL is too humid for oil?)!

I’d oil lightly before leaving, be certain of your humidity while travelling to prevent damage, let it dry slowly after arriving, and then oil and let it take during your first few days in CO, USA. After that, swab dry after playing and store in your case with a humidifier at >50%. I’d also bring a plastic Ziploc bag large enough to store your flute in, just in case the unlikely crack does form - increase the humidity in the bag until the crack resolves/disappears and keep stored as such until you have a chance to look into repair.

Altitude is often overlooked or unmentioned, but the difference in air pressure likely is only a compounding factor, with humidity the foremost factor, if and when damage occurs.


I actually got to hike part of Philmont/Cimarron years ago, including Mt. Baldy -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldy_Mountain_(Colfax_County,_New_Mexico)

From the top of which, you can see most of the southern CO range.


What kind of field work?

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Thanks for the advice/recommendations! I will just keep it diligently oiled and inside some airtight container + a humidifier.

As for the fieldwork, we have experiments with miniature greenhouse chambers set up at different sites to look at the effects of warmer temperatures on the plants and soil - also collecting a lot of plants to measure their functional properties and use that to predict other effects of global changes. So a lot of picking leaves and digging up roots and measuring the hell out of them.

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Playing it often will of course help keep it from drying out, as well!

I keep all of my stringed instruments and flutes in a room with a couple of hygrometers on opposite ends of the room, and also a simple Vicks humidifier I bought quite inexpensively on Amazon, which works perfectly to keep the room at the proper humidity. I click on the humidifier if the humidity drops below 40%, and also have a dehumidifier that I set to click on if the humidity goes over 65%. If you buy a hygrometer do make sure to either get a calibration kit or to calibrate it using the salt method. I’ve noticed the default readings that different hygrometers give out of the box can be all over the place until you do so.

Usually our humidity in Indiana is ideal throughout spring and summer here, usually right around 50% in the house. However, during winter it drops down to 20% at times, due to home heating. If you are using a wood burning stove or fireplace in the cabin it will dry out the air even more than home central heating will. Boiling water over it will raise the humidity, however, if you don’t have a humidifier.

All in all, you could pick up the necessary hygrometers and a cheaper humidifier of acceptable quality for under $50 combined.

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Keep an eye on the rings - they are your built-in hygrometer.

If the rings are coming loose, then the wood is shrinking within them. That might mean a ring might fall off, drop through a crack in the floor of the cabin, start rolling down the mountain, gathering dirt, then rocks, then sweeping entire villages into the Colorado river gorge. Do you really want to be responsible for that?

Worse than that though, loose rings also provide no support for the thin socket wood below them. Always attend to loose rings or the act of putting your flute together will crack that unsupported wood.

Given you probably don’t plan to live there long-term, humidification would seem to be the answer.

Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

Wonderful suggestions for ‘humidification’. FWIW, here is my experience with a new wooden flute at 6700 feet in Kenya. The dry season (three months long) has just ended and it was hot, dusty and dry. I have oiled the flute lightly once a week and after the breaking-in period, have played it about an hour each day (wiping it carefully with a soft cotton cloth after playing). Kept it in a soft cloth bag. No problems at all so far. I would think that the conditions here are similar to what you’ll encounter in Colorado (warm daytimes, cool nighttimes). The rainy season has just started, so my experience from here on won’t be relevant.

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Re: Wooden flute in dry climate?

I’ve lived in Colorado for 50+ years. Invest in a Humidifier and Hygrometer and you should have no issues. My first set of pipes I failed to do that with and after a few years I was constantly having to repair cracks in the blackwood. My next set I made sure to have both and for 20 years now they haven’t had any problems with cracking. I don’t think two months is going to be a big issue and you could probably get by with a bit of sponge in an old pill bottle with a few holes drilled in one end. Enjoy the Rockies while you’re here.