All flutes benefit from a little TLC. Whether you have a polymer or wooden flute, it’s essential that you provide it with proper care and flute maintenance. The more you take care of your flute, the longer it will last and produce a beautiful sound.
It’s important that you care for your flute properly. If you don’t, it can result in the sound being affected. When it comes to caring for your flute, there are a lot of myths, however it’s a lot easier to maintain and care for than you may think.
How to Clean Your Flute
To maintain your flute sufficiently, you must ensure it’s cleaned on both the inside and outside. The condensation that builds on the inside of your flute when you play it can seep into the wood, causing it to expand and warp over time. That’s why it’s important to mop the inside of the flute after playing.
The majority of flutes come with a cleaning rod with a long skinny hole at the end. To clean the inside of the bore, simply get a small piece of clean cloth. Insert it through the hole at the end of the rod. You can then use the clothed rod to clean the interior of your flute.
The cloth used to clean the flute should be an absorbent material. My personal suggestion would be cotton or silk.
To ensure a thorough cleaning, put the rod and cloth through the flute a few times to ensure all the dirt has been removed. Be careful though. Make sure to do this gently so that the cloth doesn’t get stuck and the wooden rod doesn’t scratch the inside of the flute.
For Wooden Flutes Only
Once the flute is dry, follow this with a rub of a cloth damped with almond oil, so that when you look through the sections there is a faint sheen.
The Holy Grail of Wooden Flute Maintenance
Almond oil (or grapeseed oil if you have a nut allergy) is essential to the care and maintenance of wooden flutes. It can be bought in any chemist or pharmacy, health food shop or from instrument makers and select music shops. Please don’t use any other form of oil such as cooking oil or vegetable oil in its place as this will cause damage to your flute.
What does oil do for your flute? Almond oil prevents your wooden flute from drying out. As a result it reduces the likelihood of cracks caused by the wood warping or splitting due to overly dry conditions.
Please note, you should only ever use a small amount of almond oil at one time. One or two drops is plenty! Don’t oversaturate it. You should also be careful of the keys as they can be incredibly delicate. Make sure not to get oil on the key pads and make sure not to oil the cork or joints as this can cause them to warp.
Leave a small amount of oil to soak in and then dry the flute off with a dry cloth.
Protect from Knocks and Bumps
The simplest way to protect your flute from unwanted lumps and bumps is by keeping it in a flute case. Any case will do – wood, plastic, fabric – as long as it is securely fastened and the flute is securely kept in place inside the case.
Damage to Watch Out For
The main areas that damage is likely to occur in a flute is in the headjoint cork, the tuning slide, the joints between the pieces of the instrument, the hinges, springs and padding of the keys, or the wood of the flute itself:
- As I’ve mentioned, the body of the flute may crack if it dries out too much. Almond oil is your saviour here. If you do notice a crack in your flute, it’s important to bring it to a professional to have the damage assessed and to have it professionally repaired.
- The tuning slide should be kept greased for ease of movement. It should be firm, but easy to push in or out. Never loose.
- The joints between the different sections of the body can dry out or warp. Cork grease should be used to prevent excessive wear of the cork binding. Always treat the joints with care when assembling or taking apart your flute. The sections should fit together firmly, but not so tightly that they have to be twisted forcefully.
- The metal pins or key hinges can wear or bend. The springs can weaken. The pads themselves can also dry up or disintegrate too.
While electrical tape (never duct tape or sellotape) can be used as a temporary fix for leaky flutes in an emergency situation, it’s always best to bring your flute to a professional rather than risk inflicting more damage on it.
Checking the Flute Pads
Many flute players, even those who are vigilant about flute maintenance, frequently forget to check on their key pads.
Flute keys can become ‘sticky’ and less responsive over time. Flute pads are highly sensitive and need to be handled with utmost care. They can be cleaned using pad papers however. It’s a practice that classical flute players engage in to keep the flute pads functioning and responsive.
The process is simple:
- Place the pad paper in between the pad and tone hole.
- Push down the key and lift the key up.
- Remove the paper.
Never try to slide the paper out while the keys are still closed. If you do this it can scratch the pad.
Dos and Don’ts of Irish Flute Maintenance
- Store your flute in a cool, dry place.
- Treat it with care.
- Inspect it on a regular basis.
- Seek professional advice if your flute is damaged.
- Never clean your flute under water. This will cause long term damage to your flute.
- Despite what popular Irish legend may claim, pouring a pint of Guinness or beer down your flute to ‘seal the cracks’ is a terrible idea. Not only is that amount of moisture bad for your flute, it will cause yeast, fungus and other bacteria to grow in your flute which will erode the wood.
- Don’t try to glue cracks yourself. You will cause lasting damage that will be hard for even a professional to undo.
Wooden Flute Maintenance Kit
By ensuring your flute is cared for correctly, you’ll gain the most from it in the long run. At McNeela Music we sell a handy flute maintenance kit to assist flute players in caring for their wooden flutes.
The kit consists of a bottle of bore oil for oiling the flute, oiling rods for access to the inner bore of the flute, cork grease and instructions. This is an essential pack for all owners of wooden flutes or wooden whistles to prevent the wood from drying out and splitting.
You can also browse our full selection of traditional Irish wooden flutes for sale, made by Paraic McNeela and other renowned Irish flute makers.