Flautas secando e escorrendo o excesso de óleo

Should I oil my recorders? What oil do I use and what is the best way to do it?



This subject is controversial, isn’t it? We have heard a lot of conflicting opinions, such as:

  • Don’t oil your recorders, because the wood is already treated, and the oil could damage the wood;
  • Apply oil on a daily basis, always polishing the recorder using a cloth or piece of leather dampened with oil;
  • Almond oil is the best;
  • Grape seed oil is better, because it is thinner;
  • Linseed oil is better because it won’t make the recorder sticky;
  • Oil can swell the wood, cracking the instrument at the tenons;
  • I always oil my plastic recorders, because player X, who plays in Y ensemble, told me that it is very important!;
  • I don’t use oil, because someone told me that the recorder could ignite by itself;
  • The secret is to use a lot of oil on the foot joint, it improves the sound quality.

Obviously I do not to remember everything I’ve heard; these are only a few of the rumors. I will try to clarify this subject based on science and on my own experience. However, I don’t pretend to be able to give the last word about this.

Choosing the right oil

First of all, we will discuss the oil types available. There are a lot of options; I will mention the kinds I’ve heard people use on wooden wind instruments:

  • Almond oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Linseed oil
  • Mineral oil
  • Turpentine oil

We can divide all of these oils into two types:

  • Drying oils: almost all vegetable oils are in this category
  • Non-drying oils, also called mineral oils

The non-drying oils tend to be more inert chemically than the drying ones.

Some oils tend to polymerize (form long chainlike molecules) more than others. You have to keep this in mind when choosing the right oil for you, depending on how often you oil your instruments.

In my own experience, I have used almond, raw sesame, grape seed and raw linseed oils, pure or mixed together; all of them are drying oils. I have other friends who have used all of these, and other oils as well.

What I notice, when using almond oil, is that the instrument becomes sticky with time. Raw sesame oil is thinner, not sticky, and intensifies the wood smell. The grape seed oil looks like the raw sesame, but does not have the smell. After trying several of these, I have been using raw linseed oil for a few years now.

Another thing to keep in mind is the smell and taste of the oil: if you don’t like it, you will be very uncomfortable playing for long periods. It is an individual choice. Some players would use only virgin olive oil because of its taste or smell. I personally avoid all kinds of flavored oils. It is very common to find perfumed almond oil: avoid it!

I have asked many recorder, oboe and flute makers about the question of oiling. This is the most reasonable reply I have received.

Gustavo e Toshi Hasegawa - Out. 2010I brought my Baroque oboe to the maker Toshi Hasegawa. I oiled my oboe using the same method I use on my recorders. When he saw the instrument, he chastised me about using almond oil, and he prohibited me from using almond oil again. He argued that the almond oil polymerizes inside the instrument, changing the internal bore dimensions subtly with time, and that linseed oil doesn’t change the instrument dimensions when polymerized.

Since then, I only use raw linseed oil, and it is what I recommend. Here in Brazil, this oil is very common in organic food stores. Don’t use cooked linseed oil, as some people are allergic to that variety.

This is another issue to consider: allergies. Some people are allergic to some oils. I read some time ago about a recorder player who had allergic symptoms when playing. After a while, he discovered he was using cooked linseed oil that had undergone chemical extraction. I think this oil is the same that is used on oil paintings, and is not edible! Always choose an edible oil, to avoid health problems .

How often should I oil my recorders?

Some people insist that we need to oil our instruments every week—or even every day. Other people suggest that it only necessary to oil once or twice per year.

When we oil very often, the oil doesn’t dry, and thus doesn’t polymerize. It will be liquid on the instrument, diminishing every time you clean the instrument with a cloth, but it will still be there at the next oiling session. If you do this, be sure to use very thin oil, which will not polymerize as much, like coconut or olive oil.

When oiling seldom—twice or three times per year—part of the oil dries and polymerizes on the instrument surface, creating a varnished look, while the undried oil is removed. The polymerizing process starts when the oil is drying, and continues afterwards for weeks or months. During this process, when you clean the instrument, you are removing only the undried oil, and you are polishing the polymer varnish. If you oil seldom, I recommend using oils with a high polymerizing degree, like almond or linseed.

If you switch between the two frequencies, your recorder could be sticky or unprotected. It is best to choose only one way to oil: seldom or often.

I use special care when traveling abroad for concerts — when the instruments will be in flight during long trips, sometimes unpressurized, or when they will experience abrupt weather changes. In these cases, I oil one or two weeks before I travel.

Why do we need to oil?

Depois de tudo o que apresentei anteriormente, faço aqui um resumo das razões de passar óleo em todos instrumentos de sopro de madeira:

  • It protects the wood from the humidity and condensation;
  • It also protects against fungus, because the oil prevents water from accumulating in the wood;
  • Cleaning the instrument is easier, when it is necessary;
  • It avoids cracks in the wood;
  • An oiled instrument is more stable to weather changes;
  • Oil keeps the instrument shiny and beautiful;
  • It protects the wood without sealing it; wood is a living material that needs to breathe.

How should I oil my recorders?

Materiais para aplicar óleoAs mentioned, I use raw linseed oil, and I oil my instruments three times per year. Here is what we need:

  • two old towels or cotton cloths
  • a small brush or pipe cleaner
  • a small piece of cotton cloth
  • a cleaning rod (usually comes with the recorder) or oiling brush the same diameter as the instrument

Step 1 – Preparation

Como envolver as sapatilhasThe instrument must be completely dry before you start to oil it. This means that the recorder cannot be played for at least 12 hours, and should be drying in an airy place.

All keys must be protected from contact with the oil, especially on the pads. You can protect them by using PVC film, or by disassembling the keys before oiling .

Flautas secando e escorrendo o excesso de óleoPrepare a location to put the recorders to dry, in vertical position, draining all the excess oil.

Step 2 – Oiling

Oil the entire wooden surface of the foot joint and the center joint, inside and outside, even inside the holes. Use one of the towels to apply oil outside, and keep the other one clean.

Regiões que absorvem mais óleoAll end-grain surfaces — where the wood is more porous, like the barrels, tenons, window and beak — will absorb more oil than other parts. On these places, use plenty of oil.

FAnéis de osso e marfimor those recorders with ivory or bone trim, you must keep these parts protected from the oil, as it will make these parts become yellowish and translucent instead of pure white. Aesthetics apart, this will not influence the sound or anything else.

Encaixe com linhaAvoid using a lot of oil on any tenons with thread . You can oil here, but not as much, because the oil makes the thread swell; this can crack the wood .

Extra Care: the Headjoint

We must use special care when oiling the headjoint, since it is crucial to the sound of the instrument.

Avoid oilThe block, on the beak, is usually made of rose cedar, and it guides the air through the windway to the labium — and it is responsible for absorbing the water drops that condense while playing, thus preventing the windway from becoming blocked with water.

Oil can be used hereBecause of this, we must avoid oil contact with the windway and the block itself, and the chamfer as well. A very small change in the chamfer affects the entire sound of the instrument.

To oil the headjoint we must:

  • Óleo na cabeçaOil only the external part of the instrument, avoiding oil on the windway or on the window. Polish the beak externally with a cloth and a very small quantity of oil; this part becomes very dry after only a few months of playing. Always avoid getting oil into the windway.
  • With the headjoint in vertical position and the beak upwards, apply oil internally on the bore, avoiding contact on the block with the rod. Also avoid allowing oil to bleed onto the block surface. It must bleed to the outside.
  • Óleo na janelaWith a brush or pipe cleaner, oil the window, the recorder’s most delicate part — always taking care to avoid touching the chamfer, or oiling the windway.

Step 3 – Drying

Let the recorders dry in vertical position at least 12 hours, although it is best to wait 24 hours.

After 30-60 minutes, look at the recorder. If it is already dry, repeat step 2. This is common when the instrument is new, at the first oiling session. After the first or second oiling session, it will be not necessary. If the recorder still very oily after 60 minutes, let it dry on its own for the rest of the time (ideally 24 hours total).

Step 4 – Cleaning

Limpando o excesso de óleoAll the excess oil that remains on the recorder surface must be cleaned off. For that, use a clean towel. Never forget this part. If you don’t clean it, your instrument could stay very sticky, and develop a rancid smell and taste.

Polish all the external surfaces with the towel. The instrument will be very shiny and clean. Usually the wood becomes darker than before, with lively and clear grain. Clean the sockets and the tenons too.

I don’t clean the internal bore, because it will be cleaned every time I dry the instrument after playing.

Step 5 – Keywork

Protegendo as sapatilhas do óleoAfter cleaning the instrument, we need to re-assemble any keys that were removed before oiling. I put a folded napkin between the key pads and the holes. This helps dry the wood in that place — avoiding getting oil on the pads, which would damage them.

I usually put these napkins beneath the pads every time I store an instruments in its box or case. After a few days the napkin will be yellowish, so I change to a new one.


Oil is a very important to the care of your wooden recorders, as it protects the instrument against humidity, fun- gus and other conditions.

Do not use oil on plastic or resin recorders! If you do, you will have a sticky or slippery recorder.

To find out more about this subject, read a very good article by Terry Simmons:

The good oil

8 Comments to "Should I oil my recorders? What oil do I use and what is the best way to do it?"

  1. What is the reason for oiling the outside of the recorder when it has been varnished or lacquered with a substance that prevents the oil from touching the wood? The oil cannot penetrate through the finish.

    • nowadays, there are not so many recorders that are varnished, but it was a common practice in the past.
      In this case, the oil can make your instrument little bit more shiny, with a recently finished looking, but the oil itself will not be important to maintain the wood away from the humidity.

  2. Before oiling your recorder it should be thoroughly dry. Never try to oil a recorder you have just played on, since dampness will then remain in the wood. You can protect the key pads of your instrument from oil by covering the fingerholes from the outside with some tissue. The most important part that has to be oiled is the bore of the instrument since most of the moisture collects here.

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