How do I fix a crack?

First, you need to assess whether the crack is worth fixing.

Narrow hairline fractures which run with the grain are not uncommon in many stocks. These can be the result of the natural uptake and loss of moisture from the wood. These cracks, if small and short, offer no real danger to the integrity of the wood. However, if bagipe has been routinely played (i.e., it is humidified) and the crack is wide enough - at any point - to get the edge of a piece of paper into it or more than one cm long, I'd personally repair it so that bits of hemp/teflon tape and so forth don't get into the crack and cause further damage. In other words, small, short, very narrow cracks in the endgrain of stocks may be acceptable - particularly if the ferrules are intact and are in close contact with the wood.

If the crack is more serious, then this is generally a simple repair that can be done by anyone. However, it's always better to avoid getting a crack in the first place. The most likely causes are:

  1. holding the base of the chanter and twisting it out of the pipes resulting in cracks between the holes, or
  2. installing a "Little Mac" by wedging it into the bottom of the blowstick (see above),or
  3. insufficient conditioning of old sets before playing (see above), or
  4. having a wooden practice chanter top. (Cracking is almost inevitable due to moisture exposure.)
  5. allowing a ferrule on a stock to be loose or cracked. (see below)
  6. twisting a drone top that is too tightly hemped resulting in a split or broken tuning slide. (Let the hemp dry out and shrink so that it will be easier to remove. This may take a week, but it is better than a crack!)

If you can avoid these situations, you'll be better off.

However, sometimes the inevitable happens.

To do any decent repair you'll need to get some very fine sandpaper (600 or 800 grit) at a vendor that specializes in automobile painting and the least viscous (i.e., "runny-est") form of cyanoacrylate (Super-glue) that you can buy at you local hobby shop. Do NOT use epoxy glues as they won't penetrate the wood on either side. The cyanoacrylate glue will penetrate the wood on both sides of the crack and form a crosslinked network accross the crack. Epoxy glues will eventually peel off - perhaps due to the oily nature of African Blackwood. The low-viscosity cyanoacrylates have never failed me.

First, assess the damaged area. See if the crack will seal tightly, perhaps by winding black waxed hemp around the part (e.g., as on the body of a "cracked" chanter chanter). The best (strongest and most invisible) repairs are made this way.

If the crack will seal (e.g. as on a cracked chanter) , the "secret" it is to get the pieces perfectly aligned and held tightly together before gluing. I usually use hemp to bind it all together and leave the hemp in place while dripping the glue through it and into the cracked area. Once it's dry, you can remove the hemp and add a filler layer if necesssary or refinish as described below.

If the crack won't seal (e.g., as on a stock or blowstick), stop. You may not wish to continue down this path. Major cracks are best repaired by "pinning" (done at a musical instrument repair shop) or by replacing the piece. Blowsticks can often be repaired by lining with brass.

If you do wish to attempt the repair yourself, do the best you can, and then, to fill in any void remaining after doing the repair above, the idea is to generate some wood dust to mix with a cross-linking glue to fill the crack. Next, sand the area near the crack to get some dust into the crack. If you are dealing with crack in a "combed" area, fold the sandpaper and use the crease to generate the dust. Do NOT "wet sand" the area as water will interfere with glue. Once you've got some dust in the crack, press the dust into the crack with a needle or pin and add a drop or two of glue. The glue will flow into the crack and soak into the wood dust and into the original wood on both sides to create a "network" across the crack. It will generally be dry enough to continue in a couple minutes. Repeat this process several times until the crack is completely filled with the mixture of dust and glue.

When done, you may have a little refinishing or polishing before the repair is invisible. Use #0000 steel wool or "wet sand" to a nice finish.

Using this approach, I've repaired several instruments (including a chanter that was almost in three parts!) with repairs that are invisible (because of the use of the adjoining wood for coloring) and strong (due to the crosslinking action of the glue as it penetrates the wood in the crack and on both sides.) (Note: Wooden practice chanter tops are almost impossible to repair permanently and I would urge anyone to get a replacement plastic top from a reputable vendor.)

If you need to repair a white material (like imitation ivory), I've been told that this approach works, but I'd be wary of the inclusion of black particles from the silicon carbide sandpaper. I'm told that there is a "white" sandpaper which is silica based which would be a better choice in this case.

Don't sand yellowed, phenolic imitation ivory to generate dust because you'll find that it's white underneath. Resin and colorant can be purchased at a craft shop and blended to the right color and used to fill in any chipped spots.

(Note: I've had virtually no experience repairing cracked ferrules whether of metal or plastic. In reality, I can't imagine that any glue would be strong enough to provide the required strength. In short, the repair may "look" good, but may not last. My advise is to consult a professional for repairs.

Contact me for more information on crack repair or refinishing.

Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016