Oiling Piston Valves
That your valves need oil is not in question. If it moves, it should be lubricated. Today we’re talking about piston valves (like on a trumpet) and the different types of valve oils. Let’s get started.
There are hundreds of brands of valve oil available. Some are synthetic others are petroleum based and each has its own advantages. For many years petroleum based oils were the standard. They smelled bad and stained your clothing, but worked fine. Some were more refined than others and some had added smells – everything from chocolate to cinnamon! Some even had additives to make them smoother and slicker. However, all petroleum based oils have a tendency to dry out and leave the additives behind to foul your valves.
For the majority of our school music instrument repairs we have chosen to use a synthetic oil. It does not smell, does not stain your clothing, is long lasting and works fine. Unlike petroleum products, it comes in thin (for new valves) regular (for student instruments) and heavy for instruments that have worn valves). We think for most players and students that synthetic oil is the best choice. We use Hetman and Accent oils in the shop for this reason and is what is provided in our starter packs.
You might be wondering if there is a right or wrong way to get the oil from the bottle onto the piston. There are many ways to do this: Some right; some not so right.
Generally, the best way to oil your valves without taking the undo risk of dropping them is just to lift them part way out of the casing and apply a liberal amount of oil to the part with the holes in it (called ports). Then you can turn the pistons around a few times and put them gently back into the casings. (See video below) If you are careful, the guide will “click” back into place and you are ready to go. If you were not careful and the valve stays misaligned, air will not go through the horn. If that happens, there is no need to panic. The valves are in the right casings, you just have to turn them half way around and again listen for the “click”. The secret is not to take the pistons out and lay them on a table or you lap. This is when pistons can get damaged or out of order and when re-installed, the instrument will not play.
Our advice is to stick with taking them half way out and applying the oil exactly where it is needed on the pistons and casings.
If you have any questions about caring for your instrument, please call 1-800-382-1099. We’d be happy to help!