Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

The botch job



There are two kinds of botch job: everyone else's...and mine.
You might think I'm perhaps a trifle vain to distinguish my own botches from those of everyone else, but the distinction is all in the approach - and, of course, the end results.

But why should a craftsman of such stature and reputation (that's me, in case you were in any doubt, OK?) even deign to so much as mention the word, let alone contemplate undertaking such a dubious task?
Because sometimes a botch job is exactly what's required.

I suppose I should clarify what the term means to me.
Most people will think of a botch job (also known as a bodge, a kludge, a lash-up) as being a complete disaster. Indeed, under ordinary circumstances there's even a sliding scale of incompetence that relates to the finished article which ranges from "A bit of a mess" through to "A right pig's ear" or a "Complete dog's dinner" - and all the way through to the magnificent "Cor blimey! 'Oo the 'ell did THIS??"
In my books though, or at least in my workshop, a botch job is a workaround - a job that isn't perhaps terribly aesthetic but nonetheless technically competent. More often than not it's used to recover from someone else's inferior botch.

For example...I've just finished repairing a broken clarinet barrel. The clarinet's a Buffet B12 - not a very expensive instrument, but quite suitable for a beginner. This particular instrument had a broken barrel. It looked to me like the barrel had taken a knock whilst it was fitted to the top joint, and the knock was of sufficient strength to crack the barrel cleanly inside the lower tenon ring.
Ideally you'd toss the barrel away and buy a new one - but they're £30 plus, and when you're on a bit of a budget every penny counts. Given that the barrel is made from a plastic it's a perfect candidate for glueing because the break will be nice and clean, and the relatively large surface area will ensure a join strong enough to withstand the use a barrel can be expected to be put to.
Unfortunately the would-be repairer who'd already had a go at it had simply slapped lots of superglue on the broken portion and simply plopped it back onto the barrel without any consideration to lining it up correctly.
Naturally, the glue doesn't know any different so it promptly sets hard - and the result was "A complete dog's dinner".

I quite like the challenge of these jobs. Everyone benefits in the end - I get to apply some thought to the job and the client saves a few quid as long as they don't mind a visible repair. I also get a hefty dose of job satisfaction out of it, a sense of winning against the odds.
In this instance I re-broke the joint and cleaned off as much old glue as possible. With the break being inside the tenon ring I realised that all I needed to do to ensure a reasonably accurate fit was to ensure that I fitted the ring (with the broken portion inside it) square on the barrel. If the ring was lined up correctly then whatever sat in it would also line up. A little turning on the lathe gave me a nice clean lip on the barrel for the ring to sit snugly upon. All I needed to do now was reglue the part. Because of the previous glue job all the nice clean edges were lost, so superglue wasn't an option. Where there's space in a joint a thin glue tends to make for a poor job, so I applied some black-stained resin glue. This would take up any discrepancies in the join, and once hard the bore of the tenon socket could be skimmed out on the lathe and the end tidied up.

In all, about £10's worth of work, and I doubt the barrel will break again in normal use.
I'm happy, the client's happy - and no-one would even know there'd been a botch job without carefully examining the bore of the barrel's tenon socket.

So if that's the case, why do I consider it to be a botch job? Well, had I had first crack (excuse pun) at the job I'd have aligned the broken parts properly and set them with a superglue. Because of the near perfect fit of the broken parts you'd have hardly been able to see the merest hint of the original crack. That's my idea of a proper job. If I really wanted to go to town I would have turned the tenon down on the lathe and fitted a whole new sleeve into which I could turn a new tenon - but that's a job more applicable to an expensive wooden barrel.

A very common botch job is seen on old Martin saxophones. These have soldered-on tone holes, and down the years the solder tends to degrade - and what with the knocks and bashes a sax tends to get in its life, these joints often crack.
To try to resolder the tone hole without completely removing it first is a botch job of the very worst kind. Oh, you should see the mess that makes!
By the time the solder has degraded, the surfaces are heavily oxidised and covered in gunk (blown through from the tone hole). There really is no other way to do the job - you have to unsolder the tone hole, clean up the mating surfaces and resolder it to the body. Makes one hell of a mess to any remaining finish, mind you.
There's a 'second degree' bodge often seen here - whereby someone attempts to fill the crack with glue.
This is OK, but more often than not there's more glue around the crack than there is in it - and you really only ever get one go at gluing a job...so if it fails, it means the tone hole has to come off.
It's a real shame to come across an otherwise spotless Martin and find that just one tone hole has a crack in the joint - and that's when I'll reach for the superglue. Mind you, I use a special type of superglue, one with gap filling properties. Providing there's at least 75% of the original joint intact, the superglue will do a very fine job of filling and securing the remainder - and for as long as it takes for either the rest of the joint to give way or other tone holes to start dropping off.
It costs but a few pounds to sort the job and it leaves the horn's finish untouched - as opposed to the 'proper job', which could run up to £40 or more depending on which tone hole needed sorting...and you'd have a less than nice witness mark around the tone hole where the lacquer gets burned away.

I've used this particular botch countless times - and it works in other areas too. Had a client drop by with a brand new horn that had taken a knock, and one of the stays of the low C key guard had come adrift. You can often do a small solder job on a modern horn without harming the finish (they use epoxy lacquers these days - very tough indeed), but there's still a degree of risk.
The guard had two stays still in play, so it seems quite reasonable to simply glue the remaining one in place. Couple of quid, and no harm to the finish.
That was five years ago, and I said to the client at the time that we'd fix it properly when he REALLY drops the horn. He hasn't yet - and the glued stay is still in place.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015