Ever wondered what it’d take to prevent your brand new ukulele from drying out?
One of the biggest challenges you’ll face, (in keeping a ukulele from cracking), are humidity changes and local climate. These two factors are the key cause of dried out ukes.
So, what can you do to keep your brand new solid wood uke from becoming utterly parched?
In this blog post, we dive into why wooden ukuleles dry out…and the climates most likely to cause cracking. Plus, we cover what really goes into lemon fretboard oils…and whether they’re the right thing for your ukulele.
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How Do You Keep A Wooden Ukulele From Drying Out?
All lumber can dry out eventually. This is the result (usually) of high humidity combined with a hot environment.
You see, wood is a super absorbent material. So much so, that its classed as a hygroscopic material. And this means that wood can easily absorb water, moisture and even vapour.
The moisture in highly humid air will get soaked up by wood (especially if that timber is unfinished). And as wood dries out afterwards, it will shrink to the point of cracking. This creates what are called wood checks.
Now, the only way to prevent your ukulele from drying out is to; A) keep it dry, and B) store your uke in a cool dry place.
So, this means keeping your solid wood (or wood veneered) ukulele out of any direct sunlight. It also means that, you will need to use a dehumidifier if you live in a very hot and/or humid area.
The job of the dehumidifier is to keep humidity at an optimal 40%-60% RH (Relative Humidity), wherever you store your ukulele.
What If My Ukulele Is Already Cracking? How Do You Condition a Ukulele?
You keep a ukulele condition by applying a little bit of refined non-drying oil to it.
Non-drying oils act like a hydrating drink of water for parched wooden surfaces. The oil will soak into timber, the same way that water does. But, while water absorbs and swells wood grain, wood oils merely coat wood fibers.
And What Kind Of Oil Should You Use For A Ukulele Fretboard?
Well, you need to use an oil that does not go rancid, and doesn’t dry/solidify.
Which is why the best thing you can use to condition a uke is 100% pure food grade mineral oil. This oil doesn’t dry or harden, and it doesn’t go off.
In fact, most ukulele conditioning oil products on the market are simply mineral oil. They’re only called ‘Lemon Oil’ because they’ve added a few drops of lemon essential oil for the aroma.
However, it is the mineral oil ingredient (not the lemon oil) that does the heavy lifting when it comes to rehydrating wood.
Now, mineral oil makes for a great conditioning oil because it never dries. And the reason mineral oil never dries is because it is made from refined petroleum.
However, food grade mineral oil has been specially refined so that it has been filtered of all toxins. Which is why this non-drying oil is food safe enough to use to condition even a cutting board surface.
What Is A Non Drying Oil? A Non-Drying Oil, (such as Mineral oil), is an oil that does not dry or harden. This type of oil will simply soak into wood grain. A Drying Oil, (such as Linseed oil or Tung oil), is an oil that will dry and harden into a resin. This type of oil will soak into wood too, but it will also build up a solid coat on the surface of your ukulele.
Do You Really Even Need To Oil Your Ukulele?
It depends on whether your ukulele is finished or unfinished.
Finished ukuleles have been coated with a sealing finish or drying oil. This protects the wood of that uke from cracking and drying out. In which case, you don’t need to oil that instrument.
Also, in some cases, even an unfinished ukulele doesn’t require an oil finish… as is the case with Rosewood ukuleles. Rosewood is a naturally oily wood. And a ukulele made from this durable lumber rarely needs oiling.
Otherwise, if your ukulele is unfinished and unsealed, then overtime it can dry out. And once that happens, you will begin to see little cracks and fractures appear along its surface.
So, to stop those cracks from ever appearing, you should oil an unfinished ukulele every 6-12 months.
There is no need to overdo it though. You only need to put a very light application of conditioning oil onto that timber surface. The last thing you want is to make it too greasy to play.
Related Post: Is Sapele A Good Wood For A Ukulele?
And What About An Unfinished Ukulele? Do They Need Oiling?
Well, if wood is left unfinished, then it has nothing safeguarding it from humidity.
So, almost always, the answer to this question is yes; you need to condition an unfinished ukulele from time to time. But still, the aim is to prevent fine cracks from appearing. You aren’t looking to saturate the wood.
Basically, when it comes to applying conditioning oil, less is more.
Can You Use Coconut Oil On A Ukulele?
You must never use regular culinary oils (such as coconut oil) to condition ukuleles. This food-sourced oil will go rotten and rancid. And once you have rancid oil soaking into your expensive uke, there is little you can do to fix it afterwards.
The only type of coconut oil that will work on a ukulele is a heavily filtered version of coconut oil called Fractionated Coconut Oil.
What Is Fractionated Coconut Oil?
This refined version of coconut oil has gone through a treatment that removes all of the fatty acids naturally found in pure coconut oil.
Those fatty acids have a short shelf life, and they are responsible for coconut oil going rancid. So, by removing these fats, you end up with a more watery version of coconut oil that won’t go off.
This fractionated version of coconut oil is odorless, food safe, and non-toxic. And it can work just as well as mineral oil, when it comes to rejuvenating dried out timber.
What About Lemon Oil? Is Lemon Oil Good For A Ukulele?
Well, raw lemon oil is extracted from lemon rinds. And while pure lemon oil has a long shelf life, it too will go rancid within 9-12 months.
However, conditioning oil products that are listed as ‘lemon oil’, (but are really just mineral oil with a few lemon oil drops), are fine to use.
To Sum Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways…
- 1). Solid wood ukuleles will crack if they’re exposed to high humidity and/or extremely hot dry environments.
- 2). To prevent your ukulele from cracking, you need to apply a non-drying conditioning oil onto them every 6 to 12 months.
- 3). Use pure food grade mineral oil to condition a ukulele. This oil will not go rancid, and will stop fine cracks from ever appearing on your uke.