A toolkit for simple woodwind repairs

I think it’s really valuable to be able to do a few small repairs on woodwind instruments. As a doubler, I’ve found it to be a financial necessity—I can’t afford to run to the repair shop every time some little thing needs tweaking on one of my instruments—and it’s a great way to get to know your instruments better. (I do still make sure my instruments visit a real professional on a regular basis.)

There are some inexpensive and easily-obtained tools that are useful to have around. Most of these things you can easily buy locally; only a few require buying from a musical instrument repair supplier (MusicMedic.com and Ferree’s Tools are a couple of good suppliers that happily sell to non-pros). These are tools and supplies suitable for small repairs and maintenance, the kinds of things that you can do mostly with common sense or with instructional materials available online. The most expensive item on my list is a “selection” of sheet cork, which I have pegged at about $20 to get smallish pieces in a few different thicknesses. You can get my entire list for less than the cost of a decent clarinet mouthpiece.

Click each item for a description.

simple repair tools
(see larger image)
rags cigarette papers cork sandpaper felt contact cement needle oiler lubricant paintbrushes shrink tubing screwdrivers pliers cigarette lighter spring hook cork grease plumbers tape razor blades tweezers

Click column headings to sort.

item useful for get it at appx. cost
Rags Cleaning, polishing, setting small screws on so they don’t roll away, touching hot instrument parts Home. Tear up an old shirt or bed sheet that has been washed many times $0
Cigarette papers, ungummed Soaking up moisture from toneholes, cutting into strips for makeshift feeler gauges A tobacco shop, or, for less offensive odor, a double reed supplier $1
Sheet cork, assorted thicknesses Replacing compressed or missing cork bumpers A musical instrument repair supplier $20
Wet-dry sandpaper, 400-grit Shaping cork and felt A hardware store $6
Dense felt, assorted thicknesses Replacing compressed or missing felt bumpers, quieting noisy keywork A musical instrument repair supplier, or maybe cut up an old felt hat; “craft” felts don’t work as well $2
Contact cement (jar with brush in lid) Adhering cork and felt to metal, lacquer, and wood A hardware store $4
Needle oiler Getting tiny drops of oil into hard-to-reach spaces A hardware store, hobby store, or musical instrument repair supplier $5
Automotive gear oil (or your own favorite key lubricant; I find many commercial “key oils” to be too runny) Lubricating and quieting keywork and other mechanisms An auto parts store $10
Small soft paintbrushes Gently removing dust and gunk from keywork without disassembly A drugstore or hobby store $1
Shrink tubing Replacing missing tubing on bridge mechanisms such as for saxophone octave keys and bassoon low E/whisper keys A musical instrument repair supplier or an electronics hobby store $2
Screwdrivers, assorted small standard, such as those found in a precision set Tightening and adjusting screws A hardware store. Give the leftover Phillips-head ones to a friend who wears eyeglasses $6
Small smooth-jawed needlenose pliers Gripping and bending, while minimizing damage to instrument finishes A hardware store $10
Cigarette lighter Softening shellac or glue to re-adhere loose pads, shrinking shrink tubing A drugstore $1
Crochet hook Putting errant springs back into place A drugstore or hobby store. If you like, file a groove into the non-hook end, so you have one end for pulling and one for pushing $1
Cork lubricant, solid and/or liquid Lubricating corks, quieting rollers A music store $3
Teflon “plumber’s” tape Holding together crumbling tenon corks, locking loose screws, filling space left by worn pivot screws A hardware store $1
Razor blades Cutting cork and felt. These require very sharp blades to cut neatly A drugstore $5
Tweezers Manipulating springs, screws, and various tiny parts A drugstore $1
Total About $80

6 thoughts on “A toolkit for simple woodwind repairs”

  1. Bret, I carry super glue GEL in my small tool/repair kit.
    This glue gives you a few seconds of working time and it sets quickly. Really strong bond for gluing corks, felts etc.
    WAY smaller than a contact cement jar!
    Greg Huckins

    • Thanks for the tip! That would definitely be smaller, but do you find that it’s a problem if you need to remove the corks or felts later? I would be concerned about the super glue taking off saxophone lacquer, etc.

  2. Bret, in doing an emergency glue-on in a pit or off stage before a concert, IMO contact cement takes a bit too long.
    You need just a tiny amount of super glue gel to adhere the cork or felt back on- and it sets fairly quickly. I think some WW techs are using different types of cyanoacrylate adhesives for many things in the shop. And there are de-bonder solutions for removing it. Maybe a tech will join in on this thread-

  3. You should put some cardboard in there for making wedges and having something that can prop open keys or elevate mechs on the instruments.

  4. I like to keep pipe cleaner around for obvious reasons. When I have something trying to back out, I can clean it. If that’s not working, I know what the problem is.


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