Tools You Will Need
Set aside a whole day for oiling, where you will not do any playing or practice.
When you oil your clarinet, you must leave the oil to soak into the wood. This may take 24 hours.
In addition to this, make sure that you do not oil your instrument straight after playing. It is best to leave some hours between playing and oiling, so that any moisture from playing will evaporate from the fibres of the wood.
For example, if you plan to oil on a Wednesday, your last playing session may be on Tuesday evening. This leaves a number of hours overnight for the clarinet to dry. The clarinet can be oiled on Wednesday morning, left for 24 hours to soak, and then cleaned out on Thursday morning.
Which Clarinet Sections to Oil
Oiling should be carried out on the bore of your clarinet (the inside). Do not oil the outside sections that have keys – this will simply result in a great sticky mess, which could cause more harm than good.
The sections of your clarinet that you should oil are the ones made from wood. In most cases this will be the barrel, upper joint, lower joint, and the bell. Modern mouthpieces are made from rubber, and don’t need to be oiled.
Feel free to oil the outsides of the barrel and the bell. There are no keys on these parts, and any excess oil can easily be removed.
- Place large pieces of paper under every pad on the clarinet, including the open pads. This is to help protect them from the oil (The oil is good for the wood, but not for the pads).
- Dip the tip of the feather into the oil. You only need a small amount on the tip – it will easily work its way from the tip to the rest of the feather during the oiling process.
- Push the feather into the bore (the clarinet’s inside surface) and twist it around to help coat the entire surface of the bore. You must apply a very, very thin coat of oil – a thick coat will simply result in excess oil draining into tone holes, or out of the instrument.
- Check to see that the inside has been coated evenly. If there are dry patches, simply apply the feather to those places to cover up the spots that have been missed.
- Check that oil is applied to the inside of each of the sockets. The sockets soak up oil very quickly because it is the end of the grain.
- Lightly run the feather over the ends of the tenons, but avoid getting oil onto the cork.
- Carry out the oiling procedure on each of the four sections: Barrel, Bell, Upper section, Lower section.
Find a place where you can safely leave your clarinet for 24 hours without being disturbed. Keep it away from your clarinet case and anything else that you want to keep clean from oil.
Allow the oil to soak into the wood for 24 hours.
When the soaking period has ended, check the bore to see how much oil was absorbed.
- If it has completely disappeared, then you may want to consider oiling again sometime fairly soon.
- If it has partially disappeared, you can use your judgement about how soon to re-oil the instrument.
- If there is still oil everywhere, carry out the procedure again in 3 months’ time.
Now you have finished examining the clarinet. Next, clean out any excess oil. Pull the cotton swab through in the same way that you normally clean out your instrument:
- Pull the swab through each joint
- Compress the swab into each of the sockets to make sure that all oil is removed from these sections
- Be careful not to make the keywork oily during this cleaning process
Remove all the pieces of paper from under the pads.
Practicing and Playing
You are now free to play the instrument again.
Once the instrument is cleaned of any excess oil, feel free to practice and perform again. Some people notice that the instrument sounds slightly different straight after oiling. This is because oil is still built up in crevices and other surfaces, but this will go back to normal during your first or second playing session.
When to Oil Again
I recommend oiling your instrument once every three months. At the very least, make sure you are oiling twice a year.
Some people are more zealous and oil their instruments monthly, and others feel they don’t have time to oil more than once every 6 months.
If you are able to oil your instrument more often, then that is great, because I believe that this will maintain the balance of water and oil in the wood, and keep your clarinet in much better playing condition for much longer.