Firstly, be sure never to start playing a wooden oboe that is cold to the touch. This can cause the wood to split, as the inside expands while the outside does not. Holding the oboe, (the top joint in particular) against ones skin is a good way to warm it up. Also, avoid playing in a cold or draughty room. Eighteen degrees Celsius is the minimum temperature for professional orchestras.
Secondly, make sure you have a pull through or swab that leaves no lint. Be sure to clean and dry the inside of the oboe thoroughly after playing and clear away any water from the inside of the tone holes, using cigarette papers to absorb any water under the pads, and blowing water out from the tone holes.
DO I NEED TO OIL MY WOODEN OBOE?
Yes, you need to oil wooden oboes from time to time. If the wood is too dry it will absorb condensation and moisture when you are playing and retain it, which some people believe can contribute to splitting. Oiling keeps the wood from becoming very dry and helps the oboe retain its size and shape for longer (and therefore its pitch and tone) and helps prevent the wood from changing shape and size. Some experts say that as the wood shrinks, the bore becomes bigger.
WHEN DO I OIL MY NEW OBOE?
When the wood of the bore looks dry and pale in colour compared to the outside of the oboe, it’s time to oil your oboe. If you look inside the bottom of the top joint of your oboe, you will get an idea of how dry it is. New oboes need to be oiled more often than older oboes. In the first year your oboe might need oiling three times, the second year twice, and the third year only once.
NOTE: For Rigoutat oboes, once a month is recommended by the maker for the first six months.
OILING YOUR OBOE
Firstly, leave your oboe to dry for a full day before oiling (No playing for a full day before). You can use almond oil for oiling your oboe and this can be purchased from most chemists. Get an old swab that fits the top joint and use about a cap full of oil. Put the oil in the palm of your hand, and pass the swab through the oil, spreading it onto the material. (You will need a good supply of tissues to wipe the oil from your hands thoroughly before you touch your oboe, or wash them in soapy water).
Then, pass the swab into the top joint, keeping the tone holes pointing up as we don’t want any oil to get into the tone holes or onto the pads. The aim is to get an even and thin coating of oil all around the inside of the oboe. Then do the same with the middle and lower joints. You may need a little more oil for the middle joint as your pull through or swab won’t be so snug in these joints. Again, aim for a thin, even layer of oil. (It is not necessary to oil the outside of the oboe).
Leave your oboe for an hour to absorb what it can, then take a new, fresh pull through or swab and pass it through each of the joints of the oboe, with the aim of removing excess oil. (Almond oil can harden as it dries, thus the need to remove any excess oil). Wait another day, or overnight, before playing your oboe after oiling is finished, allowing time for the oil to dry.
You can keep your oily pull through in a sealed plastic bag for next time. No need to clean it, unless you find that the next time you go to use it, the old oil has crystallized on the material. However, you should wash the newer pull through, which you may have used to wipe off excess oil, in hot soapy water.
Martin Lee, Principal Cor Anglais, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand 3 August 2018
Disclaimer: These are my own personal opinions and not the views of my employers.