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Recorking a saxophone crook/neck

A common question asked on the various saxophone related web forums is "Why is my mouthpiece loose?"

The answer is that the cork on the crook (or neck) is too thin - to which the common response is "How do I replace the cork then?".
Well, here's how.

Before we start, it's worth running through the economics.
You will need the following:

  • One sheet of cork (1.6mm thick, high quality)
  • Tube of contact adhesive (I use Evo-Stik). Do not use superglue, woodglue etc...
  • A sheet of sandpaper - medium fine grade, say 140 grit
  • A sharp blade, such as a scalpel or a razor
  • A rule

A sheet of good quality cork will cost about £8, glue about £1.50 - so straightaway you're past a fiver in materials alone. I charge a tenner to replace a crook this is very much a page for the enthusiast.

One other point is worth raising. At some point in the procedure you will need something to support the crook on. I use a peg fitted to the workbench - you can knock up something similar by whittling down a piece of wood and holding in it a vice or clamp...or find someone to hold the crook for you at the appropriate time.

The disassembled crook

The first thing to do is to remove the octave key.
Now, I can get away with leaving it on - because I know what I'm doing, but for the amateur it's best to avoid the risk of inadvertently bending this key during the job by taking it off and putting it to one side. Don't lose the screw.
Remove the old cork. Get as much of it off as possible (a few small crumbs left behind won't hurt) and be careful not to scratch the finish beyond the cork area. If your old cork fell off there's a chance that the cork area is too smooth...a few light rubs with the sandpaper will provide a 'key' for the glue...mind that lacquer again.
Whilst you've got the octave key off - why not wash the crook out, and check that the octave key nipple is clear of gunk.

Cutting the cork

Cut the cork. Choose a nice bit of cork with no cracks or knotty bits. A standard sheet of cork is about 6 inches long by 4 inches wide - you'll be cutting the cork across its width. You need to cut the cork with a bit of overlap - you can see here that the end of the cork lies about a quarter of an inch beyond where the old cork ended, and I'm making the cut about another quarter inch beyond the tip of the crook. You may find you get better results by making a mark where you need to cut and then using the rule to help slice the cork squarely.
Why the overlap? Here's why...

Gauging the angle

Because the crook is tapered you can't simply wrap the cork round, it would end up all skewed.
Look carefully at the picture above, you can see the cork is laid on the crook at a slight angle - again overlapping the cork area by a quarter of an inch at both ends. When the cork is glued on like this it will wrap round the crook and end up pretty much square. The overlap you cut in the cork will allow for a bit of error.
A variation on the technique is to place the cork on the crook about an inch in from the chamfered end. Once the glue has been applied, this area will stick down first, after which you can stick down that inch of cork towards the chamfer...before wrapping the rest of the cork around the crook. Using this method means you can effectively do away with placing the cork at an angle, though you might need to gently tug the cork into line as you stick it down.
Note also that I have sanded a chamfer on end of the cork - this is so that when the cork wraps round on itself it will do so neatly. This chamfered side of the cork is now considered to be the top of the cork. Give both sides of the cork a very quick rub with the sandpaper - this helps to break the grain and makes it slightly more flexible (and less prone to cracking when you wrap it). Try a dry run without any glue, make sure the corks wraps nicely.
When you're happy with the setup it's time to apply the glue.
Coat the cork area of the crook with glue, then coat the entire underside of the cork with glue, then coat the chamfered area on the top of the cork. It doesn't matter if the glue goes past the chamfer... a little bit of overlap sometimes makes for a neater join.

The wrap!

Allow the glue to go tacky (a couple of minutes) and then apply the cork to the crook (don't forget it goes on at an angle). You can see how I'm wrapping the cork round the crook - ensuring a good, firm contact as I go. For crooks with an end-ring you may need to just crimp the cork down with your fingernail to ensure a good join.
Wrap the cork right over the chamfer, making sure it bonds securely.

Cutting off the excess

You now need to cut off the excess cork past the chamfer. Slice it off at an angle (as shown) right at the point where the underside of the wrapped portion breaks away from the chamfer.
Now you need to trim up the tip of the crook cork. If your crook doesn't have a ring on its tip then it's a simple matter to just cut the cork off square with the end of the crook. If it has a ring you'll have to give it your best guess. It often helps to cut the cork square with the tip of the crook first.
Don't worry about the other end just yet.
You'll now need your benchpeg, or the help of an assistant...

Sanding the cork

Slice off a strip of sandpaper and use it as above, pulling it across the cork from left to right to sand the cork down to approximate size. Start on the chamfered portion and sand it down to match the rest of the cork.
Now, just lightly sand down the cork at the very tip of the crook - all the way round.
Try your mouthpiece on it - it's highly unlikely that it will fit (but if it does then you've saved yourself having to recork the crook all over again), but it will at least give you a rough idea of how much you have to sand.

Continue sanding the whole cork down turning the crook from time to time as you go. Try to sand evenly so that you don't create any flat spots or troughs.
Try your mouthpiece on the cork from time to time - when the cork is right it should fit firmly on about a third of the way up the cork. Remember, you'll be greasing the cork - and you have to allow for compression. If you oversand the cork the mouthpiece will become loose in a very short space of time.

Trimming the end

Once you're happy with the fit you can trim up the back end of the cork. I like to use the back of a wad punch to ensure a nice square edge - but you can do it by eye with a bit of care, or you might find something knocking around the house that will fit lightly over the cork to give you an edge to cut to.
Don't ram the mouthpiece on to use as an edge... you'll over-compress the cork.
Give the cork a really good application of cork grease. If at all possible, allow the cork to rest for a few hours before using the horn....just in case your glueing is iffy. Finally, refit the octave key - making sure you position the foot of the flat spring in its little channel. A drop of oil on the rod screw wouldn't hurt - and check that the screw that holds the spring is nice and snug.

And that's all there is to it. It looks easy, but there's a knack to recorking a crook - even I still get it wrong occasionally - and there are few things more frustrating than making a cock-up of a new crook cork and having to start over - so here's a few things that can go wrong, and how to fix them.

The cork won't stick:- You've left the glue too long and it's dried out. You might get away with another coat.
The cork sticks, but not on the chamfered bit:- Dried out glue again...or maybe not enough on the chamfer. Apply more glue to the chamfer and the underside of the cork above it...allow to go tacky before closing the wrap.
The cork hasn't stuck around the tip of the crook:- This can be difficult, it's often due to faulty wrapping. You can try poking some glue in the gap and letting it dry before pushing the cork down - or you can slit the cork down the bump and glue the halves down separately, cutting off any small excess as necessary. (Sneaky tip; A drop of superglue works wonders for this problem).
I was sanding, and a big lump of cork came away:- This usually happens if you're too heavy-handed with the sanding...or your cork is less than top-notch. If a section of cork has come away with a clean break it can often be glued right back in. For rougher areas make patches out of the cork trimmings.
The cork is breaking up over the chamfer:- Again, probably too heavy with the sanding. You can reglue odd bits, and try sanding in one direction following the wrap of the cork

If all else fails call it a trial run, strip the cork off and start again.

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