FLUTE CARE & MAINTENANCE

Introduction

With proper care, there is no reason why any flute should not be in perfect playing order in a hundred years' time. (You may not be playing it though!) Here are some simple rules:

Assembling the flute

Assemble the flute with a twisting motion, rather than pushing it straight together or using a rocking motion. Take care not to put stress on the keys or they could be damaged. Line-up the embouchure and tone holes. 

Playing in the new flute

For Wooden Flutes: As wood absorbs water, it swells, often enough to cause splitting. Water condensation is inevitable in a woodwind instrument, so you need to manage the water to minimize the likelihood of damage.

When you start to play, you introduce moisture from your breath into the bore of the instrument. The 'playing in', or 'blowing in', period allows moisture from you breath to saturate slowly through the wall of the instrument until an even moisture content is reached throughout its thickness. If you ignore this vital procedure then the damp wood on the inside will expand, while the dry wood on the outside will not, and the wood may crack. Play your flute regularly: if you do not and it dries out over a period of several weeks, it will need playing in again. 

Treat a new flute gently. For the first week, limit your playing to sessions of about 10 minutes in duration. Mop out the flute and give it a rest for a few hours before playing again. Slowly increase length and frequency over the next few weeks, for example, sessions of about 20 minutes in the second week.

When you are playing for a while, it is a very good idea to mop out the flute every 30 minutes or so anyway. Preventing the build-up of moisture achieve several things: the flute is less likely to be damaged, is easier to play and it sounds better. 

Drying the flute

Mop out your flute thoroughly after playing. Otherwise, the moisture from your breath will soak into the instrument and could cause the wood to crack. Mopping also helps polish the bore, preventing the build-up of roughness and ridges that weaken the tone. Mop out the body section first, as this tends not to be so wet. 

If the flute has been soaked (for example, on a rainy day) and there is water around the springs, dry them with a tissue or a cloth and lightly oil the end of the spring where it moves over the metal striker pad with lubricating oil (our flute care kits come complete with key oil, clothing cloth etc available to purchase on the website). Preventing rust on the springs helps keep the keys working properly and increases their functional life.

Oiling the flute (Wooden flutes Only)

Use almond or olive oil to oil the outside of the (metal-lined) wooden head piece to prevent it drying out. This should help to avoid the wood developing 'grain' cracks. Also use almond or olive oil to oil the outside of the body of the flute (if the bore is oiled, it may attract a build-up of dust). The oil will seep into the wood. Protect the pads by wrapping cling film around them (this prevents damage to the pads and the expense of replacing them). After at least five minutes (the oil can be left on for a longer period), the oil can be wiped off (use tissues or a small piece of flannelette to apply and then remove any surplus oil). Oil the flute each week for the first month, then each month for the first year. After that, twice a year should be enough. Make sure to oil any end-grain areas (for example, both ends of the body). When oiling the wood, include the edges of the embouchure and tone holes. 

Clean the mating surfaces of the metal tubing in the head and tuning slide sections before re-assembling, to help prevent the tubing seizing up (if the tubing seized up, it is difficult to separate the parts without causing damage). A little lubricating oil on the outside of the inner tubing will protect the tubing against wear and make it move more smoothly (and not seize up).  If you have problems with seizing please contact us right away. 

Tuning slide

Always store the flute with the head and tuning slide sections joined together, to prevent grit getting into the tubing. The tuning slide may be made of wood, ebonite or a modern material such as polymer. Wood should be oiled regularly to help prevent cracking. Ebonite should not be subjected to cold temperatures (it is a vulcanised rubber and can shatter if it gets a knock). Almond or Olive oil will darken ebonite which has turned a light or stained greenish-brown colour because of exposure to moisture. Polymer (such as used on Mullan flutes) requires little maintenance: just keep it clean. 

Tenons, sockets and ferrules

Do not leave the instrument assembled for long periods. This compresses the tenon cork, requiring the cork to be replaced by an experienced repairer. (If a cork joint becomes loose, as an interim measure pending replacement, you can wrap some waxed dental floss around the joint.)

Use cork grease or Vaseline on the tenon cork as soon as you detect any sign of resistance when assembling your flute. For best results, massage the grease or Vaseline into the cork with your fingers. If resistance persists, seek assistance from an experienced repairer, as the socket wood might have swollen and could jam. Keep the cork grease or Vaseline handy, so that it is readily available. Over-compression of the cork is best avoided by not leaving the flutes assembled when it is not in use.

If a joint swells and you are unable to take apart, do not attempt to force it. Leave it for a few days without playing. The swelling should go down. If swelling persists, seek assistance from an experienced repairer. 

The ferrules (rings) on the flute are not just decoration. The ferrules are vital to prevent the wood from splitting. If a ferrule becomes loose, seek assistance from an experienced repairer. Take care not to lose a loose ferrule. 

The Cork Stopper

The cork stopper is the obstruction in the head of the flute just above the embouchure hole. Take care not to move this as tuning will be affected. If the cork stopper shrinks and becomes loose, tuning could be affected. An experienced repairer should replace it. 

Keys

Keys should not need much maintenance, but here are some things to look at if they are not working properly:

Cleaning embouchure and tone holes

Dirt building up inside embouchure and tone holes can affect tuning and tone. Clean out the holes with a cotton bud regularly. If the dirt have solidified, do not use anything harder that soft wood (or a cotton bud soaked in methylated spirits) to remove it. Be especially careful to avoid damaging the blowing edge of the embouchure hole. 

Warming up a cold flute

If your flute is cold to the touch, such as after transporting it in cold outside temperatures, allow the flute to warm up to room temperature for a few minutes by itself before playing it. During breaks in playing, occasionally blow some air through the flute to keep it warm. Protect the flute from temperate extremes (for example, when going from cold outside temperatures into a warm building).

Transportation and storage

Use a sturdy flute pouch/case to transport the flute. If the flute is kept in a leather pouch for long periods of time, the keys may start to discolour. Clean the keys with metal polish, taking care not to stain the wood or the pads. The flute should be kept somewhere safe, where it will not be at risk of damage. The need for ventilation should not be overlooked and a damp flute should be left to air after playing. 

Flute Maintenance supplies available to purchase on our website:

Marching Flute Care Kits - £15