Responses to the ‘Oil Your Pipes’ Debate

The comments below followed yesterday’s article by Nicholas Taitz on whether pipers should dress their instruments with oil. Responses seem to depend on where you live.

One American pipe maker even has specific humidity guidance on when and when not to oil.

MacLellan Bagpipes in North Carolina state: ‘We recommend pharmaceutical grade almond oil mixed with a drop of Vitamin E oil. 

‘We oil a bagpipe this way: after playing for the day, dry the instrument’s bore. Dip a small amount of oil onto the tip of a swab. Look into the bore of the instrument to see how shiny it is and then rotate the slightly oily swab into the bore.

‘With the correct amount of oil on the swab, after the first swipe, the bore should look only streaky with oil. The second swipe should make the bore all shiny. If it soaks in very quickly, do it again. Especially important on Cocobolo bagpipes.’

They have produced this guidance chart:

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Other comments:
John Rechnagel: I know that this topic has always been controversial amongst pipers, but I have my own story on oiling pipes that simply convinced me it is the thing to do.

I found an old set of Starcks in Ohio, they had set in a garage in the Midwestern winter and summer for a few years at least. The fellow who owned them didn’t play at all.

I finally convinced him to sell them to me. but just looking at the wood one could see it was very dry. I was afraid to play them for any extended time fearing the moisture would cause cracking.

At the time I had done a lot of reading on the topic but decided to go ahead and oil them.

I stripped all of the hemp off and and purchased almond oil and gave all the separate pieces(sticks and stocks) an oil bath for at least a half hour. I then stood them up on a stack of old newspapers and let them drain for about a week.

The pipes came back to life and they looked much like those pipes of today without the varnish but an oil finish on them. The pipes proved to be excellent in tone and to the best of my knowledge they are still being played.

But I had no trouble with any sort of cracks developing while I owned them. As mentioned I would never oil a chanter though, it gets enough oil from ones fingers.

As a further aside. There is a fellow here in Atlanta where I live who is a chemist and a woodwind player. He has developed a bore oil specifically for woodwinds. I believe it is called Dr. Products Bore oil. But is for instruments such as ours.

Clive Douglas: I was always told by Hugh McInnes to oil the pipes now and again. As he did, I use almond oil.

My pipes have no varnish finish. If I’m out playing on a wet day, even if I dry the pipes off, within a few days the wood changes colour slightly. If I oil the wood, it changes back to the original black colour.

I note what others are saying about the oil content of ABW, but if your pipes are over 100 years old I would find it hard to believe that the original oil content of the wood, at the time of harvesting, has not reduced over the years.

If you’ve got old unvarnished drones. Wipe some almond oil on them and leave them in the box for a few days. When you go back to them some, or all of the oil will have disappeared, absorbed by the wood.

I was alway told to oil pipes and chanters if they’ve not been played, exposed to moisture, for a long while. If you don’t, and the pipes get wet from playing, theres a good chance the wood will crack.

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Yahya Hussein: I’ve owned only antique pipes since I have been piping and have always oiled my sets for the last 33 years (I only play or own one set at a time) I was always told by two of my piping teachers (two Gold Medalists) and three certain pipe makers, one of them the late Greig Sharpe, to always oil.

BW and especially ebony which my 1918 all silver HM’d Henderson bagpipe is made of is brittle and prone to drying out especially in our dry humid central heated North American climate.

Oil, oil, oil. I have never heard of any professional musician playing a wooden instrument that did not take the closest interest in oiling and maintaining their delicate precious instrument as ours are.

A lot of pipers I regret to say do not take proper care of their instruments and have seen a lot of cracks in their wood as a result which is due to lack of oiling compounded by lack of maintenance.

It’s unfortunate that as musicians that we pipers still have to ask this question when our professional brethren in the classical musical would think it’s a no brainer. Oil it is.

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