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How to prevent a wooden instrument from cracking


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
How to prevent a wooden instrument from cracking

There are many viewpoints on the issue of how to prevent an instrument from cracking. From "you can’t" as ?if it will crack it will crack? to specific care to be taken. I?d rather caution on the safe side rather than throw caution into the wind.

[1] A new wooden instrument is under great stress when new. It has not gone through the rigorous cycles of warming up and cooling down. The first six months are very important for the instrument. There are many viewpoints when it comes to how to break in a new instrument (or even if). Keep the bore well oiled for the first 6 months. Basically, a few drops on a pull through is all that is needed. After about an hour if the instrument didn’t need it then swab out any excess. But only do this if it looks dry or better yet feel inside the bore on occasion to see if it feels rough to the touch (it’s wood but it was bored and polished at the factory).

Also do not forget about the sockets and tenons, especially the sockets. Check you barrel sockets for excessive dryness especially if older.

[2] Keep the instrument dry. After playing, dry the instrument thoroughly so that any moisture does not soak into the wood. Initial factory oiling and bore oil should prevent this, but keeping it dry is an extra precaution.

[3] Prevent extreme temperature changes.
If you live in a cold climate do not leave your instrument in the cold for long periods of time. And keep it with you in the main cabin of your vehicle and in a warm spot (not the trunk if at all possible).

Also do not leave the instrument in the hot sun in the summer, or in a vehicle. The interior of a car can get extremely hot sitting in the sun.

An outer case cover can help keep the instrument cooler (to a point) in the summer.

Of course, even taking these precautions you have to take others. No matter what, you do have to walk from your vehicle to a practice room in the summer or winter. In extreme temperature situations (going to practice in the winter), leave the case open so that the instrument has some time to come up to ambient room temperature.

If still cold to the touch put the barrel and upper joint under your arm pit to assist the outer wood to warm up. We are trying to avoid the outer wood from being super cold and contracted and thus having opposite forces of the inner bore getting nice and warm and expanding.

[4] Prevent any drops or other severe shocks to the instrument. Have you ever seen bell or lower tenon cracks on soprano clarinets? That is usually due to someone dropping the instrument.

Hope this helps

Read why wood instruments crack
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Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
I thought I would update this on an example of a surface crack.
copied from http://clarinetperfection.com/WhyCrack.htm

This is pictures of a clarinet where the crack is not visible. The instrument is cold and has not been played yet.
I provide 3 pics for you to review. You can identify the crack in the 1st picture. It is the grain that runs from
just above center of the trill key to the top edge of the joint. On the 3rd picture you can see a little scratch - the crack goes right through this scratch.

Now here is the instrument after it has been warmed up

Quite incredible isn't it. The instrument is "leak-free" before it warms up. But the crack goes through the tonehole,
and as you can see creates quite the gap. In the tonehole, this allow air to easily go under the pad and thus a
leak is identified. So the instrument will play very nicely for about 10 minutes then all of a sudden response is lost.
Of course if you are playing concert music you may have rests and such which the instrument may actually
"come and go" in it's "playability" as it cools and warms up.
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Distinguished Member
Distinguished Member
Nice pictures. This is why we mark cracks with a pencil line and ask our customers to do the same because they often "disappear" like that making them hard to detect.

Also if you live in a dry climate such as Utah or Arizona, it is effective to use a humidifier inside the case when the instrument is not in use. Many of the woodwind cracks we repair are on instruments owned by players who have moved to Utah from an area with high humidity. I have heard that manufacturers are moving away from the advice to keep the bore oiled since that does nothing to keep the outside of the body from drying and cracking.

String players have used various methods of keeping the humidity in the case constant and even have small hygrometers to monitor the humidity.

String players have used various methods of keeping the humidity in the case constant and even have small hygrometers to monitor the humidity.

Moving (temprarily) from rainy UK to sunny Perth, Western Australia I have taken a few toys with me. 3 months after the move, the Leblanc LL suddenly dropped all its rings, and the bell ring swivelled.

Having stripped it down and slowly oiled the body and bore, the rings are tight again - but it was a shock.

I did the same with the bass and alto clarinet.

I now have hygrometers and humidity sources all my cases and they are kept at 55% (rather than the atmospheric 30%)



Old King Log
Staff member
An unpleasant surprise perhaps, but not that far out of the realm of the usual. Last that I checked, England is a pretty dank and humid place, and much of Australia is pretty dry. Wood, being wood, is going to act according to its nature, and the net result is you've got loose rings.

I've never been so afflicted except for one bell ring, which persists in staying loose, soaking treatment not withstanding. Not what I want, but thus far there have been no problems in forty years of "looseness".
I have a question. If an instrument has surface cracks along the grain but not deep enough to reach the bore nor long enough to reach any tonehole, would it be sufficient to use superglue to fill in instead of pinning the instrument? Moreover, would one register such as merely cosmetic matter in patching?


Clarinet CE/Moderator
Staff member
I have a question. If an instrument has surface cracks along the grain but not deep enough to reach the bore nor long enough to reach any tonehole, would it be sufficient to use superglue to fill in instead of pinning the instrument? Moreover, would one register such as merely cosmetic matter in patching?
If you currently have a crack that is surface only that is indicative of many cracks where the inside bore, while playing and getting warm, expands. The outside (say on a cold day) is cold and "shrunk". As the outside warms up a bit the inside expanding force overcomes the outside shrinking force and "pop", the wood cracks. This is just one possibility of how an outside crack is created.

Now that crack may or may not get longer as times goes on. Thus the reason, as you mentioned, to fix it.

Yamaha actually recommends the use of a super glue instead of pinning.
I will use the most appropriate method that I see fit for cracks so it can vary for me. There are other options too such as the use of pins, carbonfiber banding or (the original method) surface or flush metal banding

For your surface crack, not seeing it and going by your description, I would use a superglue.

now, keep in mind your regular off the shelf superglue isn't what we normally use. We use a high strength super glue. I think this may be available off the shelf in certain brands but it is more expensive (but not much really) and you just have to read the labels.

The most difficult part is that you want to crack to open a bit to put the superglue in and then cool the body around the crack it so it closes completely. I will make sure that the body is in a very good condition, otherwise recondition the body to make sure it is in it's original state and the crack is flush and closed.

In the above pictures I was able to open the crack by use of a, for simple definition, a temperature controlled hair dryer/film heat shrinker and thus cool it with a cooling hair dryer thingie. So I can change it's inside and outside temperature quite quickly if needed.

I do not recommend just putting superglue in a crack, as if it is visibly open then the superglue will end up being a filler and the sides of the crack wont be bonded to each other.

If one dabs superglue on a closed crack then one does not know how much penetration it gets into the crack.

Thus your mileage may vary on your technique.
Reason why I ask this is because I've seen a few used instruments that's a little... abused (such as being left dry enough that this happens), but not to the point where the the response would be lost in sustained playing. I would now shy away from getting these horns no matter what their pedigree might be as taking one of these and have Gonzo the great do his magic on it would easily be more costly than having gotten a properly serviced instrument from Gonzo at the get-go...

One case in point is this vintage Albert Orsi Bb that I have... I fed it up with Omar's oil to stabilize the wood, but the surface cracks along the grain are still there. The horn doesn't lose its response when playing or anything...