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Wooden Instrument Care Guide; Ocarina specific but applicable anywhere.
Topic Started: 9 Mar 2011, 12:42 AM (13,159 Views)
Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

Foreword and Introduction:
Wood has been a premier material for quality instruments for centuries and can be worked to extremely fine tolerances for precise control over the end product, but it is not without it's faults. The main fault inherent in wood is in the required maintenance and care needed to keep the instrument in it's as-new state.

There are two factors that affect wood more than any other; Humidity and Temperature. To understand what each does and how to control it's effects you must first understand what wood does in reaction to these two factors.

1) Temperature; Temperature acts both directly and indirectly upon wood.
Directly; temperature causes the pores of the wood to enlarge (heat) or constrict (cold). When the pores enlarge it allows more moisture to get in or out of the wood. It also makes the wood enlarge very slightly in all dimensions. When the pores constrict it prevents moisture from entering or leaving the wood, as well as slightly shrinks the overall dimensions.
Indirectly; temperature changes the amount of moisture the air can hold which effecitvely changes the humidity present in the air.

2) Humidity; Humidity acts only directly upon wood, but is by far the most important environmental and playing factor that wood is exposed to. Humidity directly effects the level of moisture in wood. Think of wood as a sponge, because really, thats what it is! Too little humidity is a death sentence for just about every wood. Too much humidity is rarely ever a problem for a well cared for wood, but constant near-saturation level humidity can promote rotting and mold/mildew.

WOOD REQUIRES A CORRECT LEVEL OF MOISTURE TO NOT DETERIORATE RAPIDLY.

Humidity Levels and what they mean;
1) 0-35% VERY VERY DRY and VERY VERY BAD for Wood.
2) 35%-45% Dangerous for wood if the wood isn't well cared for and prepared to deal with this humidity level.
3) 45-50% Suitable for most woods and should not cause any problems.
4) 51-60% OPTIMAL HUMIDITY ZONE. 50 will not shrink well cared for wood and 60 won't swell well cared for wood.
5) 61% + will swell most woods to some degree. Too much humidity is not optimal but not dangerous, as when you play an instrument it is subjected to 100% humidity from your breath and mouth.

If you do not care for your wood it will swell when moisture from the air or your breath is applied and then dry out and crack and split. Don't let this happen to your ocarina.



Care Guide:

There are three steps to take to prevent any environmental damage to wood;
1) Proper and adequate Oiling.
2) Humidity Control.
3) Temperature Control.


Part One; Oiling.
Wood is a hard yet flexible material, however this flexibility is lost over time unless replenished manually. Oiling allows the wood to go through its normal cycle of environmental changes without becoming rigid. Once wood turns rigid it will deform after/during the very next cycle. Deformations are ususally in the form of cracks, splits, and warping. All of these will destroy the playability of an instrument.

What oil you use and how you apply it are important. There are several types of oil available that work well, but what oil you choose determines if additional care steps are required and how long you can go between oiling. Oils are natural organic chemicals and are subject to degredation and are perishable like anything else. Oils degrade mostly by oxidation and rancidification. Having an anti-oxidant in the oil will stave off or prevent oxidation and keep rancidification at bay. So no matter what oil you use, make sure it has an anti-oxidant present. The most common and harmless anti-oxidant is Vitamin E. Many people just buy the cheapest version of the preferred oil and then manually add in Vitamin E they get at a local pharmacy/chemist. I recommend you get at least the mid-grade oil that has some Vitamin E already manufactured into it because there are some very complex calculations to determine how much Vitamin E is needed for how much oil for what environment for how long, etc etc etc.

The BEST Oil hands down is Sweet Almond Oil. It is 100% non-toxic, hypoallergenic, cheap, readily available, skin safe, food-grade, naturally contains -some- antioxidants, is readily available with added Vitamin E, non-staining, non-drying, unscented, flavorless, and colorless. NO OTHER OIL has ALL of that to offer. It is important to get SWEET Almond Oil as BITTER Almond Oil IS POISONOUS AND TOXIC!!

Exterior Oiling Procedure; For Ocarinas it is actually very simple to oil them. Simply take a lint free cloth (I use a light washcloth) and pour some oil onto it, about the size of a quarter for a normal size oc. Use the oiled spot on the washcloth to rub in the oil to the surface of the ocarina EVERYWHERE EXCEPT THE VOICING'S LABIUM. The labium gets enough oil/moisture from the inside oiling procedure and from playing. The reason you don't rub oil into the labium is not that Oil can harm it but that YOUR RUBBING can harm it. Keep rubbing in oil until the surface is shiny and rich colored and it "feels/looks" like it simply won't absorb any more oil. Note that your very first oiling may require much much more than one quarter's volume of oil. You can't over oil it so don't be afraid to use too much.

Interior Oiling Pocedure; For Ocarinas interior oiling is EASY but a PAIN in the arse. Lukcily, interior oiling only needs to be done once a year on average. If unplayed and in a dry environment it may require oiling every 3 to 6 months at most. Simply take some non-destructive tape (masking tape works great but will not stick if you recently oiled the outside of the oc) and seal up the finger and tuning holes on the oc. If you want to avoid using tape you can have yourself or someone else hold the oc with all holes covered but then you need a second person to operate the oil. Once all holes except voicing and windway are sealed pour a small amount of oil into the voicing aperture. It has to be enough oil to coat the inside of the ocarina well once you shake it up vigorously but not so much oil that it makes a mess and leaks everywhere or pours out of the ocarina. Give it a vigorous shaking with all the holes including the windway and voicing aperture sealed up. Now set the ocarina down for 5 minutes to allow it to soak in. Turn the oc over and give it another 5 minutes. Now drain your ocarina (or if you haven't oiled the outside yet, let the oil drain out the finger holes and now rub it in to the outside with a cloth). If you used too much oil just let it drain in paper towels until it stops leaking oil.

Other "okay" (but not perfect) oils are macadamia and avocado oil. All oils must be non-toxic, food grade, and you must not be allergic to the foods they come from. I still recommend you forget about any other oils besides Sweet Almond; they're all trouble comnpared to it.



Part Two; Humidity Control
Humidity is a part of the weather and isn't completely under our control. However, we can monitor it and react accordingly as well as take some preventative measures towards the more dangerous conditions (dry weather). Keep in mind that most indoor heating methods artifically dry out the air. You can't use your local weather station's humidity report as anything other than a guide that your indoor humidity will go up or down. What you see on the tele isn't what the humidity is in your house. It is ideal to make sure you suck out excess moisture from your ocarina before putting it away (so as to not give false readings to the hygrometer) and to aim for a humidity level of 55% wherever your instruments are stored. Frequent playing helps retain moisture inside the wood's layers as well.

You need; A Hygrometer. This is a little meter like a thermometer that measures humidity. Beware of analog ones with dials, these need to be calibrated and that isn't easy to do for the average person. There are digital ones available very inexpensively that also track temperature as well as highs and lows for both. These are very reliable. This will allow you to accurately monitor the conditions your instrument is exposed to or stored in. You need to keep this close to your instrument for it to be accurate though. If your instruments are in a case, keep the hygrometer in the case with them. If your instruments are uncased keep the hygrometer out with them within a few feet.

Humidity maintenance; If you keep your instruments cased you can get something called a Humistat to keep in the case with them. This little device automatically keeps the humidity in the case at a level you set. It requires no batteries or replacement parts, just a bit of water now and then. It is very small and VERY inexpensive. Cigar shops sometimes sell these as well. Also in cigar shops are something called a Humidor. These are specially designed cases that are made to retain moisture in the air inside to provide a proper humidified environment for what you keep inside. Sometimes Humidors come with a Humistat, sometimes they have the mechanism built in.

If you keep your instruments outside of a case, the only option you have is a room air humidifier. These are not expensive and are available widely but require more maintenance of their own as well as replacement parts and a sizeable amount of water to run on. Not to mention electricity and they are noisy. If you go this route you have to have it set up to run as needed all year round for the rest of your life that you have wooden instruments. I have a humidifier myself but it isn't for my instruments, mine are in a case with a humistat.

Humistats can be ordered from here: http://www.humistat.com/



Part Three; Temperature Control
Temperature is the least important factor for wood maintenance, but there are a few zones that should be avoided. Anything below Freezing (32F and 0C) should be avoided as at this temperture wood is ver hard and britle and the moisture inside will freeze and expand. This temperature zone is the most dangerous for wood, no matter how well it is cared for. It is possible to survive this zone if the wood has been able to absorb vast amounts of oil, but I do not make any guarantees. Avoid any temperatures above 110F as this will excessively dry out the wood and has a chance of disrupting any glue or bonding agents used in the making of the instrument.




Additional Info:

"Breaking In" / "Playing In" Periods.
Wood requires time to adapt to it's new roles and locations. This means that when you get a new instrument it needs to be properly broken in. This is VERY simple but not so easy to do! All you have to do is to play it every day for two weeks straight. The hard part is in how much you have to play it; only 10 minutes the first day, increasing up to 30 minutes by the end of the first week. The second week you should work up to 45minutes by the last day. You must play it once every 3 days from this point on until one month has passed or it will be unbroken in.


About Oils and Woods.
All wood contains -some- oil in it naturally so there is no wood that will be harmed by oiling. Some woods will gladly drink up as much oil as you can throw at them, these are usually the naturally oily woods. Some woods will take a sip and barely respond to any more, these are usually (but not always) the lighter less-dense woods and the super dense but not naturally oily woods. Remember that you can't over oil, but at the same time the wood will only take in what it can. The more naturally oily the wood is the less often it needs to be oiled once it has been saturated with oil. The less oily the wood is naturally the more often it needs to be oiled as it will not be able to retain as much oil. Also, the more oily the wood is naturally the more resistant to humidity damage it is. Woods like Maple, Boxwood, Garing, Cocuswood, and fruit woods will require more frequent oiling due to their wide pores and relative lack of natural oil. Tropical Woods like Ebony, Rosewood, Bubinga, Padauk, Blackwood, Palisander, Grenadillia, Purpleheart, etc will require INTENSE but semi-frequent oiling because their extreme density makes it harder for oil to penetrate into it. Once saturated they will retain their oil for a while (perhaps an entire month) under nominal conditions. Naturally oily woods with medium pore size and grain structures like Cocobolo, Bloodwood, Teak, Greenheart, Lignum Vitae, etc will require a very intense thorough oiling but can withstand many months between oilings. The three most durable woods suitable for instruments are Cocobolo, Teak, and Lignum Vitae. Each of these has the best of either (respectively..) flexability (oil content and retention), rot/mold-protection and water durability, or hardness and raw strength.

Some oils should be avoided because of their toxicity or perisability. Of these the two most notable are Mineral and Olive Oil. Olive oil is full of flavor, flavors are organic compounds that are very decomposible and promote rotting. Olive oil is also very thick and sticky, which is not only yuck but attracts dirt and dust. No matter how much you filter and add antioxidants to Olive oil, it. will. rot. Mineral oil is toxic if inhalled or asperated (breathed in). Some really nasty conditions can arise from breathing in droplets or vapor of mineral oil. It also tastes HORRID. It doesn't rot easily though, but it is also very thick and sticky. Linseed oil is okay to use but it requires de-oiling (as explained at the bottom) periodically as it is a drying oil which means it eventually thickens and hardens into a mucky smelly staning dark coating. Generally avoid drying oils. Orange oil is okay to use but is very susceptible to rotting despite it's lovely smell. It also doesn't protect the best. Lemon oil should be avoided.




Emergency DE-OILING (removal of all the oil).
This must be done if the oil has rancidified, rotted, reacted to you or the wood, or if mold or mildew has grown. Get a large enough plastic*/glass/metal container to submerse the instrument in. Buy enough 70%+ (91%+ is best) Isopropyl Alcohol (Isopropanol) or 176proof+ (88%+) Ethanol (drinking alcohol) to completely submerse the instrument in. Take instrument and place in container, now pour enough alcohol in the container over it to completely submerse the instrument. Cover and gently shake for 30seconds every 10minutes. Let sit and soak at least an hour (the longer the bad oil was on it the longer it needs to soak). Before removing the instrument and drying the alcohol off/out of it you must have your new oil and oiling supplies ready. You have MINUTES between alcohol removal and reoiling before the wood is damaged. Remove the instrument from the alcohol when all the bad oil is drawn out, and dry it thoroughly but quickly with paper towels or lint free cloth. Now re-oil as you normally would.
*some plastics can be destroyed or melted by alcohol, be sure to test the plastic first to make sure it isn't affected by alcohol.






IMPORTANT REMINDERS:

1) Break In Your New Instruments.
2) Store at 55% Humidity.
3) Do not expose to freezing temperatures.
4) Oil thoroughly and frequently. The dryer the air or the less you play it, the more frequent you have to oil it.


Any elaborations or answers to questions may be asked for at any point, don't be afraid to ask me for more info!
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Everett Ocarinas
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aka Kalasinar

Great to see this up Sig, thankyou for posting it and for sharing it with me when i was making my Woodsound Guide! I strongly recommend anyone who owns wooden ocarinas to read this extremely useful guide in order to realise the proper care required to keep such wonderful instruments in as best a state as possible. Personally, i dont know where i'd be without Sigurthr's wise words on the subject :)

I will go edit my guide now Sig so that i have the appropriate links to this one in it - thanks again!
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Jack Campin
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Opener of Catfood Tins

Might be worth looking for other opinions. The oiling frequency and quantity Sigurthr recommends is far more than I have ever seen suggested anywhere else. I did do it that way for a few instruments long ago, but the result was that the external surfaces got sticky and the bore attracted glued-on dust.

I generally use peanut oil these days. Yep, it might kill somebody. You have been warned. (I have once sold one of my whistles to someone with life-threatening peanut allergy - I knew what to do about it and she's been using the whistle for years with no problem). Avocado oil is possibly worse, as avocado provokes allergic cross-reactions with latex, and latex allergy is really deadly.
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Cavalier
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Always look on the bright side of life.
Holy cow. After skimming all of this (why on Earth would I read it all if it didn't apply to me) I am wondering if buying a wooden ocarina is worth it.
They are expensive, require care, and optimal environment.
The only huge plus for me is that they sound beautiful, but is it worth it? :?
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

Haha wow Jack, you've got guts for using Peanut, glad to hear no ill has come of it though! It all depends on what wood and what environment I guess, I haven't had a sticky or dusty bore yet (and certainly no where close to anything like that for an exterior!). My Hind tenor could actually soak up more oil than I give it, but I deem it "enough" mostly. It has yet to saturate for me. I suspect the wood is very old and was seasoned/dried for many years.

I did not know about the cross-allergy for Avocado, interesting.
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Hyunwoo
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Double Ocarinist x 4
Wow great! very in depth and detailed.

Thank You!!
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Krešimir Cindrić


Great guide, Sigurthr. :thumbsup: You should ask Sam or Jack to make it sticky (no pun intended).

The only thing that shocked me is how often you recommend oiling. I doubt it is really necessary to do it so often and I bet you could get away with oiling instruments about twice a year, unless you live in a very dry and/or a very cold climate.

But as you said, there is no such thing as too much oil, so better be safe than sorry.

Cavalier
9 Mar 2011, 01:57 AM
They are expensive, require care, and optimal environment.
The only huge plus for me is that they sound beautiful, but is it worth it? :?
They sound no different than clay ocarinas. Any difference in sound is not because of the wood, but because of how the voicing was constructed.
Edited by Krešimir Cindrić, 9 Mar 2011, 02:05 PM.
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Elven Spellmaker
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== Cirno -- Opinionated Baka ==

Krešimir Cindrić
9 Mar 2011, 01:59 PM
Great guide, Sigurthr. :thumbsup: You should ask Sam or Jack to make it sticky (no pun intended).
Done, done. :)
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

Hehe thanks guys!

Yeah I do recommend to oil more than you absolutely need, but those are just general guidelines, so extremes of location are factored in.

For example:
Where I live now it is below 40%humidity and 50f for 8 months of the year, and in the winter it regularly is -10f. This translates to relative humidity levels the equivalent of a desert. We have a six gallon humidifier set to 55% humidity for the house here. It runs continuously and I have to fill it every day. Within an hour of it running out of water the humidity drops back down to around 17%. Mom has a vertical piano in the living room (she hasn't used it in years) that is made of nice mahogany. They didn't start humidifying the air until I got here, and from years of exposure to near-zero humidity the sides and back are all shrunken to the point that the dovetail joints have separated.
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

Hey everyone, I just wanted to post some quick pics of the case I have for my wooden flutes. I later refinished the case with a few slight modifications (top is filled with fitted foam now) and another coat of shellac, but these pictures had better lighting so I decided to use them.

Case Pictures


Mind you, this is a $100 case, specially made for these flutes, by the maker of the flutes! It took him nearly 6 months to complete it (mostly because there was a 6 week delay in sourcing the hard maple in appropriate size, then 2 weeks shipping time, wood seasoning, and fitting it's production time in a full time schedule of flute making!).
Edited by Sigurthr, 27 Mar 2011, 06:13 AM.
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Irwin J. Finster
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Hind Fanboy
Sigurthr, do you oil the inside of your Hinds too? Charlie said the outside would be fine, but the inside is already sealed against moisture.

Also, if I have a native american flute that has been finished with lineseed oil, would it be ok to oil it again with sweet alamond oil? Or should one stay with lineseed?
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

I oil the inside as well, from experience the inside of my (transverse only) hinds have visually shown signs of drying out, so they may have been sealed but perhaps are no more? ( I have very acidic saliva and condensation so that may be a partial cause). (inline hinds are VERY heartily sealed on the inside and out and don't require oiling at all.)

Yeah you can apply Almond over linseed, just don't make any scrubbing force on the area treated with linseed, as linseed is a drying oil and leaves a hardened film. My Cocobolo flutes were treated with boiled linseed and then orange oil by the maker. Its normal for the rag you use to apply oil to change colors when it has been treated with drying oils, so don't be alarmed. Bits of the linseed eventually come off, as they would even if you didn't oil, but when you oil they become dissolved in your new oil so it darkens it, again nothing to worry about.
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sr20det_fung
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Beginner Ocarinist
Dear Sigurthr,

Concerning the "Emergency DE-OILING (removal of all the oil)", will it be more save for the wood if I just immense the whole ocarina into a large bowl/glass of oil after removing it from the alcohol container? (In order to shorten the re-oiling time, especially for the time consuming internal oiling procedure.)

Thanks.
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

Yeah that would work fine (as long as there is no keywork/tuning slide of course, those things have to be removed since they should not get oil on them).

Tuning slides and keywork should be removed for the alcohol bath as well though, so I suppose if it is already off there is no reason you can't bathe it in oil after =).
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sr20det_fung
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Beginner Ocarinist
Thank you very much Sigurthr!
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Achint
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Fat Mouse >^_^<

Great read!
I wanted to know if those "Jim Dunlop" oils would work on wooden ocarinas? They're meant to be for guitar fretboards so they should work? The one I'm talking about specifically is a lemon oil. It doesn't give any specifications about the ingredients but does say it's not Maple friendly.

What's your opinion on this?
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Sigurthr
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Flutist and Ham Radio Operator. Talarđu Íslenska?

I would not use it. Most Guitar Oils are drying oils, and you generally want to avoid drying oils on woodwind instruments as they make a sticky smelly mucky mess when it polymerizes with your saliva and condensation. Not to mention, most of them are toxic and should not be put on something going in your mouth.
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Achint
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Fat Mouse >^_^<

Alright cool, I'll be looking for some sweet almond oil then =P

Thanks! =D
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Montschok
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Transverse Ocarinist
Care instructions for the Hind ocarinas : http://hindocarina.com/enjoy/care.shtml

They differ in some parts, such as the need to oil the inside. I suppose it's up to the ocarina owner to decide whether to oil the inside or not.


Also, since avocado oil is mentioned, I feel that I have to add this :

Some types of avocado are lethal to birds. So, if there is any risk of a bird being able to get to it, don't use avocado oil.
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Circle of Fifths
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The plan in progress
I was concerned about the safety of wood varnishes after receiving a Hind that was still off-gassing when I received it. As it turns out, all varnishes sold in the US are generally considered safe after they are fully cured. http://www.woodcentral.com/articles/finishing/articles_497a.shtml
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Jack Campin
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Opener of Catfood Tins

You can't be sure a maker isn't formulating their own varnishes.

Some instrument makers (e.g. Charlie Kron, bagpipe maker) use methyl ethyl ketone as a solvent. You want to be sure all of that's gone.
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Lćty
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Tender melody

Well, I am going to receive my first Hind ocarina, a transverse bass one, in approximatively 3 weeks. I have just read that TON guide, which seems to clearly say that the dryness is the biggest problem, and felt suddenly upset!

Therefore, because Hind's webpage about care instructions is rather laconic compared to that guide, I have just asked him about that. Here is what I have understood, if it can helps somebody. It is obviously more focused on Hind's ocarinas than on all wooden instruments. And I hope I will forward his words faithfully.

* He really insisted about one point, essential for him: Do not worry too much about all of these care instructions! Do not over analyze things unnecessarily, just keep the ocarina comfortable.

* Dry environments: Just avoid extreme situations. I have just bought a reliable hygrometer (warning: the cheapest ones are often not well calibrated), to first check my conditions of storage. If really too dry, he suggested me to use a "dampit", but added that one thing to remember is that when you play the instrument you are blowing moist air into it so then if you store it in the case (what I will do) that in itself is going to keep the humidity up inside the case. So, if I extrapolate: For too dry environment of storage ; after playing, just put it away in the case. For too moist ones ; after playing, suck the mouthpiece and avoid to seal it into something.

* "Break in": He put things into perspective, and said few things are really proven in this field. At the beginning, he would just play it for limited times, like 15-20 minutes maximum (but you can do it several times a day). And that's all.

* The rest is on his "wooden care" page. I did not asked him about oiling yet, because I guess I can wait some months before considering that point!

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Clearlight
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Beginner
Thanks for all this information!!
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