Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

I picked up two wooden flutes at an estate sale in Connecticut about a month ago. One is a blackwood Casey Burns D flute in four sections with silver rings and a tuning slide. The other is an ironwood Mark Hoza D flute in two sections with no rings and no slide. These are my first wooden flutes and I’m very excited about them! Previously I played a cheap Bohm system flute.

As luck would have it, I moved to Madrid on March 9, a few days before the virus really blew up here. Now of course we’re all quarantined and I’ve been trying to make the best of things by playing my flutes as much as I can without annoying the neighbors.

Any advice on how to care for wooden flutes that have been moved from the relatively humid Northeastern US to dry Madrid? I have bore oil, cork grease, thread, wax and cloths to clean the flutes out with, but I never had anyone really show me what to do with all of it and I don’t want the flutes to crack while I’m here for the foreseeable future. How often and how much to oil? How to store? How tight should the tenons be when you put the flute together? That kind of thing. Any advice would be really appreciated!

I’ve noticed the tenons have gotten a lot tighter since I’ve gotten here, which is the opposite of what I expected, but maybe it’s because I’m playing them more here than I was at home. Also, the Hoza flute was already cracked and repaired before I bought it. There’s a crack in the headjoint running through the embouchure hole on both sides that was filled in with something that looks like superglue. It’s barely noticeable but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to oil that part or not.

Thanks in advance and hope you’re all doing okay.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

I use a water pillow:

Prestige Import Group - Water Pillows Portable Humidifiers for Cigar Humidification - 10 Pack

Listed on Amazon 10 for $6.75, delivered

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

@David Levine : Those water pillows, being for cigars, are trying to maintain a 70% humidity. Isn’t that a bit high, risk of mold? Or do you just use fewer ‘pillows’ & manage to get an appropriate range for flutes?

Musical instrument humidifiers tend to settle in at 45-55%.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

@kkrell: I believe Dave Copley keeps his workshop at 70% RH, and here in Africa in the rainy season, the humidity about the same in the house, and I’ve never had any trouble with mold. Chet

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Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

I live in a desert (Utah) and I’m not one to overthink things. The only wooden flute I have left I keep in a wooden case with a small commercial humidifier, really just a plastic box with a bunch of holes and a damp sponge. I keep that in a military grade, truly air and water tight plastic bag, like a Ziplock but better. I keep it oiled, play it often, clean it, and put it away. Never had a problem, is easy to maintain, and it didn’t break the bank.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

@Ross, For guitar humidification, I find damp sponges to be useless because guitar cases are large and absorb a lot of water just by themselves. This week I’ve been working on a humidifier design using a hygroscopic polymer that holds more water and releases it for a much longer period of time. Out of curiosity, what size is your plastic box?

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

Down here in Australia it is just as dry as Spain, perhaps more so. I keep a small block of sponge moistened with water in the cases for each flute and religiously re-moisten it every day. Works fine for me. No cracks at all, thank goodness. I looked into fancy humidifiers but in the end I found the sponge works fine, and besides it is hard to fit guitar humidifiers and so on into 19c mahogany wooden flute cases. My flutes have come from green, damp, overcast Ireland and England to hot dry sunny Australia, similar to your case, and have suffered not at all.
Re oiling, blackwood and ironwood (Aussie timber) don’t need much oiling. I tend to do it every two months, maybe that is a bit excessive. I do swab out after each playing session, I think that’s important. Keep them in their case when not being played.

I reckon its also worth knowing what the room humidity is. This opens the vast topic of humidity meters, which is infinite. Domestic ones will be accurate to 5% or so, for a reliable one. Don’t expect better than that unless you buy laboratory calibrated scientific gear. Cigar aficionados are more fussy about humidity than flute players, and you can get a lot of good cigar humidity meters. I have a hygrometer about $15 from Inkbird, which I think is quite accurate, within the 5% error range.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

@Barry Morse
For guitars, I use the Humistat #3:
https://www.humistat.com/product/humistat-model-3-black/
Once the case absorbs enough moisture, this is sufficient to keep the guitar itself hydrated.

Oh, and here’s a cheap small hygrometer:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07Y9JG9M8

Previously, I did use a homemade humidifer with these water beads (often used with houseplants):
https://www.michaels.com/ashland-water-jewels/10184069.html
Available from other places, but best to use clear (no dye leakage).

Mine was soap-dish sized, filled with hydrated beads, with a sponge on top (helps stop leaking) & of course holes for the moisture to escape.

Some people like to use PVA sponges, like this one:
https://amazon.com/dp/B0002UEOLE

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

Thank you all so much! This has been extremely helpful 🙂

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

Hello Barry. I agree my method would be pretty abysmal for guitars and their cousins. I use it for my flute under the assumption that the unscientific measurement of "some" is better than the more precise "none". The plastic box came from a local music store, it’s a little less than 2" wide by 3" by 3/4" with a cellulose sponge cut to fit. The flute case is one that I made, 10 1/2 x 7 x 1 7/8. I really think that what makes it work is that I keep the case in a really impervious plastic bag I got from REI years ago. All in all my system yields an equally inaccurate measurement of "enough"! Ziplocks might work but this is much better. The sponge and the humidity picked up from playing, and regular applications of almond oil is such that I’ve had no problems.

As for my stringy things, well they’ve lived in this climate for maybe decades before I got them and have apparently learned to fend for themselves.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

The OP mentioned that his joints became tighter as he was playing the flutes a lot, whereas he expected the flute to loosen due to swelling.

I notice this also. In particular the barrel to body joint gets tighter after playing a while. It is obvious that the body tenon swells more than the receiving barrel. This happens on my flute despite having threaded tenon on the body, and loose rings on the barrel. Swabbing out with a rag, and putting the flute back in the humidity box, returns the joint too looseness. The effect exists to a much lesser extent on the other joints.

Certainly do not force the joint if it gets over-tight. Swab and set aside to allow the joint to ease.

Re: Caring for wooden flutes in a dry environment (Spain)

@kkrell : Solen Lesouef told me that humidity at 60 and above was ok but not to let it go down 50

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