There are many ways to lubricate the cork between the joints of your instrument. Some lubricants are traditional, like cork grease, Vaseline, and paraffin/candle wax. Others are less intuitive and even exotic such as Teflon/plumberís tape, mink oil and even STP! Which one is best for you?
The cork grease used by your typical band director or sold at your local music shop consists chiefly of lanolin, a substance derived from wool-bearing animals such as sheep. It is a non-petroleum based, water-repellent, waxy substance valuable as a lubricant grease. Lansinoh, a pure, hypoallergenic, medical grade lanolin with bacteria growth inhibitors is used by nursing mothers to lubricate cracked and sore nipples and as a balm for a variety of minor skin irritations. There is some belief cork grease will rot (cotton) thread-wrapped cork joints such as those found on bassoons, but there are contradictory opinions about these. In either case, most oboes rely solely on cork on the connecting joint tenons and not thread and this debate is moot.
Vaseline or petroleum jelly is much thinner in consistency than cork grease. It is a semi-solid, translucent substance without taste or smell. Like cork grease, it is waterproof and a good lubricant. A very, very small amount of petroleum jelly spreads very thinly and very easily. This is the preferred method of application. Using large or even medium dollops of Vaseline are not useful because it has a tendency to move away from the cork into areas you do want, especially your instrument case. However, for the generally small surface area of an oboeís tenon joint corks, petroleum jelly, in small amounts, works quite well.
Paraffin wax, more commonly known as candle wax is a familiar choice among bassoonists because of their thread-wrapped corks. While by itself, it is a poor lubricant for oboe tenon corks, it is sometimes found mixed with small amounts of beeswax (85% / 15%) to reduce the crumbling nature of paraffin alone as well as adding a suppleness which increases adhesion. Like cork grease, this thicker, waxy compound lends itself better to the larger, string-wound tenons of bassoons.
Teflon or plumberís tape, found at your local hardware store, can be stretched tightly over top of your tenon corks to make a very thin and very slick surface. Think of non-stick Teflon frying pans and youíll get the idea. The only drawbacks to this method is that the tape is expensive compared to the other methods discussed here and that it doesnít like to stay in place after repeatedly assembling and disassembling your instrument. There is also a chance you could make the joint too slick and your instrument will come apart, possibly falling and becoming damaged as a result. Otherwise, it works.
Mink oil comes from the thick fatty layer found just under the skin of minks. It is expensive and has a strong odor. While it will indeed lubricate your tenons, it is not recommended.
Finally, the most unusual substance used to lubricate tenon corks is STP, the automotive oil additive. PROS: It is absorbed readily by the cork, stays where you put it and lasts a long time. CONS: Is messy if you donít have a bottle with a smaller tip to apply it with. It might dissolve the adhesive holding the cork onto the oboe.