Finish differences and ocarina care

Ocarinas are commonly available with a number of different finishes including fired glazes, natural shellac, and plain ceramic. Synthetic finishes including lacquers and epoxy are also becoming more common. Of these, fired glazes are the most durable. Shellac is a middle ground, and plain earthenware naturally discolours over time. Natural shellac is the traditional finish of Italian ocarinas.

Besides looking different, ocarinas with different finishes feel notably different to play. The main thing to note is that mirror smooth finishes trap any finger moisture between the finger and the surface. This causes the fingers to cling to the surface similar to how a glass can stick to a table. Common technique requires sliding fingers over the surface and gloss finishes make this difficult to do smoothly.

Having a microscopic surface texture greatly reduces this problem, and textured 'matte' glazes generally feel better than gloss ones. The plain finish also does not have this problem with an additional advantage. As earthenware is porous, it absorbs any moisture on the fingers, keeping them dry. Shellac is halfway between the two; it is not porous but has some surface roughness. Sliding movements are thus easier on shellac than on a gloss glaze but harder than on the plain finish.

I can't offer much comment on synthetic finishes as I have little experience with them. The ones that I've seen are very smooth, so I'd guess they have the same problems as gloss glazes. It is possible to work around the clinging issue of smooth finishes by applying a small amount of talc or chalk dust to the fingers. This absorbs moisture and prevents the gripping surface of the skin touching the instrument.

I do recommend trying a plain finished ocarina as they feel very different to play and you cannot judge this without trying one yourself.

Finish care instructions

Ocarinas should be cleaned by wiping them over with water on a lint-free cloth.

Do not clean ceramic ocarinas using scented cleaning products or anything with a strong chemical smell. Earthenware is porous and will absorb the cleaner even on glazed ocarinas, as the finger holes are rarely sealed for tuning reasons. Once absorbed, the cleaner will gradually seep out over time leaving a lingering smell that can only be removed by re-firing.

Do not use alcohol based cleaners on shellac finished ocarinas as they will damage the finish. Use water to wipe the instruments down.

Plain finished ocarinas will discolour over time as they absorb skin moisture and oils. This can only be removed by re-firing. 600 to 800°C (1112 to 1472°F) is adequate to burn out most organic compounds. It is advisable to find the temperature the ocarina was originally fired at if possible, since firing higher than that temperature may change the instrument's tuning. The ocarinas I make should not be fired above 1060°C (1940°F).

If re-firing a glazed ocarina, to remove a chemical smell for instance, it is advisable to stilt the ocarina so that the glaze isn't in contact with the kiln shelf. Should the glaze melt during this process and it was touching, it would stick to the shelf. Stilting can usually be done using firing rods through the finger holes.

Re-firing a shellac finished ocarina will remove the finish. I have no idea what this would do to a synthetic finish, but suspect it would also remove it.

After playing

As you play, moisture from your breath will be absorbed into the earthenware. This is desirable as it stops moisture from clogging the windway and accumulating internally. However, it is important that you allow this moisture to evaporate once you are done. The ocarina should be kept in open air so any absorbed moisture can evaporate.

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