Valve Oil

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by HunkySteve, Mar 30, 2003.

  1. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    O No! I hear you cry Not another stupid discussion about valve oil!

    It is a serious topic and one that changes. I havent been involved in a web site discussion for about 7 years now, and there is new stuff out there.

    I had a gig tonight, and since my Euph had been acting up over the last couple of rehearsals I invested 2 hours on it in the afternoon. Complete strip, brush all pipes, valve body brush until it was RAW - then power flush all tubes with power shower sans sprinkly bit. Grease its most secret places, reassemble, tune, play for 1 hour. And all because the last load of snake er valve oil had caused a very thin film of skin, for want of a better description, to build up in my Euph. It was breaking off, fouling the valves and sticking - hence the cleanout. It wasnt however fixed. First half of concert - PITA - 2nd valve being lazy all the way through, but unpredictably.

    AT .5 time, No 1 Euph dude says "wash piston under running water and dont re-oil, then replace". Result: perfect no hassle through 2nd half.

    So: a) Why and b) was it valve oil that caused this "skin" and what oil should I now use?

    I have today gone back to Besson/Holton/Blue Juice but it was some new-fanglesd snake oil recommended by a trombonist (tcha!) that caused all this agro. (afore you get mad dear trombonist reader, read my signature block below <grin>) ps its a Courtois 167 R II BTW (I had a I before, it was crap) (I also had a sovereign before it so was that) (Imperial before that was great!)

    best regards

  2. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    as you said, the valve oil left a skin.

    although, i'd hate to be a blob of valve oil, sitting on a valve, and every piece of air that gets blown in has to come past me! not to mention the amount of temperature change: how rapidly do I have to move up and down the casing!

    but seriously, all the heating etc, as well as the expanding means that the valve oil evaporates, each different oil will do this at a different temperature, and the valve casing will shrink, the valve grow, and this heats the valve oil more.

    I hope I don't sound cheeky, but when was the last time you cleaned it? and how did you say you cleaned the valves again? just a brush? try brasso, it'll rub the gunk off better than any brush, except perhaps a wire one which may damage the valve anyway!

    with regards to it sticking in the concert, some form of goo must have formed, maybe the oil seperated, and hence the water washed it off. how long have you had the instrument, and when did the problem start?
  3. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    Sensible questions. It gets bathed every month, the valve bodies are cleaned out with a nylon brush made for the purpose, with special attention the the groves in the bodies. The problem occurred after I used this latest dose of snake oil (It also happened to my wifes sov horn in the same way, so it must be the oil); Ive had the instrument from new 3 years - those that play with me (ooo-matron) know that I maintain my instrument fastidiously (well keep it bathed and clean anyhow). Every slide moves like new, and all are clean and shiny and lubed with petroleum jelly.

    Incidentally, I take issue with your suggestion of use of Brasso. That stuff should be used with extreme caution. I used it on the new instrument, once, sat in front of the telly to lap the valves in (I used Brasso as valve oil) and then it had a strip and thorough cleaning to remove evey trace of Brasso before use because that stuff is grinding paste (thats partly how it works) and the valves would soon get leaky if it was left in. SO it is only a last resort on a valve that hitherto was perfect.

    Incedentally, the great Glyn Williams once commented on how good the action was on my previous Euph, cos they arent like that from new and they dont get that way just by playing it.

    So my question was and is about the current thoughts on valve oil.

  4. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    The following article originally appeared on the trumpet discussion list and I got it in 1996 on another list I was then part of.
    Presumably even though this article is oriented toward piston valve
    performance, this information about the properties of valve oils is of
    some interest to rotary valve players also. (As used in my Hagmann valved Bb/F trom I use in a dance band, for example)


    Over the last few weeks since I discovered this forum, I have been quite
    impressed with the depth of the interest in the technical aspects of
    trumpets. I have also noticed that the subject of valve lubrication and
    corrosion, was approached with trepidation. Since there is no literature
    on the subject, I would like to offer our help in answering some questions,
    as well as dispelling those prevailing myths about trumpet lubrication which
    only serve to keep a horn from delivering its best performance. There is
    much to say, and it might actually be easier if interested parties would
    post their questions to the list so that all members can read the answers.
    In the meantime, I'll break the subject of valve oil into several sections.

    Our company was founded by a musician and a chemist, hence the name
    MusiChem, Inc. The information we offer is from our in-house laboratories
    and field tests, and is the result of a company we started in 1972.
    Although we generally don't advertise, our oils are used by some of the best
    players in the world. However, please understand that although we
    manufacture valve oil, this is not an advertisement to buy our products;
    the information is applicable to any piston valve oil.

    The most common question is "Are all valve oils the same ?" Store owners
    that do not play trumpet will tell you that all valve oils are basically the
    same. However, the differences between valve oils are serious, verifiable,
    and have a dramatic effect on how your horn will perform. Valve oils for
    trumpets fall into 3 groups: Type 1 are the low technology formulations
    based on a modern day version of kerosene (the odor is quite obvious); Type
    2 are high viscosity oils; and Type 3 are light weight oils with little or
    no petroleum odor. By the way, the word "premium" is not a technical term.

    There are so many trumpet oils available because there are so many
    businessmen who combine a little kitchen chemistry with a lot of advertising
    dollars to create a product. However, developing a functionally correct
    lubricant requires a thorough understanding of Material Science and Fluid
    Dynamics. Ignoring these principles has resulted in the proliferation of
    fundamentally poor valve oils. For example, one trumpet oil company that
    uses silicone oils is ignoring the hysterisis and buildup problems that
    plague silicones when used on sliding metal surfaces. In fact, a primary
    manufacturer of silicone - Dow Corning- specifically recommends against
    using silicone for sliding metal/metal lubrication.

    "Some oils gunk up valves." We have all heard this misleading statement,
    but when we complete this presentation, you will have enough understanding
    to never again suffer from a "gunked up valve". The statement, however,
    leads us into the main part of the subject: Speed and Endurance.

    The primary purpose of valve oil is to provide a thin film of slippery fluid
    which clings to the valve and casing, thereby acting as a barrier to prevent
    direct metal to metal contact between these critical surfaces. A thick oil
    (Type 2) may be slippery and provide an excellent barrier, but it would
    cause the valves to be very slow. A thinner fluid (such as kerosene in Type
    1 ) would be fast initially but its rapid evaporation would cause the valves
    to slow down quickly, and eventually stop moving altogether. Consequently,
    long ago we recognized that there are two major performance considerations
    in researching a new oil for piston valves: Speed and Endurance. To ignore
    either in favor of economy or naivet, is to guarantee disappointment for the

    The most important quality in a valve oil is its ability to promote speed by
    reducing friction. But, the oil also causes some resistance of its own.
    This measured resistance is called viscosity, and the unit of measurement is
    centi-Stokes (cSt.). Musicians seeking a "thin" oil are simply looking for
    a low viscosity oil. Although you can get a rough idea about how viscous an
    oil is by applying some to an inclined surface and watching it run, the
    accurate way to measure viscosity is with capillary viscometers. Since
    actual viscosities of different oils have not heretofore been published, we
    have presented some in table below. These oils were purchased from
    different stores.

    Products Viscosity (cSt)
    WATER 1.00
    CLARK TERRY 1.83
    BENGE 1.99
    BLUE JUICE 1.99
    PLAYERS 2.15
    JUPITER 2.20
    HOLTON 2.38
    HYBRID 141-A7 3.02
    PRO-OIL RED 3.61
    AL CASS 3.73
    PRO-OIL BLUE 3.80
    SLIDE (for trombones) 5.12
    ALISYN 7.59

    As you can see, several valve oils are so "thin" that they approach the
    viscosity of water, while others are very viscous.Water has by far the
    lowest viscosity, but if low viscosity was the only criterion for speed,
    then the spit in your horn would be enough to keep your valves fast. The
    fingers of an experienced trumpet player can sense even the slightest valve
    hesitation, and this experience has shown that the optimum viscosity for
    speed lies somewhere in the 1.1 - 5.0 cSt range.In developing HYBRID (our
    experimental reference standard for piston valves) we have discovered that
    the optimum viscosity for valves in good condition is in the 2.0 - 4.0 cSt.
    range. However, badly worn valves can tolerate or even benefit from somewhat
    higher viscosity oils. Nonetheless, viscosity isn't the entire answer;
    speed means nothing if the action is not smooth, or if the valves become
    slow in the middle of a performance. A working musician cannot afford to
    even think about his valves during a performance. In other words, what
    about endurance ?

    Endurance is the oil's ability to maintain the original fast and smooth
    valve action over many hours despite playing conditions. This
    characteristic is very difficult to develop in an oil without compromising
    speed because endurance is the end result of a complex series of
    interrelated properties and conditions: evaporation rate, film strength,
    surface tension, water solubility, and valve cleanliness.

    The first property is evaporation rate. In most student and mid-line horns,
    when a valve oil evaporates so that less than 40% of the original oil
    remains on the valves, they will begin to hesitate in an unpredictable
    fashion. In more expensive horns with clean and very tight valves, the
    slowdown is much sooner and sudden seizing of a valve is common. In the
    relative evaporation rate table below, we have listed the percent of oil
    remaining on a surface as a function of time at room temperature. The data
    does not suggest that a given valve oil will last the number of days shown,
    but rather the percentage of oil remaining after a given period of time.
    Compare the evaporation rates of the oils with their viscosities, and
    remember that Endurance is enjoying fast consistently smooth action for a
    long time - not slow action for a long time. Some trumpet oil manufacturers
    include a heavy oil in their formulation to slow down the apparent
    evaporation rate, and (hopefully) to make the oil last longer.
    Unfortunately, as evaporation occurs, the lighter oil content diminishes
    until only the slow heavy oil remains on the valves. Our experiments back
    in 1976 proved this.


    Products Vis.(cSt) 19 hrs 48 hrs 72 hrs 96 hrs 120 hrs
    WATER 1.00 0%
    CLARK TERRY 1.83 16% 7% 6% 0%
    BENGE 1.99 35% 13% 8% 5% 4%
    BLUE JUICE 1.99 44% 23% 17% 12% 8%
    PLAYERS 2.15 44% 20% 13% 8% 4%
    JUPITER 2.20 33% 17% 15% 13% 10%
    ROCHE-THOMAS 2.31 16% 13% 13% 12% 11%
    HOLTON 2.38 25% 7% 4% 0%
    HYBRID 141-A7 3.02 92% 75% 64% 55% 46%
    PRO-OIL RED 3.61 74% 44% 33% 21% 11%
    AL CASS 3.73 75% 48% 37% 26% 16%
    PRO-OIL BLUE 3.80 77% 50% 37% 25% 13%
    SPACE FILLER I 5.10 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
    SLIDE (t-bones) 5.12 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
    ALISYN 7.59 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%

    Endurance is very sensitive to the integrity of the oil film on the valve
    surfaces. As the piston slides down the valve casing it rubs against the
    oil film. This movement tends to rupture the film and allow direct
    metal/metal contact. In hyper-tight valve assemblies (i.e., Monette and
    Schilke) oil film rupture is potentially more frequent and disastrous. This
    is a purely mechanical phenomenon which can only be prevented with an oil
    having a high film strength.

    Achieving a high film strength oil within the optimum viscosity range (2.5
    - 4.0 cSt) is quite difficult. Although it is not easy to measure this film
    strength directly, it is best understood through demonstration. Firstly, a
    high film strength will give a smooth, slippery feel when the oil is rubbed
    rapidly between the fingers. When shaken, an oil with a high film strength
    will yield bubbles that collapse within 1- 3 seconds. Whereas an oil with
    poor film strength will tend to entrap air for a much longer time.

    Oil film rupture can also occur for a different reason: moisture. Water
    trapped in the valve chamber experiences the shear force of the piston
    moving rapidly past the walls of the valve casing. This action tends to
    emulsify the trapped moisture into the oil. This micro emulsion not only
    has an elevated viscosity, but also displaces the oil from the valve
    surface. With the oil film thus compromised, the valve and casing easily rub
    against each other to produce friction, slowed action and wear. Therefore,
    in addition to the properties discussed above, for an oil to be truly
    effective it must also resist emulsion formation.

    How many times have you heard, "My valves were slowing down, so I reoiled
    with a different oil and suddenly the valves stuck." The tendency is to
    blame the oil, and although the oil played a part, other causes are more
    likely for this 'Gunking Up' phenomenon.

    Every note pushed through the horn is borne in the musician's moist breath
    with the valve chamber acting as a trap for not only this moisture but the
    aerosols suspended in it. These aerosols contain enzymes, proteins, and
    salts. As long as the valve oil rejects this mixture, it will simply pass
    through the valve chamber. But, as the oil boundary film becomes depleted
    or compromised, the moisture and its aerosols become attached to the metal.
    When the musician reapplies oil to the moisture impacted valves (or to
    valves that had enough time for the spit to dry onto the metal) the oil
    will actually deposit on top of this layer. As this process is repeated a
    series of sticky layers and high spots build up until the valves become
    sluggish or stick completely. There is no oil that can permanently protect
    against this "spit sandwich" but you can prevent it through effective
    cleaning and proper oiling.

    A lesser know consideration in selecting a valve oil is corrosion. It is
    absolutely necessary to liberally coat the valve and casing surfaces so that
    excess oil will transfer to the internal solder joints. In doing so it will
    protect them against dezincification (red discoloration) and corrosion
    (blue-green discoloration) which are caused by exposing the naked metal to
    moisture. Monel valves will similarly be protected against spotting. An
    oil with low surface tension and a low viscosity will spread quickly and
    evenly, thereby coating these surfaces without fear of over oiling. It is
    very difficult to properly coat a valve, the casing and the solder joints
    with a high viscosity oil. The topic of corrosion will be covered in depth
    at a later time. Players of rotary valved instruments will want to pay
    close attention to this article.

    1. A high speed oil is a thinner oil. If you don't recall which oils are
    heavy, a quick test in a store is to apply a drop or two of each valve oil
    onto smooth surface (ie. a clean mirror, a sheet of glass or a sheet of
    metal). Tilt the surface and see how fast the oils run down the sheet; heavy
    oils move slower and can be eliminated from the selection.

    2. The oil should have a slow evaporation rate and be remain slippery. A
    good evaporation test is to place some of the oil in the palm of your hand
    and feel how long it feels slippery relative to a different oil. Kerosene
    based oils are not desirable because they evaporate quickly. The presence
    of kerosene is apparent from its characteristic odor which will become
    evident in this test.

    3. The film strength is crucial. Hold a group of well capped bottles of
    high speed oils in your hand, turn them upside down and shake them as a
    group for 5 seconds. Note how fast the foam breaks; the faster the better.
    Weed out the ones that have a slow foam break.

    4. Water rejection is important. This is a test of how fast the water and
    oil separate but since it requires sacrificing some oil, a store owner might
    not want to do it. The test is to add equal amounts of water and the valve
    oil to a small container (a test tube or even an old bottle), and shake
    vigorously for 10 seconds. Observe how long it takes for the oil and water
    to separate almost completely.

    Speed and Endurance in an oil are two different properties; experience will
    show that the best oil will not sacrifice one for the other. To quote a long
    time friend of ours (Art Farmer), "I play very fast, and I have to
    concentrate on the music. I can't afford to even think about my valves
    during a performance."

    To develop an oil for horns built on better technology, one must employ
    better lubrication technology. Until now, no one has tried to enlighten
    either the musicians or store owners that there is a science to improving
    valve oil, and only a few valve oils take advantage of the science.
    Hopefully the results of our research brought out in this article will
    dispel the mystique of valve oils, and make oil selection almost bulletproof.
  5. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    While there were some very good points in there, as a physicist, there are a few things that I can't let go.

    Firstly, if anyone claims they have a good understanding of fluid dynamics, shoot them, it just doesn't happen.

    Secondly, a few of the reasons behind the points were approximations, and not entirely true.

    Thirdly, a film with a good surface strength would keep the bubbles for longer, because the surface would hold together longest, he is mixing up surface strength and how much the oil attracts itself. for example, if you have a liquid in a test tube, or jar with flat sides (a glass will do), it may well arch up at the edge, unless it is water, or mainly water based: the liquid will arch down towards the edge; the water is more attracted to itself than the container upon which it is held, the same may be seen for mercury. Other materials may have better surface strength though. A better test is to try to put a pin on the surface, but this may not be entirely practical.

    And a few others, when he says the moisture will emulsify, what he means is that it will evaporate and become spread throughout the liquid in that area, it doesn't form a mixture. To form a mixture, something like fairy liquid would have to be added.

    The whole article does provide an insight into developing valve oil, but I stick with my earlier statement:

    You obviously keep your valves clean Steve, but the problem with that valve oil was probably that it separated at some temperature, then as it was cooled, either through less use of the valves in a slower piece, or after you finished practicing, some of it settled on the valve or even evaporated, hence the problem after your euph was cleaned and played for an hour.

    The problem when oils and water heat up is that they expand, so that any excess oil may be pushed out of the valve casing and into tubing. This shouldn't be a problem, but as the valves and casing cool down (this could be mid concert or rehearsal), there is extra space. This is fine, but when the valves heat up again, there is more space for the oil to evaporate etc., and depending on how much oil is there, metal may start to rub against metal. This is dependent on valve design, and how thick or thin the oil is. But ouch.

    The other point is over oiling. Putting on too much oil doesn't just waste valve oil, it means that there are more of any impurities in the oil on the valve, say for example that you shook your valve oil, this 'emulsifies' the oil as it was termed before, and this then leads to reduced performance. Depending on the oil, it or the water may evaporate at a lower temp, thus causing spaces to appear after the extra mixture has run off. In a thinner oil this may not matter as much, as the oil will spread out. But for a thicker oil this will not happen, and you will get sporadic bursts of quick and slow valves.

    With regard to brasso, I have no problem using it on valves, although I’m still unsure if I should use it on my trombone slide, it seems to have a special coating, but on valves, as long as it is thoroughly cleaned off it is usually fine.

    The thing about water is that as it is mostly pure, different parts of it don't evaporate at different temperatures. I know people who will swear by spitting on valves. I’ve tried it myself and it is fine, even great! If the oil you used was different to the snake stuff though, and it still stuck, then maybe there is still some left on the valves? It is worth using the brasso in very liberal amounts, and removing thoroughly with a cloth. Or using a spray that you’ll have for use with your trombone on the valves, you’ll have to do it a lot more often, but if you try it for a practice session at home it may help. Not for longer than two hours though. Also, as disgusting as it is, spitting on the valves will start to digest any sugar etc., and other things. I suggest brasso though.


    I.e., on the slides and valves is fine, but not on the shiny bits!
  6. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    Just re-read your last post about the brasso!


    It is a cleaning agent:

    Use a cloth to apply, and it should go black so use a scruffy one, and then use a different cloth, or the other end to make sure it is completely removed.

    My sister uses a toothbrush to scrub it on before removing it, but I don't usually.

    petroleum jelly would be better on your valves than brasso as a substitute for valve oil!
  7. Highams

    Highams Member

    Slough, Berkshire, England
    Don't forget your springs !

    Once a year I replace mine (£4.50 a set) and the difference is noticeable.

    In the past, springs were like cast iron on the old B&H models, but these days they are lighter and very flimsy.

    They certainly weaken a great deal, and that's enough to cause valve problems.
  8. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    Now thats interesting! I did note that the springs as removed from my Euph were all different lengths! I tried to equalise them by stretching them a bit, cos I rebuild old Brit car engines sometimes as a hobby so note these things..

    Im still interested why there was a "skin" inside my Euph (not just valves, all of it) even though it is properly cleaned monthly, if anyone has a suggestion.

  9. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    One needs ones bumps felt if one puts Brasso anywhere near ones slide, IMHO. <grin>

  10. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member


    sorry, I was very unclear, I meant tuning slides as opposed to main slides on troms!

  11. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
  12. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    what trom do you play on?
  13. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    Courtois Symphonie 400R Bb/F Tenor

    My son has a double bell Courtois, quite a beast.

    best regards
  14. Owen

    Owen Member

    Rather bizarrely, an instrument repairer once told me that the best thing to use to clean valves is toothpaste, as it is mildly abrasive and will readily wash off in warm soapy water. It was top advice and I always use it when cleaning the valves on my instrument.
  15. BigHorn

    BigHorn Active Member

    I have experienced this skin on a horn my daughter inherited. Its first bath produced tons of the stuff. Some of it was so old and thick it was almost like paper. I thought it might be something to do with the fact that the person she inherited it from was a heavy smoker. However there has been a lesser build up since (and my 11 year old daughter does not smoke). I cannot think valve oil on its own is to blame as we share our valve oil (at the moment Blue Juice) I never had any problem at all with my 2 instruments. It must therefore be due to something perculiar about the instrument or the players breath. My daughter does eat sweets then play her instrument so could this might be to blame?.
    Just a thought could it be some sort of fungus like mildew which thrives in moist atmospheres?
  16. HunkySteve

    HunkySteve Member

    S Derbyshire
    Thats the stuff! A thin, papery stuff. White. In my case, it formed within 2 weeks of its previous bath, where non was present.

    I dont eat sweets, dont smoke and the only thing that changed when I got it was the valve oil.

    I'd be interested to know what this papery stuff is, since it affects valve action (bits break off and slow the valves up) (sorry, werent eating breakfast were you? <grin>)

  17. neiltwist

    neiltwist Active Member

    ahhh, that stuff. you do eat don't you? well food is partly to blame. I can't tell you exactly what it is, but does it look a bit like gunge when you put it in water? I cleaned a cornet and got out tons, and it comes out all nice and flakey. try and touch it and it feels slimy though. I don't think this is anything to do with valve oil, although the snake may not have been right for your valves, it sounds like normal corrosion: the acid in saliva etc. eats away at the metal, then leaves the 'skin', heavy blowing wont help, but there's nothing you can do about that. do you find it is often only or mainly in the lead pipe? not familiar with your euph, but i'm assuming the lead pipe goes straight into the valves(?), so that will be why it clogs them up, especially since it will probably only be about 8-10cm in length.i usually find cleaning the lead of my trombone needs to be done at least once every two weeks, and the moutpiece. I think the mouthpiece takes most of the brunt of the acid/blowing/food, but some will get blown into the instrument, and there is a lot of stress on anything attached to the inside of the tubing. you may find cleaning once every fortnight does the trick, or you may not, or you may find that if you clean it once a fortnight for two months that it sorts it. or you may not.


    ps, I usually call the 'skin', gunk, gunge or goo! which is why I didn't realise what it was straight away.

    pps, the amount of metal the acid eats away will be negligable for up to a hundred years maybe, depending on the particular alloy of brass.

    ppps, nice tip about the toothpaste Owen!
  18. aimee_euph

    aimee_euph Member

    have you ever tried the Yamaha valve oil. Slightly pricey but really good stuff!!
  19. Seedhouse

    Seedhouse Active Member

    I've noticed some of this white, gooey, flakey stuff inside some of my euph slides, and it doesn't come off. :? Anyone got any advice on how to rid my euph of it? I don't usually play close to when I eat, so i'm a tad bemused by what it is and how it appeared as well.
  20. geordiecolin

    geordiecolin Active Member

    Hetton-le-Hole, Tyne and Wear

    Why not set up a whole new forum called MAINTENANCE CLINIC or something because there appears to be a quite a lot people with dodgy instruments and quite a lot of gurus who know how to deal with them.
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