Care of your Woodwind Instrument

A woodwind instrument must be swabbed out after each session and, in long periods of playing, swabbed out at regular intervals.

When not being played, the instrument should always be on a stand or in its case.

Never lay the instrument on its key work.  This risks having moisture tracking over the pads and tone holes, resulting in water problems while playing.

Clean the mouthpiece and reed once a week.  This will lessen build-up of gunk and bacteria.  Reeds will last longer and it is good personal hygiene.

Swabbing Out

Always use a clean, lint free material.  Silk is the best as it is highly absorbent and leaves no residue.

Do not leave the swab in the case after use.  A damp swab causes corrosion of key work and springs and prevents the instrument drying out properly.

Wipe key work with a soft lint free cloth such as a microweave cloth, as grease and acid left from hands will corrode key work.  Be careful not to unhook the needle springs.


Always dismantle the instrument and put into its case.  This is especially important for clarinets and oboes as the tenons need to dry out.   If tenons swell the instrument may be impossible to dismantle without damage.

Do not leave the instrument in a car, next to a window, close to heating or in direct sunlight.

Do not put anything on top of the instrument inside the case as objects may become jammed against the instrument.

There should be no movement of the instrument when it in inside the case. A snug fit lessens the likelihood of damage should it be dropped or suffers impact.

When travelling keep the instrument as hand luggage as this lessens the risk of damage and keeps the instrument at a suitable temperature:  luggage holds can become very cold.


Oil key work every month using key oil from a woodwind shop.

Take a needle and put a drop of oil on the tip.  Apply a drop to each junction of key and post.  One drop is enough as over oiling will create problems.  Remove excess with a cotton bud.

Sticky pads are caused by moisture attracting dust and dirt causing a build-up of gunk between pad and tone hole.  At best, this results in noisy pads.  At worst, it can prevent the key lifting.  This problem can be controlled by placing a cigarette paper between the pad and tone hole.  Hold the pad closed with gentle pressure and pull the cigarette paper through.  Do this two or three times.  If this does not alleviate the problem, see a repairer.  Regular swabbing and allowing the instrument to dry will lessen the chance of sticky pads developing.

Cork grease

I recommend La Tromba cork grease which can be purchased from a woodwind shop. Only use it when the instrument becomes difficult to assemble.  Use sparingly:  too much will push up into the joint above and ultimately interfere with pads and adjust corks.

Bore Oil

Bore oil prevents moisture saturating the bore which can lead to cracking.  Be careful not to over oil as this can create stuffy sound and the oil can flow onto pads.  In most cases oiling of the bore and body should be left to your repairer and is usually done every two to three years.

If you choose to do this yourself, apply a few drops to a swab (not the same one used to remove moisture) and pull through each section, repeating until an even coating is seen.

Removing dust from under key work

Use a small, soft paintbrush to sweep dust out, being careful not to dislodge bumper corks or springs.  The brush will remove most of the dust and the reminder can be blown out.

If a bumper cork is dislodged, reattach using contact adhesive such as Selleys KwikGrip.  Apply to both surfaces, wait five minute and press together.  If it is in an awkward position or is difficult to do, take it to your repairer.

New instruments

A new instrument needs to be played-in as blowing hot, moist air down a new wooden tube can cause it to absorb water, increase the temperature, expand and, in some cases, crack.

A new instrument must be acclimatised with short periods of blowing.  Initially, blow no more than 10 minutes at a time.  This can be done several times a day, provided a pull through is used to remove excess moisture after each session.  Increase the time to 20 minutes in the second week and so on.

Sometimes wood will crack no matter how carefully this is done.  There may be a fault but remember, wood is organic.  In most cases cracks are repairable and the wood will stabilise over time.  This is very common in oboes and is not something to be too concerned about.  In rare cases, where a crack goes through to the bore or over an extreme length, the joint will need replacing.

When purchasing a new instrument make use of the warranty and back up service offered.  New instruments ‘settle in’ and will require adjustment and checking over the first few months of use.

Woodwind Repair Australia

42 Middleton Street
Highett Victoria 3190