Clarinets made of grenadilla wood present their own peculiar problems, and this section will be devoted primarily to the care of wind instruments made of wood. The chief difficulty with wood is that it is liable to check and crack if not properly selected, cured, and cared for while in use. Everyone knows what happens to hands that are washed and dried constantly in cold weather; they chap and crack. The same kind of common sense rules must be observed in caring for wood instruments that must be observed in keeping your hands from chapping and cracking.
The main precautions are to keep water out of the wood and not to expose it to quick changes of temperature. Nothing can keep wood from cracking if you let water into the grain. The power of water to crack wood is illustrated by the ancient method of quarrying stone. Before dynamite was invented, holes were drilled into the stone, these holes were filled with wood pegs, and water was poured on these pegs, causing them to swell. The expansion of the wood exerted such terrific force that the stone was broken apart. The same force of nature will expand and crack your wood clarinet if you do not keep it dry.
The wood of which clarinets are made cracks because it swells and shrinks unevenly. The thickness of the wood doesn’t allow it to swell evenly when impregnated with water from the inside, nor to shrink evenly when drying from the outside. The pressure of the wet wood on the inside causes the dry wood on the outside to crack open.
Repair a Crack
Wood is a product of nature and cannot be standardized. From the time the grenadilla wood log is cut from the wasteland of Mozambique or Madagascar, South Africa, up to the finished clarinet, fully 90% of the wood has been discarded through expert saving, careful selection, long years of curing, treating in oil, and repeated inspection. The wood in fine clarinets is as near perfect as human skill and experience can get it. And yet a certain percentage of clarinets will crack in spite of everything, and even though they receive expert care while in use.
If your clarinet does crack, don’t be unduly alarmed. Experienced professional clarinet players think nothing of it and they consider the clarinet after it is repaired to be less liable to crack again than it was before it was repaired. Many fine old clarinets are pinned in several places.