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Didgeridoo First Aid – Repairs Cracks & Fractures in your Didgeridoo

Posted: Monday, May 26, 2014 in Uncategorized by Posted by

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G’day you mob! Hopin’ you’re all having a whale of a time out there ☺

Today we want to talk to you about physical issues we might face with our didgeridoos along the way. Environmental changes, cracks, hairline fractures, melting wax, electrical tape – and what can we do about it!

First lets start out with some basics about wood in general:

It breathes. It contracts & expands. It resonates.

It is this organic nature of wood that we all know and love, and though its warmth is what makes it desirable as a material for instrument craft, wood can also be at risk to a few elements that can create damage…. Hopefully nothing we can’t take care of however!

Let’s examine a few scenarios and what we can do if they occur:

HAIRLINE FRACTURES

Why do they occur?

Given that a didgeridoo is a tree hollowed out in the bush by termites while it is alive, the drying process for the harvested timber is unique. Unlike a solid log, the tree has to dry with an already exposed core. Most didgeridoo makers go to considerable length to ensure the drying period is slowed down by ‘capping the ends’ of the log (often with PVA glue and sawdust, or the termite tunnel grit that falls away after felling and cleaning the tree) and other techniques such as periodically wetting the logs to further lengthen drying time, log burial, river burial, and storage out of the elements. Rapid drying of a termite-hollowed log would certainly result in a split as the inner and outer layer of the wood dries at different speeds. Drying period for modern didgeridoos of repute should be a minimum of 6 months time before any woodwork is done. The longer the better!
Still, after drying, working, finishing and sealing the didgeridoo there are still factors that put it to the test. The didgeridoo may be exported to a country with very different conditions to its origin, AND the fact that it will be played powerfully with mucho gusto by its new owner is worth consideration. The powerful vibrations and pressure within the didgeridoo are strong things indeed.

We have seen and heard stories of hairline fractures occurring on small tough $99 didgeridoos, as well as high performance $2000 mega boontahs! A surprising number of serious touring artists proudly display their favourite didge, used for intensely for15 years, and held together with bands of electrical tape (from all corners of the globe!)
The moral is – yes, cracks can sometimes occur. Sometimes completely out of the blue. But what can you do about it if it happens to you?

CAN IT BE FIXED?

Yes! Maybe!

A hairline fracture of around 1-2mm width would be the most common occurrence if anything. This is very easily fixed with a piece of fine-grit sandpaper and a tube of Superglue.

Technique:

Apply the superglue across the length of the fracture. Then straight away begin to sand across the split with the sandpaper. The wood dust will merge with the drying glue and in less than one minute’s time you will have a filled gap that is super dooper strong, and ready to roll! I have applied this technique to didges of my own and am satisfied. Note, of course, that if the split has occurred over artwork then this will need to be touched up with appropriate paints, perhaps in an ochre colour base to match the natural tones of Australian colour.

Another common technique that is very useful for slightly larger splits is to make a paste out of sawdust & PVA wood glue. A thick paste, then applied across the crack and left to dry before sanding it back to a solid and smooth state. Paint or finish as normal.

WILL IT EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN?

Most definitely. There are some who feel that once a didge has cracked it has ‘released the pressure’ so to speak, and should remain strong, if not STRONGER than it was before. Drilling and plugging with a small wooden dowel is also a technique we have seen some didgeridoo makers use to prevent a crack from lengthening. This would be done at the end(s) of the fracture.

TOP VS THE BOTTOM OF THE DIDGERIDOO

A crack occurring within say, the top third of your didgeridoo equates to a dramatic loss in backpressure and therefore playability – and needs to be dealt with immediately. If a crack occurs toward the bell-end of your instrument (most likely cased from impact, or perhaps playing on the hot sand of a beach) the pressure will not be affected so much, but it is still best to address the crack, lest it increase in size over time with the vibration of playing.

WILL BEESWAX DO THE JOB?

If you are serious about your didgeridoo journey – forget about it. Beeswax is a soft substance, and with climatic conditions can melt away, or vibrate its way out of the crack. It can shrink and dry and should only be used as a temporary measure if any. An outdated technique.

ANY OTHER FILLERS?

Strong and flexible is the key for didge repair, hence the sawdust/wood glue combination being king amongst repair methods. Still, two other suggestions we have to offer are:

: layers of Epoxy Resin (useful for those MAKING their own didgeridoo and are heading towards the sealing stage of their production) can be liberally applied to the crack and the instrument at large to seal it from the elements externally and internally!

: Balga resin. The grasstree (Xanthorrhoea sp.) has an amazing resin that exudes from the plant after a bushfire. This resin has been used since time immemorial in Australia as a fixative for sharp stone heads to wooden handles and many other purposes. It is an amazing substance with a brilliant and earthy scent, and the colour of deep magenta glass. This would also do nicely as a gap filler for didgeridoos, and you may wish to include grit from sand, wood, or ground termite tunnels.

GREAT! ALL WELL AND GOOD, BUT HOW CAN I AVOID CRACKS?

Although sometimes despite every effort they may occur, the best thing you can do for your didgeridoo is to keep it in an insulated padded weatherproof bag when travelling or not playing it. This certainly cuts down any elemental risk. Our bag maker ‘SNAKESKINS UPHOLSTERY’ are kings amongst quality, and are happy to custom design a bag to fit any didgeridoo in the world. Drop us a line with your dimensions should you feel the need – and we will see it done. Alternatively, we stock several standard sized bags available for purchase here:

http://www.didgeridoobreath.com/Buy-Didgeridoo-Bags-Online-s/5.htm

For traditional yidaki, didges on the more raw side, or didgeridoos that are unsealed on the inside – it can be beneficial to ‘ease into it’ in the early days of play. Allow the instrument to be slowly accustomed to intense vibration and the presence of saliva by limiting play to 15 minutes or so per session for the first couple of weeks after receiving your new instrument. It is not necessary, but hey… it can’t hurt right? Raw cored didgeridoos may also enjoy a coating of oil on the inside once a year to keep things groovy. Orange oil, boiled linseed oil, Tung oil, and Danish oil are favourites. Cap the ends of your didge with plastic wrap and elastic bands and tip the oil around inside until coated before draining it out and leaving to dry.

Avoid extreme climate changes such as taking your didgeridoo into the woods at night and having a great ol’ play, then wandering home and leaving it near the warm fireplace, or playing down the beach with friends in the sun all day only to use it as a paddle for your kayak whilst you oar your way home, bushman style.

So, we hope you find this information useful. The team here at Didgeridoo Breath are always here to help with any specific questions you may have along your didgeridoo journey – big or small. Let’s keep the banter going, and keep our community strong as we bring the world’s most ancient instrument into the spotlight.

Keep your vibrations strong, and keep the fires burning you beautiful people.

Lotsa love from the coast of WA.

Benni Böötz, of the Didgeridoo Breath Mob