BOX CALL CARE
from the "callmaker's workbench"
Caring for box calls is more a matter of common sense than anything else--don't get them wet, don't leave them in the car on a hot day, don't accidentally sit on them (sounds like we're talking about dogs and children, doesn't it?). There are also many "rules" that sound picky, and may be, but are nevertheless helpful to keep in mind...
While it is certainly possible, and not too difficult, to learn how to perform routine maintenance on box calls, it should not be done without a little forethought, as well as caution. Folks who are making their own calls will have plenty to practice on. My suggestion for others who want to "operate" on their own calls would be to use an old cheap call you're not sentimental about, or find some calls from a garage sale or flea market (just be sure they're not, in reality, valuable calls, or antiques!). There's nothing particularly mystical or difficult about it. However, having said that, I also must emphasize the following, as I don't want to be responsible in any way for ruining anyone's call.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Removing and replacing the lid, readjusting the hinge screw, swapping springs, or altering the calling surfaces in any way can change--or possibly even ruin--the call's tone. The best rule of thumb is a familiar one: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- Chalking the lid - Start off with a light coat of chalk; chances are, it shouldn't take much on most calls (depending on the condition, of course). However, depending on the wood's surface condition, the final grit to which it was sanded, and the type of wood, some lids function best with more or less than others. Again, better to start off with less, and add a little more if necessary.
- Removing excess chalk after chalking the lid - Tap the lid gently to remove excess chalk instead of blowing it away, which inevitably deposits a little saliva on the lid. Do those little droplets ruin the call? No, but they can ruin the tone when you need it. An alternate method is to dedicate a small brush with medium-stiff bristles--specialty brushes like "stippling" brushes can work extremely well. Just be sure to keep the bristles dry and free of moisture, dirt, oils, etc.
- The Good Chalk/Bad Chalk Dilemma - It really is best, I think, to use the dryest, purest kind, without those waxes and binders that are common in blackboard, sidewalk, and some carpenter's chalk. Of course, I've known people who use them with mixed results. In my case I've found that they work for a while, then the wax or whatever gets rubbed into the lid and forms a shiny spot that causes the lid to slip and squeak across the rails instead of scraping them the right way. That doesn't mean that only chalk sold by call companies will work, however. Any dry powdered chalk without additives should work fine. Some hunters even use high-grade fiddler's rosin. I have tried the brown chalk and I always got a quick build up. I like using the blue stuff cause it's easy to find and for me I have not noticed any build up.
- Removing old chalk from (or Sanding) the lid - Occasionally, it may become necessary to lightly sand the lid--perhaps too much moist chalk built up on the surface and stuck; or perhaps repeated use burnished a "shiny" spot that altered the tone in a negative way; or maybe some dirt, oil, or other substance contaminated the surface and mixed with the chalk. Use a fine paper that is still coarse enough to remove material without burnishing it--220 or perhaps 320 but certainly no finer (extra fine sandpaper will burnish the wood or smear the material without removing it). I have also heard of many hunters using "Scotch-Brite" and similar pads for this, and for conditioning the surface of slate calls; I personally prefer sandpaper since I have a variety of grits to choose from and, therefore, have a better idea of exactly what I'm doing to the wood, but that's my personal preference. I do use those abrasive-type pads for my slate call, however. Grip the paper loosely and rub the lid as lightly as possible to gently remove the material. The same is true if the rails need sanding, but it's even more important to use a light touch there. Bearing down or sanding to the point that either the lid, side, or rail radius is altered could ruin the call. . .
- Storing the call - A cool, dry, place...not necessarily dark, but away from direct sunlight, heat sources, chemicals, humidity, and windows (esp. car windows and glove boxes). It's not a bad idea, if storing for a while, to remove most of the chalk before putting it up. Excessive moisture can cling to the chalk and sit there awhile--not a good idea.
- IMPORTANT NOTE (reprise): Altering the calling surfaces in any way can still change or possibly ruin the call's tone.