Reed Making: how I do it, part 2.

Picking up where my previous post leaves off, we now have a piece of cane folded over and the tube made round. We still have to seal the tube up and create a fulcrum to maintain the tip opening by beveling and putting on the wires. Then we wrap the turban and seal with Duco cement.

Last we left our reed sitting on the drying rack for about two weeks. I’ll go longer if I have nothing pressing coming up. Now that it’s all dry it’ll come off the drying rack very easily and will stay in the rounded shape. Herzberg said: “A blank should dry for at least two weeks to stabilize (relax) the changes made in the cane when forming the tube.  A piece of paper rolled in a tube will spring back when first rolled up.  If kept rolled for two weeks it will stay rolled.  You would not want to move into a house built of wood chopped down yesterday.”

We remove the wrapping (I have so much I just throw it away, but you can use it again if you want) and now it’s time to bevel. I go by Norman Herzberg’s method of beveling at this stage because it ensures a very compact and stable tube, enhances the fulcrum to keep the tip open, and it’s easy! The late Gerry Corey posted a basic explanation of the bevel and the reasons behind it at the double reed forum, the post is here. There is also a video of Herzberg doing this procedure available on the IDRS website (for members only). Another great discussion on the concept of beveling is in the IDRS Journal, Volume 28 No. 4, from 2005 entitled “Beveling: The Magic of Insignificant Splinters” by Hugh Cooper. You can find it online if you’re an IDRS member.

This is what the cane looks like before any beveling:

Note that the edges of the cane point to each other. We’re going to remove those points. The first bevel is 6-7mm from the end. I use sandpaper on the table. We’re going to take the whole sharp end down, until we get to the bark and make the tube edges straight.

When sandpaper hits bark you’re done with this part of the bevel. Do this to both sides. Now when you fold the cane back up the ends will come together like this:

This will make sure the end seals, and will help create a fulcrum from the third wire, with the fulcrum point at the second wire, that helps open the tip properly. There’s one more thing to do; this second bevel helps prevent the blades from slipping after the reed has been used for a while. We’re going to do essentially the same thing down the entire length of the piece of cane. The goal here is just to get the point leveled off, not to go all the way down to the bark like the first bevel.

I only do about 5-6 passes over the sand paper like this. You’re not trying to take too much cane away here.

Finally we can put the wires on! Get out your Rieger mandrel again. Fold the cane over and put the third wire in place. It should go about 4mm from the end of the tube. This is shorter than many reed styles, but it has to be that close to the end for the fulcrum to work properly.

On this particular piece of cane it didn’t really happen, but most of the time you can see the side of the cane open all the way to the tip due to the bevel and the lever action of the cane. You’ll notice that because we removed cane from the circumference of the tube that we can’t put it on as far on the mandrel as it was before the bevel. This is OK, we’ll ream it later. You want to make sure the butt of the reed closes, so move the reed up the mandrel and tighten the wire.

Now, put the second wire and then the first wire on in place. The placement of those wires will vary depending on your shape. A well thought out shape will have the narrowest point designed to be the position of the second wire. The distance between the first and second wire will change the action of the fulcrum slightly, and you can experiment on how far to make it. 8mm is a good distance between them, but you could try smaller (I wouldn’t try any larger). My measurements are 18mm from the end to the second wire and 26mm from the end to the first wire. On Argendonax GSP cane this puts the first wire quite a ways back from the collar, but I re-cut the collar and prefer the narrower blade that I get as a result from eventually cutting so much off the end of the reed.

If you like the collar placement of the cane you use, or you need to adjust the whole reed based on the shape and profile, you can trim 3mm off the end of the cane before you form the tube. That moves the entire bevel, wire placement and fulcrum up on the cane. On my reeds that 3mm comes off of the blade side, but for some shapes that would be too short of a blade. Your mileage may vary.

So now we have wires, it’s time to cover the tube with something to make it easier to handle and to seal it from leaking. I wrap with cotton thread and seal with a coat of Duco cement. You could use heat shrink tubing, nylon thread, hot glue, whatever you wanted really. Cotton thread has the advantage of also being an organic material like the cane, so even with the coating of Duco cement it will expand and contract in a similar way to the cane, unlike other synthetic products like glue or nylon thread. It’s also super cheap and easy to work with (it won’t slip like nylon).

I start with the turban. There are dozens of ways to wrap, and it’s hard to show in photos. It took me a long time to learn to do this right and I still don’t make the prettiest turbans in the world. Oh well.

There’s my giant roll of thread that cost $2 at a hobby store. Trim the third wire down pretty close, then use it as a hook to start wrapping. Overlap the thread once so it catches, then start the over-under of the thread to make the turban. 45 degree angles up and down every turn of the reed. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can fold the third wire up on top of the start of the turban. This tucks it under the thread so it doesn’t poke out at your fingers, and holds the thread in place a little as well.

The turban is about half done at this point. Continue until you’re satisfied with the size of it, then continue the wrap up the tube. You don’t have to go all the way to the 2nd wire, but I like the way it looks. Loop the thread around itself to form a kind of knot, then cut with a razor blade.

Once you’ve trimmed the thread off, you can coat with Duco cement. Historically bassoonists would seal with wax, and I’ve tried that but it doesn’t seem to hold together very well for me, and it remains kind of sticky after it cools. It smells nice though. Other people use a thin CA (cyanoacrylate) instea of Duco. Haven’t tried it myself, and it has a strong exothermic reaction to cotton that can actually catch fire if you’re not careful! There are other things you can use to seal, but Duco seems to be easy to get at Ace Hardware or similar hardware stores, and does a fantastic job of sealing the tube and holding it all together.

Take the reed off the mandrel for this part, then get a single coating of Duco all around the tube. You don’t really need to be overzealous with it. I usually manage not to drip any off the reed in this process.

If you click the picture to see the high resolution version you can see the wet glue all around the thread. As this dries it will soak into the thread and maintain the texture of the thread on the outside. If you do this well you won’t need a second coat, and the tube will seal completely.

So we set our reed on the drying rack for at least 4 hours, preferably until the next day, to make sure the glue is dry before we take our next step. Remember, because of the bevel the opening is smaller than before, so it won’t fit on the drying pins all the way, but that’s not important, the tube is round and because we let it stay on the mandrel so long already, it won’t be changing shape again.


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