Water Issues?

Are you frustrated by a tone hole that continually collects water no matter how many times you swab out your oboe and apply cigarette paper to dry the pad?

Sounds like you might need to retrain your oboe to stream condensation down the back of the bore (thumb-rest side).  Perhaps you may also need to clean your tone holes.  Dust from your swab or feather collects on the inside edge of the tone holes, absorbing moisture and ultimately attracting more significant amounts of water over time.

How to retrain your oboe to handle condensation

  • Let your oboe dry overnight – out of the case.
  • If you are an oboist who is comfortable taking off the keys, do so.  You may as well clean all of the tone holes while you have the keys off, not just the offending one, with a homemade Q-tip**.  If you have never taken the keys off your oboe, you might wish to skip this step for now and save that effort when you have more time to learn key removal, and more importantly, how to put the keys back on!
  • In the morning, dip your reed-making mandrel into a glass of water so it collects a droplet of water.
  • Hold your top joint at a 45 degree angle key side up, (the bottom joint rarely needs to be retrained), and carefully place the drop of water at the base of the well where the reed is normally placed.  Make sure that the droplet does not touch the top (octave vent side) of the bore.
  • You may have to repeat the process in order to increase the size of the droplet enough so that it begins traveling down the bottom side of bore.  Tapping the oboe every once in a while keeps the droplet moving.  You could also advance the droplet by blowing gently into the bore with the keys closed.

IMPORTANT! Be sure to monitor the path of the  droplet.  If it swings up the bore on either side, it’s simply following an old water track.  Should this happens, swab out the bore and begin the process again – as many times as needed.  Eventually, the droplet will travel straight down the bore.

Repeat this process each day for a week to habituate the new water track.  You shouldn’t have any more water problems – that is until your tone holes collect significant dust again.

Tip:  If you usually hold the oboe straight up and down on your knee during rests, or you use an oboe peg without first swabbing the moisture out of the bore, you may have created your current water dilemma.

Water finds the most direct route downhill that it can.  The easiest route for condensation to travel down the inside of a cone – and the oboe is just a fancy cone – is a spiral.  This path directs water to the tone holes as seen in the “front view”.

If however, you hold your oboe on a tilt, “side view”, water will travel down the back of the bore and your water problems should be a thing of the past – that is, once you have cleaned your tone holes and retrained your oboe – and yourself – to handle moisture more effectively.

** Homemade Tone Hole Swab (Q-tip)

A regular Q-tip (on the right) is a little too large to clean most of the tone holes in the oboe’s top joint.

A round toothpick and a little cotton taken from a cotton ball (easily found at drug stores) makes a perfect tone hole swab.  Use more cotton for the larger tone holes and use less for the smaller holes.

Hint: Scoring the end the toothpick will help the cotton adhere as you wrap it around.