How To Oil Flute Keys Properly

A flute's keywork consists of a series of interconnected pads and rods that often interact with one another. Still, these interactions must remain smooth in order for the instrument to deliver an accurate execution. If you feel that there's a delay between your fingerings and the flute's action, the keys may lack lubrication. You can fix this issue with key oil without disassembling the flute or taking it to a repair shop.

Here's a summary of how to oil flute keys properly:

In this article, we'll discuss each of these steps in greater detail.

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Step 1: Clean The Flute

Before you go ahead with the oiling procedure, make sure that the flute is clean, especially its moving parts. If the spots we're about to oil contain dust, the dust will mix with the oil and fix itself on the metal, at which point you may have to dismantle the flute in order to remove these particles with special treatments (a procedure which should only be reserved for technicians).

Small dust specks should not pose an imminent threat to your flute's integrity, but larger amounts of dust can be abrasive, causing the machinery to wear faster.

You don't necessarily have to do a thorough clean. You can remove dust by using a small dry brush. However, this is an important step that will help ensure the oiling process does more good than harm.

Step 2: Find A Bottle Of Key Oil

Notice that I explicitly mention key oil. The reason behind this is that these are mineral or synthetic oils. They do not turn rancid with time, whereas other types of oil, such as vegetable oils, develop an unpleasant smell after some time.

On the other hand, WD-40 is a highly effective solvent for stuck parts, but it could easily get into the pads and cause irreversible damage. Additionally, penetrating oil (like WD-40) is specifically designed to loosen any foreign stuck material in a pivot, such as a rust spot or a highly viscous substance, but not to act as a protective layer. Hence, a penetrating oil product or WD-40 will be unfit for this job.

Another factor to consider is the oil's viscosity. Large instruments may require a higher-viscosity oil that can remain attached to big metal parts. In the case of flutes, you ought to utilize oils with lower viscosity, as higher-viscosity oils could end up causing sticking issues, creating more problems than they originally aimed to solve.

For more info on sticking flute keys, check out my article How To Fix Sticky Flute Keys.

Step 3: Apply A Drop To All The Gaps Between Moving Metal Pieces

Even if the oil you use is not susceptible to turning rancid, you ought to still have a conservative approach to applying the product to your flute's mechanism. Too much oil can be disastrous for your flute.

The purpose of oil is to create a thin protective layer between two metal parts that interact with one another. This way, you'll effectively reduce friction while also silencing the action. You wouldn't need copious amounts of oil poured onto your flute for this goal, but just enough to generate this desirable effect.

Examples of flute areas that need oiling:

  1. Gaps between rods
  2. Parts between keys and rods
  3. Areas between rods and posts

You should avoid oiling parts that don't require it. The only areas where oil is necessary are movable parts subject to wear.

Applying oil unnecessarily could result in the excess getting inside the flute and on the pads, causing further problems down the road. Furthermore, oil could potentially dissolve the glue that holds some parts together, such as the corks. Finally, traces of excess oil can attract filth and grime onto the instrument's surface.

Related article: Is It Possible To Soften Flute Pads?

Step 4: Press Each Key Several Times To Allow The Oil To Get Deep Inside The Mechanism

As said before, the oil we apply creates a thin protective coating around the moving parts. In that sense, we need this oil to penetrate the innermost part of the machinery so that the movement is smooth across its full range.

To achieve this, press the keys as if you were playing the instrument without blowing. This will help spread the oil across the entire length of the parts involved and to the portions where it otherwise wouldn't be able to penetrate. Make sure you don't press too hard but that the force exerted is the same as you would use during normal performances.

Step 5: Use A Dry Microfibre Cloth To Wipe Off Excess Oil

Earlier, we disclosed how important it was to apply just enough oil to form a coating but no more than is strictly necessary. It's important not to leave oily spots prone to attracting grime and pollution to your woodwind.

With that said, there's always a chance that some unwanted traces of oil would remain on the surface after performing the oiling. For this reason, it's crucial to have a dry microfibre cloth at arm's reach to eliminate these traces in a timely fashion. You must be mindful that oils dry out in a relatively short span of time.

On another note, employ a soft microfibre cloth. Avoid using rough paper towels or ordinary wipes since they may ruin the flute's finish.

Should I Apply Key Oil To My Flute Keys Even If There Aren't Any Issues?

You're only bound to apply key oil if you feel that the mechanism lacks responsiveness or turns slightly slower, issues that suggest there is probably resistance between the pieces owing to defective lubrication.

The oil coating tends to wear out after around 2-3 months with frequent use (several hours every day). Some people would recommend oiling at least once a month, but you could risk oversaturating the mechanism that way.

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement ( or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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