How to stop my yidaki cracking

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2010 in Info & Education by Posted by

Traditional yidaki were very recently living trees, and wood will shift. Cracks can and do occur! But we will show you below, how easily cracks can be dealt with. After you calm down and stop crying!

Play little, Enjoy lots

Go ahead and play your new yidaki and have fun, but not too much fun! Your yidaki has just come a long way from a very different climate, travelling at high altitude in a dry, freezing cold cargo hold for much of the way. It will be sensitive to change.

If you play it a lot, it will get very warm and wet, and then have to cool down and dry off when you are finished, perhaps very quickly, depending on where you live. This can lead to cracking in a yidaki that has yet to acclimate to a new environment. We recommend exercising incredible restraint – try to keep your playing to just 5-10 minutes per day on your new yidaki for the first week or so.

After that, the wood should be a bit more settled. Build up your playing time from there, but know that it could be months before the wood has dried to match the environment. Beware of exposing it to sudden changes of temperature or moisture. We know this sounds extreme, but it has happened more than once that someone has complained about their yidaki cracking not long after receiving it, and without fail, the person was playing it at least an hour a day.

Yidaki Care

Temperature & Moisture

As said before, be careful of extremes of temperature or moisture. Don’t get it wet then leave it to dry in the desert sun. Bring it inside during a blizzard. Don’t leave it in a hot car. If you are taking it in your car, wrap it in a blanket, towel, or didjeridu bag.

Some people recommend keeping the yidaki wet buy pouring water through it periodically, citing Aboriginal People who do this. Keep in mind that these Aboriginal People might live in a more humid environment than you, where the yidaki isn’t subjected to overly quick drying after getting wet. They also are not collectors of the instrument. Didjeridus in Arnhem Land are often subject to harsh conditions, develop cracks, are then taped up or soaked, and simply used until they are no longer usable. Then another will be made.

Most non-Aboriginal didjeridu players do not share this attitude about the instruments they have bought from far away, nor the do they have the convenience of making another one on short notice. If you believe your yidaki can handle being soaked and drying in the environment you live in, try it at your own risk, but start slow and learn as you go. Some people swear by this technique, others say it causes cracks. A mild way to try it is a spray bottle, to mist the inside with water.

Sealing the Instrument

There is much debate about the pros and cons of sealing instruments with PVA glue, epoxy, or even natural oils. The vast majority of the Yidaki instruments we sell are coated on the outside and just a short distance in the ends with PVA wood glue, often thinned with water, before and in cases after painting. In most cases this is all that is necessary for a yidaki to last a very long time. There are however many options that you can find on the internet.

Our personal recommendation is to run some linseed oil down the inside from time to time. If you’ve chosen a yidaki from Northeast Arnhem Land, chances are you want the natural sound of the plain wood. Try it for a while. If you find you need more protection in your environment, do what you will. Be careful with the artwork on instruments – if you have purchased one from us with natural colours of ochre and clay, you will need to carefully choose what you do to the outside of the yidaki.

Cracks!

While you may want a perfect yidaki with no chance of anything ever going wrong, the fact is these are wood that were once living trees, and they will move and adjust to environments. They can also be damaged. So cracks can occur. Rather than run away and cry as you may first feel like doing, we recommend you gain the confidence to fix these issues. It’s worthwhile and actually will help you feel closer with your yidaki! You also won’t have to fear cracks so much any more after you know how easy it is to fix them.

Simple Crack Repair

Sand off any paint around the area of the crack.

Use the smallest bit you can get to drill holes at the ends of the cracks – this will relieve the tension in the wood and prevent the crack from spreading again. You can also use a small blade to open the crack up further to release the tension and make room for a better patch.

Use a good two-part wood filler product or an even mix of sawdust and wood glue to patch the area – let it dry for a few days.

Sand it down to a nice smooth shape.

Give it a thin coat of wood glue.

Repaint. If it is natural ochres and white clay, do a web search or ask local art stores for resources in your area. If it is acrylic, most Yolngu use readily available Jo Sonja’s Artist Colours, velvet matte finish artist paint in Red Earth, Yellow Oxide, Carbon Black, and Titanium White. The international company’s website is www.chromaonline.com.

If your yidaki had a glossy finish, use another thin coat of wood glue on the area you worked on to make it match.

Now it’s good as new!

Mouthpieces

Many Didgeridoos have yellow beeswax mouthpieces. However the preference in this region is to have a natural wood mouthpiece obtained by finding a tree hollowed to the right size and working it correctly. In fact, the yellow beeswax is not even native to this area. Sometimes a bit of black or brown beeswax is used to make the opening more comfortable, but is is highly unusual for Yolngu to use big trees and build up wax mouthpieces to make a smaller opening.

If you choose to, yellow beeswax is available from our accessories store, a hardware shop, or maybe a candle shop. Cut a piece off, heat it up (hot water, a hair dryer or a microwave will work) and then roll a little snake that you can pinch around the edges of the yidaki mouthpiece and mold to the shape you want. It’s easy.

That should do it for the basics. This may sound like a lot of headache to deal with, but you’ll be much better off if you’re well-informed and able to cope with any problems that arise. If you have any other questions or concerns, let us know. Now get away from your computer and enjoy your yidaki!