The Doctor's view on Oiling vs. Waxing

On the forum, the question came up as to whether to wax clarinet wood or oil it. Working on old information, I said oiling was preferred. But, as a reader pointed out, it turns out that my recommended oil source (linked below) also sells wax. So I asked for Dr. Omar's advice.

Hi Phil,

… Actually, it is not either/or but both. My approach is to let the wood breathe and exchange moisture with the environment - taking in moisture when the wood is dry and expelling moisture when the wood is wet.

In order for this moisture exchange to happen the pores in the wood surface must must be clean because the natural oil in the wood combines with dust and pollutants in the air to form a gunk that clogs these pores. This cleaner should be detergent based but one which will not suck out too much oil out of the wood.  A good product is either my cleaner or Murphy's Oil Soap which are formulated for wood and do not remove a lot of oil except on the surface of the wood.

After cleaning I apply oil.  I apply a thin coat of oil and let it sit overnight.  If all of the oil is absorbed I repeat the process until oil is left on the surface which I wipe off and let the wood dry an additional 16 hours. This process lets the wood tell when it has absorbed enough oil.  I also oil pieces of the instrument because each more than likely comes from a different tree and each gains or looses oil at a different rate so oiling pays attention to each piece of wood and not oiling the entire instrument all at once.

I do apply a wax once the wood is oiled.  This is not a normal wax however and was developed by the British Museum especially for their wooden artifacts. A normal wax will seal the pores which is not what we want if we want the wood to breathe. This wax is a synthetic wax made up of many tiny plates.  These plates overlap but allow some moisture to move in an out.  It relies on the same principal as the waterproof Goretex fabric which does not allow water droplets to penetrate but allows moisture to exchange with the environment. This wax also brings out the depth and luster of the wood grain and does not show fingerprints like most waxes.  To my knowledge this is the only wax that works in this way. It is unique and also very expensive and not readily available. Without this wax I would only go through the process of cleaning and oiling the wood to keep the pores open.

Hope this helps.


L. Omar Henderson Ph.D. CEO
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