Hemp, Cork and Telfon Tape - Which do I use?


Cork is a spongy material which can replace the traditional hemping of the joints. It requires a bit of skill, or can be done at any music store. This approach was apparently available from Lawrie in the 1930's as an "upgrade". It should be applied a little "large" because there will be some compression. It can be coated with a soft grease to allow it to be more slippery. Many people report it lasting for several years without issue. Although I've had no problem on drone slides in a variety of climatic conditions, the cork can be augmented with a bit of hemp if it should get compressed or dehydrated.

Recommendations: Corking is an excellent approach for practice chanters!! Never again will you have "juice" leaking over your thumb.

Contraindications: Because cork compresses, I can't recommend it for holding drones in the stocks as it is not as firm as hemp. I might shy away from it on slides if you've got heavy silver mounted drones due to the compression issue.

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Unwaxed yellow hemp is fast and cheap. Hence, it is used by many manufacturers.  It, unfortunately, has very few good quality attributes. In it's native state, it's quite abrasive.  It soaks up water unless you coat it with something that repels water.  In soaking up water, it changes dimensions.  A joint wrapped tight with unwaxed dry yellow hemp wrapped to a tight fit can seize the joint or actually crack it.  Wax (candle, parrafin or beeswax) or a heavy grease (e.g. cork grease) can be applied by rubbing parrafin over the edges every few wrapps and it will become a lovely material.  It can be impregnated with molten "wax" but most people don't have the time/equipment to effectively do this because a non-polar wax doesn't permeate through a wad of hydrophillic material. Once the hemp is "waxed", its native abrasiveness is removed.

There are commercial forms of pre-waxed hemp. The most common form is black with a sticky wax coating. This material tends to "stick" to slides.

Recommendations: Yellow hemp works acceptably for everything, but you really should coat it with a block of parrafin sealing wax to make it moistureproof. It won't last forever because of wear and "rot", but it's a good general solution. Black waxed hemp is excellend for seating reeds in drones, chanters and practice chanters. It is also excellent in stocks as it provides a very firm, moisture-proof system. Black waxed hemp can be used as the first few wraps on any joint so that the yellow hemp won't slip/twist around. (Note: In the day, a black tar-like wax was used in the first layers of each wrapping of yellow hemp.)

Contraindications: Don't wrap yellow help too tight when dry as it will swell a little (less if you wax/grease it, more if you don't!) - so give it a little room. Don't use black waxed hemp alone on drone slides as it won't slide well. I'm reluctant to use black waxed hemp alone on a chanter stock because of the sticking issue. I really don't like "sticky" waxes as they are problematic. Parafin is nice in this regard. It's also cheap!

Telfon Tape:

Whoever invented this stuff was a genius. It is a thin flexible plastic polymer. Those who say it has an abrasive filler are wrong. It is white due to light scattering. It provides a nice interface between wood and hemp and keeps the hemp from abrading the wood. It sticks to nothing, so the only way to make it stay is to wrap it around a couple times.

Recommendations: Teflon tape is great on top of hemp (even black waxed hemp) in tuning slides and for chanters. The hemp beneath provides rigidity, the teflon provides adjustability.

Contraindications: Beware getting it too thick - or too thin. It tends to come off either way. Be careful not to get your drone slides too tight by wrapping and jamming - you might be able to crack something.

So what should you do??:

Practice chanter - Cork it or take it to a music store and have them do it. It is much better than anything except o-rings.

Slides: First few wraps should be black waxed hemp, then wrap using yellow hemp and rub in parafin wax every few wraps. When you get to the right diameter, take off a couple wraps and apply teflon tape to finish it all.

Chanter: Use black waxed hemp until you get to the right diameter, then remove a couple wraps and put on teflon tape. If you experience problems with chanter popping out upon heavy playing, start over and use black waxed hemp for the first couple wraps then wrap using yellow hemp and rub in parafin wax every few wraps. Let the abrasiveness of the yellow hemp hold the chanter in place. I cannot recommend using black waxed hemp as it "sticks" and you may break your chanter trying to free it. I've never tried corking it - but why not??

Stocks: Use black waxed hemp all the way up.

Please contact me for more information on this subject.

Copyright S.K. MacLeod 1996-2016