Click on this link to read about how to oil the wood of your clarinet.
Without proper care, any wood can deteriorate over time. How long it takes to deteriorate will depend on its environment. And by most accounts, the environment for a clarinet is fairly taxing.
As an example, woods that are used in outdoor settings, such as decking boards for patios or wooden ornaments in gardens, are subject to sun, wet weather and dry weather. These elements tend to strip woods of their oils and break down the tissues that hold the cells and fibres together.
Indoor wooden products, such as furniture, are not normally subject to any of these difficulties, and so will normally last a lot longer with very minimal maintenance.
Clarinets live in an environment that is probably on the harsher side. They normally do not see direct sunlight, but the interior of the clarinet is normally soaked in water for long periods every day.
Take a look at the following photos. Grenadilla is a very oily wood, but as the oil disappears, the colour changes to something much lighter. These clarinets are being stripped of their oils by the constant presence of water.
In the first photo of the barrel, you can see that the colour is very light. The deepest part of the socket has a light colour and this extends a half-centimeter up the side of the socket. Then the colour goes dark. The dark colour is most likely from cork grease used on the cork of the joint that goes into the socket. Also, the lightest part of the barrel is the inside corner that leads to the inner bore. The wood is thinnest at the corner, so it makes sense that it would lose the most oil.
The second photo shows a tone hole that is changing colour. This normally happens with tone holes that collect water. The constant absorption of water has dried this one out.
There are groups of people that believe that clarinets should never be re-oiled. One of their arguments is that the wood does not soak up the oil into the grains.
I believe that if you are removing oil with daily use, then the oil should be replaced to keep it in its original condition (one reason among many). The following photos show that grenadilla wood certainly does absorb the oil to replace the oil that has been lost.
The first photo shows the oil soaking into the wood’s growth rings (the layers you can see) that have become prominent due to overexposure to water.
The second photo shows the middle-C tone hole where the left-hand ring finger usually sits. This section of wood normally becomes dried out (due to hand perspiration), and here the wood has soaked up oil very quickly.
The third photo shows a whole section of the top joint under the thumb key. The clarinet often gets held here and so it tends to lose its oils. You can see here that the entire area has soaked up the first coat of oil very quickly and is ready to take in more.
Which Oils to Use for Wood
There is often some discussion about which oils to use for the bore. I generally recommend sweet almond oil that is cold-pressed and raw. There are some reaons for this which I will talk about in another article.
Linseed oil is not a good oil to use on a clarinet for a number of reasons, if you like the way that your clarinet currently plays. It can harden solid and reek havoc with your instrument. It can also be dangerous to use:
Synthetic oils are generally processed petroleum products and so are unsuitable for organic woods. It is also not 100% safe. You can see this in the following data sheet.
Youtube Video against oiling wood – count the mistakes in his method
Fixing up Wood
Here are a few ‘before and after’ photos. Grenadilla wood is great to work with because the repairs are often completely invisible.
How to Restick a Tenon Cork
In answer to a question I received, I created this video to help you to get by with a broken cork until you can get it replaced.