FLUTE CARE DO’S AND DON’TS

By Stephanie Baldridge

Always ask your flutemaker for specific care of your flute.  Different flutemakers use different materials and techniques when making flutes, and can advise you as to how best to care for your new flute.  With proper care, your flute will last a lifetime.  Here are some specific “do’s” and “don’ts” with regard to your flute:

·                    DO keep your flute in a soft bag (such as fleece, wool, or any soft material).  This keeps the flute warm, prevents dings, keeps out dust, and keeps out nesting insects and spiders.

·                    DO use a hard shell/PVC case for travel.  You can purchase these from The Oregon Flute Store (see, Links at www.cascadiaflutecircle.org), or you may use an architectural drawing case from an Art Store.

·                    DON’T ever try to pack your flute in a suitcase and check it at the airport, even if it is a hard shell suitcase.

·                    DON’T let your flute live in its hard shell/PVC case.  It will be unable to breathe, and will ruin the flute.  Use the case for transport and travel.

·                    DON’T ever check your flutes at the airport.  Carry them on with you as “carry-on” luggage.  Most flute cases should fit comfortably in the overhead compartment of an airplane.  There are many different sizes of PVC flute cases available from The Oregon Flute Store that will accommodate a large number of flutes for travel (see, Links at www.cascadiaflutecircle.org).

·                    DON’T leave your flute in a hot car, near a heater, or in a sunny window, as it will likely crack or split apart.

·                    DON’T play your flute immediately after drinking any hot beverage (hot tea, hot coffee, hot chocolate, etc.); you are in danger of cracking your flute!

·                    DON’T play your flute immediately after eating chips, crackers, etc.  The first chamber will be filled with oil and food particles.

·                    DO remove the bird (block, saddle, fetish) if you have watered out the flute and let it air dry overnight.

·                    DO use mineral oil on the mouthpiece if it becomes dry.  Mineral oil is non-toxic.  Wipe the mouthpiece with oil, using a soft cloth, and let the oil soak in overnight.  Wipe any excess off the following day.

·                    DON’T use vegetable oils on your flutes, as they will become rancid over time.  Many flutemakers prefer to oil their flutes, rather than putting a sealant on them.  Any vegetable oil will go rancid over time.  DO use mineral oil.

·                    DON’T use Tung oil, as it will darken the wood, and harden the fibers of the wood.  Tung oil is also toxic.

 

WATERING OUT 

After you have played your flute for awhile, you may find that the flute “waters out.”  This means that you have water in the first chamber and under the bird.  Many factors affect how quickly a flute waters out:  Whether or not the flute is made of a soft or hard wood (hard woods water out faster); when you last ate or drank something (the closer to playing the flute, the faster it will water out); and the difference between your body temperature (98.6 degrees) and the ambient, or environmental, temperature (the greater the difference, the faster the flute will water out).  This is much more of a concern in colder climates than warmer, desert climates, where flutes are also likely to crack, as well as water out quickly, when played outdoors in colder temperatures.  Please remember that in colder temperatures, your flute will sound flatter; while in very warm temperatures, your flute will sound sharper.  This will change throughout the year, as the temperature changes.  Also, when hot air (from your body) meets cold air (environment), this creates condensation.  This is a different issue than saliva in the first chamber.  One way to prolong the amount of time you can play your flute before it eventually waters out is to do what we call “hatching” your flute.  Place the first chamber snugly up under your armpit.  You MUST do this with clothing on, as the acids and oils from your bare skin will eat the finish off of the flute.  You also wouldn’t want to put the mouthpiece in your mouth after having it under your bare arm!  Leave the flute in this position for approximately 2 minutes, or until the first chamber has sufficiently warmed up.  By doing this, you will not prevent the flute from ultimately watering out; however, you will extend your playing time before it does water out.  You are also less likely to crack the flute.

If you find that you are in the middle of playing, and your flute begins to sound strange, it has probably watered out.  There are two things you must then do:  Blow the flute out, and shake it out.  To clear the moisture out from under the bird, place your finger up to the window, but not over it, and blow as hard as you can.  You should not hear a sound.  This will clear the water out from under the bird.  Next, make a fist around the flute, with the mouthpiece up, just below the window and BE SURE TO HOLD THE FLUTE TIES HOLDING YOUR BIRD DOWN IN YOUR FIST.  Holding the flute ties down while you shake out the flute prevents the bird from flying off and breaking.  Step away from people, furniture, windows, pets, and artwork, and quickly and firmly whip the mouthpiece downward.  A small amount of moisture will be flicked out of the flute.  This clears the first chamber.  Depending on just how watered out the flute is, you may be able to play for a bit longer.

You should blow your flute out and shake it out every time you are finished playing.  Next, set the flute at a slight angle, with the mouthpiece pointing downward, on the couch, or other safe place where it can rest undisturbed.  Some flute stands are made to hold the flute with the mouthpiece pointing down.  If your flute is split along the sides, the bird should be pointing straight up.  This keeps moisture off of the glue line.  If your flute is split across the top and bottom, as in a Stellar Flute, you will want to point the bird sideways, again to keep moisture off of the glue line.  Some flutes are not split, but bored, so keeping water away from the glue line is not an issue.  If your flute is really watered out, get in the habit of taking off the bird and letting both the bird and the flute air out overnight.  When you are ready to play again the next day, simply tie the bird back onto the flute.  Your bird should be positioned just a “hair” behind (not over) the window.  Each flute has a “sweet spot” where the position of the bird sounds best. 

Something Hawk Littlejohn, a fourth generation Cherokee flutemaker (now deceased) taught me:  If you very lightly wax your bridge and the bottom of your bird, it will not prevent the flute from watering out, but will allow the moisture to bead up and be easily blown out.  This also keeps your bridge from warping.  You can purchase what is called a “Renewed Flute Spirit Flute Conditioning Kit, by Laughing Mallard” from The Oregon Flute Store quite inexpensively, which should last you the life of your flute (please see the link below).  As the finger holes become soiled, etc., you can also make your flute look as good as new.  Everything you need, including a wonderful beeswax and lemon oil from Germany, is included in the kit, along with complete instructions

If you would like to purchase a Renewed Flute Spirit Conditioning Kit, please click on the link below: http://oregonflutestore.com/home/of1/page_44_11/renewed_flute_spirit_conditioning_kit.html?ctpl

 

With proper care, you will have a lifetime of enjoyment of your flute.  Happy fluting!

 

copyright 2007, Stephanie Baldridge

 


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