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 Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-10-30 18:29

My personal answers: 1. To prevent the wood from cracking. I have never had a clarinet crack after it has been a year or two old. If it doesn't crack the first year, it usually won't crack later on. This has been my experience, at any rate. 2. To make the bore nice and smooth. When the bore gets too dry, it becomes craggy and pressure waves through it don't travel as fast. I think it should be like the barrel of a rifle that allows a bullet to travel seamlessly through it. That said, I'm better acquainted with clarinet-playing than with shooting rifles!

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: m1964 
Date:   2019-10-30 18:42

ruben wrote:

> My personal answers: 1. To prevent the wood from cracking.
> I have never had a clarinet crack after it has been a year or
> two old. If it doesn't crack the first year, it usually won't
> crack later on. This has been my experience, at any rate. 2. To
> make the bore nice and smooth. When the bore gets too dry, it
> becomes craggy and pressure waves through it don't travel as
> fast. I think it should be like the barrel of a rifle that
> allows a bullet to travel seamlessly through it. That said,
> I'm better acquainted with clarinet-playing than with shooting
> rifles!
>

Hi Ruben,

I agree with you on both #1 and #2.
My understanding is that the oil (I use sweet almond oil) does not penetrates the wood deeply but rather forms a water-resistant coat in the bore thus preventing the water/saliva from quick absorption so the inside the clarinet does not expand too quickly which, if happened, would increase chance of cracking.

There must be a reason why Buffet recommends "braking-in" new clarinets by playing no more than 30 min./day.

Backun has a comprehensive sequence on playing their new clarinets:

"Play your new clarinet ten (10) to fifteen (15) minutes at a time for the first two weeks, swabbing it thoroughly and allowing it to rest for at least four hours between sessions
In week three, play your new Backun Clarinet for up to thirty (30) minutes per session
In week four, play your new Backun Clarinet for up to sixty (60) minutes per session
After the first month, play your new Backun Clarinet as much as you like. Always remember to swab the inside and the joints of the clarinet after each session."



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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-10-30 20:43

I always find this discussion relating to oiling or not oiling to be frustrating. I don't remember reading anything here that cited any kind of observational study of the actual effect of oiling.

(To your point 1) There doesn't seem to be any way to verify why instruments *don't* crack. Conversely, I wonder if anyone (it would have to be a major manufacturer or at least a large-volume repair shop) has ever done any kind of correlation study on cracking and demonstrably dry wood.

(To point 2) Do you actually know in some way that oiling *does* make the bore smoother or that craggy surfaces slow down the velocity of the pressure waves? It seems as if that's something that might be set up as an experiment and tested, but probably none of us has done that. It may be true that a rough surface affects the velocity of sound waves, but have you seen something that actually demonstrates this. In any case, is the waves' forward velocity through the bore the whole, or even the major, issue in clarinet sound?

As to the barrel of a rifle, it isn't smooth. It's "rifled" (hence, the name) with spiral grooves that apparently increase the muzzle velocity of the bullet and improve its accuracy. Smooth-bore guns (like muskets and shotguns) don't have the muzzle velocity or the accuracy of a rifle. Maybe some manufacturer should try cutting a spiral groove down the bore of a clarinet to see what would result.

So often - always, in my experience - the positions people take about oiling a clarinet (woodwind?) bore are preceded either explicitly or implicitly with "I think" or "I suspect" or "I believe" or "they say" or, worse, "I feel." Yet Buffet didn't, when I was buying clarinets long ago, recommend ever oiling their bores. As I remember from other discussions here, they haven't changed their recommendation. What manufacturer actually makes a recommendation for oiling. Does any manufacturer condition their guarantee on the owner's doing maintenance oiling?

There may be a reason for routine oiling (I'm not talking about oiling a clarinet that is clearly dried out after not being used) that careful research could support. But there were certainly people in the past - even today, I suppose - who find snake oil to be effective for curing or preventing for all kinds of illnesses and afflictions.

Karl

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: Bob Bernardo 
Date:   2019-10-30 21:19

Well if you wish to penetrate the wood using oil you can use a vacuum system which puts out the max of about 28 pounds per square inch, the perfect vacuum and kind of forced a bit of oil inside of the bore. A 5 minute treatment won't work and a one day vacuum treatment probably won't work either. But the next question is why would we spend $500 to $20,000 for this system? I'm just letting readers know you can penetrate the bore of a barrel and the actual horn. This will force oil into the tight wood. Just measure the weight of the barrel before and after this treatment, then you will know how well it works. A good barrel can be hard to fine, one that is tapered correctly, but surely not expensive. This taper gets complicated fast. It has to do with the mouthpiece and the clarinet. So it's best to have a mouthpiece you don't ever want to change, because it's that good. Then you can adjust your horns with the right barrel taper.


Designer of - Vintage 1940 Cicero Mouthpieces and the La Vecchia mouthpieces


Yamaha Artist 2015




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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: Caroline Smale 
Date:   2019-10-30 21:40

Bore Oil doesn't need to penetrate deeply into the wood to be effective. A few microns thickness will do the job of repelling moisture just as well.

By far the most important part to oil of any clarinet is the end grain exposed at the ends of the tenons and the inside ends of the sockets. End grain is infinitely more absorbent of moisture than the bore surface, and this is one major reason for bore distortion, particularly in the very top of the upper joint.

I am not worried about whether or not "academics" have done any specific tests on this. The evidence of the effects of poor bore maintenance I have seen in 60 years of handling woodwind instruments is convincing enough for me.



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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-10-30 23:48

Caroline Smale wrote:


> I am not worried about whether or not "academics" have done any
> specific tests on this. The evidence of the effects of poor
> bore maintenance I have seen in 60 years of handling woodwind
> instruments is convincing enough for me.
>

I'm not much worried about "academics," either. I'd be happy for evidence compiled by repair people or the manufacturers themselves. Of the cracked instruments you've worked on, how many showed evidence (other that the fact of having cracked) of having dried out, especially the instruments that were beyond a year or two old?

I, for what little it's worth, have owned 12 clarinets over my playing life. Two, both less than a year old, have cracked. I have never oiled my instruments routinely. That's not evidence one way or the other. I may just have been very lucky. Twelve clarinets, of probably millions that have been sold and used over the last, shall we say, century, isn't much of a sample. It doesn't really prove anything much.

Not all repair people agree with you that failure to do routine oiling is responsible for cracking instruments. We all tend to remember things that support what we already believe and maybe discount as exceptions the things that don't support us. I only wish that someone who deals with a lot of instruments over time would decide consciously to contribute to answering this question (which has been asked, I'm certain, far longer than I've been a clarinetist, maybe as long as woodwind instruments have existed) by keeping objective notes on the condition of the wood for each cracked instrument they work on (could include oboes and bassoons, I would think), then after a reasonable number of instruments, compiling those notes. It wouldn't take an "academic" or a university physics lab. Just a very busy repair shop.

What would be needed is an objective way to define and identify dry wood.

Karl



Post Edited (2019-10-31 00:29)

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: m1964 
Date:   2019-10-31 19:02

I have a friend, professional player, who thinks that oiling the clarinet closes pores in the wood and dulls the sound.
I believe that the most important factor in crack prevention is not to expose the instrument to sudden temperature change.
I did see one clarinet that cracked when the owner, after playing, decided to smoke a cigarette and opened a window. It was cold outside and the clarinet that was close to the open window, cracked quite badly.
I personally oil my clarinets once a day for two days after not paying for a couple of weeks.

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: bmcgar 2017
Date:   2019-10-31 19:32

Sixty years of handling clarinets here too, and lots of clarinets owned and played (with no correlation in results that I can see between oiling and not), yet I still do care "what the academics say" because I know that my sample, limited to some dozens of clarinets, is still too small and the other variables unknown or uncontrolled to make anything I say about this anything but mere hearsay.

B.

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-10-31 20:54

m1964 wrote:

> I have a friend, professional player, who thinks that oiling
> the clarinet closes pores in the wood and dulls the sound.
> I believe that the most important factor in crack prevention is
> not to expose the instrument to sudden temperature change.

Two examples of the problem - I think, I believe. No criticism of m1964 meant. The problem is that these ideas, which are basically anywhere between opinions and educated guesses with a lot of "conventional wisdom" repeated from other sources, are all we have to work with.

What we really can't do is say that anyone really knows with any certainty.

I asked earlier, and I'll ask again (not meant rhetorically) - do any of the clarinet manufacturers (or, opening this up, oboe or bassoon makers) today specifically recommend an oiling routine for their instruments?

Karl



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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: ruben 
Date:   2019-10-31 21:11

1964: A big difference in temperature between the bore temperature (hot) and the outside surface of the wood (cold) could cause cracking too.

rubengreenbergparisfrance@gmail.com
JL-Clarinette

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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: Caroline Smale 
Date:   2019-11-01 02:27

Ref kdk's post, I don't think anywhere in my post that I actually made any correlation between oiling and cracking. I did however make a connection between the correct maintenance and the condition of the bores (and sockets and tenons equally).
I have seen socket and tenon end grain literally rotted and soft from failure to dry and oil the end grain.
My own pair of Leblanc LLs, bought new by me in 1960, still show the very fine lines left by the socket cutting tools nearly 60 years ago.
I base my comment on experience of working on well in excess of 1000 clarinets in my 25 years in the repair trade.
In fact I do believe that the biggest risk of cracking is caused by excessive temperature differentials of the inside and outside of the bores, applicable at any age but especially in the early months of an instruments life.



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 Re: Why oil the barrel of a clarinet?
Author: kdk 2017
Date:   2019-11-01 03:58

Caroline Smale wrote:

> Ref kdk's post, I don't think anywhere in my post that I
> actually made any correlation between oiling and cracking. I
> did however make a connection between the correct maintenance
> and the condition of the bores (and sockets and tenons
> equally).
> I have seen socket and tenon end grain literally rotted and
> soft from failure to dry and oil the end grain.

My apologies. I was conflating your post and ruben's.

Actually, to a degree I agree with you about the end grain. I recently decided to oil the tenon area of my Bb clarinet because of some lightening of the wood at the end of the tenon. I applied the oil with my finger twice over each of two nights. The light appearance has darkened up to match the surrounding wood. If the same thing happens again in the future, I'll repeat the oil application. This is why I've carefully referred in my posts to a lack of documentation to show that *routine* maintenance oiling is important or necessary. I applied a specific treatment to a specific problem.

As to ruben's original suggestion that routine oiling prevents the wood from cracking, I am still unconvinced that one has anything to do with the other. I could be swayed by evidence, but I haven't ever seen any.

Karl

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