Collecting vinyl records is massively different to downloading tracks to your smartphone. Actually having the record in front of you often seems like you're just a step away from the artist who recorded it. However, there's a downside to vinyl record collecting. Depending on how you store your old vinyl discs and how often you play them, they can sometimes become warped.
Slightly warped vinyl discs can usually be played on your turntable without any loss of performance. Once the distortion noticeably affects the balance of your turntable and the audio quality, you could be tempted to flatten the uneven record. The expense of professional record flattening machines usually leads many people to perform corrective DIY surgery.
It's not a recommended procedure, particularly for any rare or vintage discs. However, if you intend on fixing a warped vinyl record, experiment first on a less valuable disc you don't care about. Whichever method you choose, always start by thoroughly cleaning the record on both sides to prevent microscopic debris and dust becoming trapped in the grooves.
This is the simplest way of flattening a warped vinyl record. You'll need heavy, flat objects to place beneath and on top of the record. Some people recommend hardback books, but you could also try large, thick pieces of wood. Apply additional weight on the top to increase the pressure, but make sure items are evenly distributed across the whole record. Leave undisturbed for a few weeks. When you finally unpack your record, don't be surprised if it's still warped. Cold pressing could be effective for minor distortions, but vinyl is more likely to respond to re-shaping if you apply heat.
Vinyl becomes malleable at around 60°C (140°F). It's this type of temperature that causes even new vinyl records to begin warping. Applying heat and pressure could help your warped disc revert to normal. A straightforward method is to use a clothes iron. Turn it to a low setting and wait for it to heat up. Meanwhile, place your record on a piece of flat cardboard on top of the ironing board. Place a sheet of paper on top of the record to protect the surface.
Apply even pressure as you slowly move the iron in a circular motion over the entire record. After thirty seconds to a minute, allow the record to cool before checking the warp. Repeat as necessary. One advantage of using this method is you have more control over the amount of heat you apply. You can also try pressing on just a small section of the disc to check how it reacts before committing to ironing the whole surface.
Many drastically warped vinyl discs have been subjected to oven baking. Theoretically, the intense heat of the oven should quickly flatten the record. Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Place the record between two large panes of glass that have been kept at room temperature to prevent them cracking when they encounter the heat of the oven.
Slide the sandwiched record onto a shelf positioned in the middle of the oven and bake for a couple of minutes. Use padded oven gloves to carefully remove the glass and record.
This is often a high risk option as the lowest setting on an oven can sometimes be set at more than 82°C (180°F). This can be enough to melt the grooves. It's a major disadvantage that could result in irreversible damage. Another is the glass may splinter and scratch the record. When you extract your record, the upper pane might not have sufficient weight to keep the record flat as it cools. Add further weight on top, but try not to crack the glass.
Something you may want to consider is that oven baking causes the vinyl to release a mixture of carcinogenic gases such as dioxins. These harmful fumes can permanently infiltrate the inner wall of your oven and every time you cook something, your food could include these deadly contaminants.
This gentler method uses indirect heat. Instead of placing the record in the oven, warm up two large flat ceramic tiles. Wear oven gloves to remove them and put one down on a flat surface protected by a towel and sheet of cardboard. Place the warped record on top then cover it with a layer of cardboard before applying the second heated tile. Press evenly with your hands or place something heavy on top.
Some people claim great success with DIY methods, while others rue their attempts. Record straightening can produce widely different results due to the extent of warping. Other factors could include the intensity of the heat source and how long you carry out the procedure. Success can also depend on the age and condition of the raw material.
Vinyl records are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) blended with polyvinyl acetate (PVA). They also include lubricants and heat stabilisers. There has never been a standardised weight for records. It has enabled manufacturers to adjust the thickness of the record according to their costs. Some vinyl discs from the prolific 1980s are arguably thinner than those of a previous era.
The depth of the record you are trying to flatten obviously impacts on your success. Vintage records in your collection could be sturdy and warp only slightly, but they are difficult to adjust. New vinyl records with a lightweight construction may heat and reshape easily, but they can suffer from being too pliable.
A factor that's impossible to know is whether your warped record has been made with recycled vinyl discs. Although this sounds noble, melting down unsold copies to manufacture new vinyl records can have an adverse effect on their quality. Manufacturing records from recycled vinyl can only occur a maximum of eight times before it's unusable.
Without doubt, the most reliable method is to use a professional record straightening machine. It has a design similar to a laptop with an upper lid and you place your warped disc inside. Both top and bottom sections are fitted with heating elements designed to apply heat, but only to the centre and perimeter edge of your vinyl disc.
The grooves that contain the unique audio imprint are left completely unscathed. Warmth circulates at a controlled rate over a length of around two hours. After another two hours of cooling off, you should be left with a completely flat record. It's virtually impossible to replicate such accuracy through a DIY method.
An affordable solution could be to ask a local record dealer for assistance. Dealers usually have record flattening equipment as it's vital for maintaining the quality of their stock. A record flattening service would involve a small charge for every record you want restored to its original state. If you can only find an online record dealer, you may have to pay postage.
Correct handling of vinyl discs starts when you make a purchase. New vinyl records are susceptible to serious warping in high temperatures. Avoid leaving them for hours in a car that's in full sun as the heat can quickly build up. At home, consider where you are storing your record collection. It's best to keep your vinyl records in a room that's shady or where they at least avoid the sun's rays to prevent sleeves fading. Don't place your records near a radiator or fireplace. Over the years, even mild heat can contribute to warping.
Placing your record shelves on an exterior wall that is often cold can also be a problem. Cool temperatures can cause the vinyl to become brittle. This could be a disadvantage if you try correcting a warped record that has become fragile as it could split in the attempt. The optimum temperature range for vinyl discs is approximately 18°C to 21°C (65° to 70°F). The humidity level should be around 45% to 50%.
The weight of the records makes a significant contribution to warping. On average, an album weighs approximately 120 grams. Storing your records in a stacked pile of only ten discs can add more than a kilogram of weight to the disc at the bottom. Uneven contents such as additional inserts, filigree sleeves or free 7" singles can all imprint over time and increase the effects of warping.
The correct way to store records is vertically. However, it's inevitable that all the records lean one way, causing the discs towards the back to still bear considerable weight. Use multiple shelf dividers or different compartments to distribute your records in small batches.
The main object of building a collection of old and new vinyl records is the pleasure of listening to them whenever you choose. Correct storages help reduce the impact of warping. However, discovering that a treasured classic has warped can be a major disappointment. Flattening warped vinyl records through a DIY method is a high risk strategy that can spoil the long-term use and value of the disc. It's usually wiser to invest in a professional machine or contact a record dealer who offers this service.