If you want to keep your solid wood ukulele in tip top shape, then you need to keep it conditioned.
You see, wood can become very dry, as it loses all of its natural moisture over time. Once that happens, that timber surface can become so parched that little cracks begin to appear.
And, if you’re not careful, the same fate could be awaiting your wooden uke too.
So, what can you do to protect your ukulele from cracking? The simple answer is to apply a conditioning oil once a year. The oil will hydrate wood, preventing cracks and splits long before they have a chance to appear.
That said, is olive oil really the right choice for your Ukulele?
Well, in this post, we explain why wood needs regular oiling in the first place. You will then discover the two key criteria that we look for in a quality conditioning oil.
And keep reading to find out the best conditioning oil for your wooden ukulele…
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What Are Solid Wood Ukulele’s Made Of?
Traditionally, Ukulele’s are made from Koa wood, which is a dense hardwood that grows widely across Hawaii.
It is a fairly pricey type of wood too, which is why you can also get ukuleles made from more affordable Spruce, Mahogany, and Cedar wood too. These four wood types are what’s used to make the top of a Ukulele.
However, when it comes to making the main body of this instrument, (namely the sides and the bottom), the less dense wood types (such as Spruce and Cedar wood) aren’t suitable for the sound box section.
Which is why, when it comes to making the sides and bottom of a Ukulele, you don’t use Spruce or Cedar. Although you can still use Koa and Mahogany for these parts of the instrument.
Instead, denser hardwoods, (such as Rosewood and Maple), are the go to wood types for the sound box.
Related Post: Is Sapele A Good Wood For A Ukulele?
Does It Matter The Type Of Oil I Use For My Ukulele?
All types of wood will naturally dry-out given enough time. And if they lose too much of their natural moisture, (or tree oils as is the case with Rosewood), that wood will start to form very fine cracks.
Plus, those fine line splits along woods surface will only get worse if you don’t rehydrate wood somehow. So, this is why you need to apply a ‘conditioning oil’. But, not all types of oil are suitable for wooden surfaces.
What About Olive Oil? Can I Use Olive Oil On My Ukulele?
A quality wood conditioning oil product must meet two key criteria;
A). Conditioning Oils Must Be Non-Drying
There are generally two types of oils you can apply onto wood; non-drying oils and drying oils.
Non-drying oils, (such as Mineral oil or Olive oil), are oils that never dry, cure or harden. All they do is sink down into wood grain, coat wood fibers, and enhance parched timber.
On the other hand, a drying oil (like say Linseed oil or Tung oil), will dry. And it too will sink into wood grain and rehydrate it.
But, more than that, a drying oil will leave behind a bit of build up on the surface. This build up will also begin to cure (which is a chemical process that turns drying oils from a liquid into a hard resin).
We use drying oils as a finishing seal to protect wood from moisture damage. And while drying oils can hydrate wood, their sealing build up makes them unsuitable as regular conditioning oils.
So, avoid using drying oils to condition your fretboard. And stick to a non-drying oil instead.
B). Conditioning Oils Must Not Go Rancid
Not all non-drying oils are suitable for wood, simply because not all non-drying oils are long-lasting.
Culinary oils, (such as olive oil and sunflower oil), have a limited shelf life. Given time, they will go off and go rancid. And the last thing you want is rancid bacteria-riddled oil sloshing around the wood grain of your instrument.
So, choosing a conditioning oil that will never go off, is incredibly important.
Related Post: What’s The Best Ukulele Conditioning Oil?
So, Is Olive Oil Not Good For My Fretboard?
In short; no it is not.
It is a poor choice for conditioning any wooden surface simply because it will go rancid. And it really isn’t something that should be used on anything other than a nice salad.
So, How Do I Keep My Ukulele From Drying Out?
By applying a non-drying oil to it, just once or twice a year. And, ideally, you would use 100% pure food grade mineral oil to do this.
This oil is of course, non-drying. But more than that, it doesn’t go rancid. That is because mineral oil is made from 100% pure petroleum distillate.
This non-toxic version of petroleum has been filtered to within an inch of its life, so it is not dangerous to use or handle. Which is why it’s not only used on fretboards, but it can also be used on cutting boards too.
In fact a lot of fretboard oils, (that are marketed as a lemon oil product), are simply made from mineral oil. A touch of lemon essential oil is added for the scent, but it is not their main ingredient.
You can get food grade pure mineral oil from a local pharmacy. Or you can purchase it online.
Just make sure you get a pure food grade mineral oil product, such as Bayes High-Performance Food Grade Mineral Oil. Bayes mineral oil does not contain any hidden additives or other ingredients.
Do You Need To Oil A Ukulele?
Well, the key to properly conditioning a fretboard is to go easy on the oil. Your aim here is to rehydrate wood (and to prevent it from cracking).
You aren’t looking to saturate wood with mineral oil. Doing that will only make your ukulele too greasy to play afterwards.
But, this all depends on the type of solid wood your ukulele is made from. Wood types such as Maple and Spruce will need annual conditioning (if the wood is unsealed and unfinished).
However, Rosewood is a naturally oily wood, and it’s filled with its own natural conditioning oils. But, even Rosewood can succumb to drying out over time. However, this tropical oily wood will require less frequent conditioning (only once every 2-3 years).
To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…
- 1). Solid wood ukuleles need regular applications of conditioning oil, to prevent them from cracking.
- 2). Conditioning oils should be non-drying, meaning they do not harden. And they should not go rancid.
- 3). Olive oil is a non-drying oil. However, as a culinary oil, it will go rancid given time. This makes it unsuitable for your ukulele.