Reed Making: how I do it, part 3.

Now we have a completed blank, we need to make it fit the mandrel by reaming, make the collar nice, then finally scrape on the blade. You’ll also find out that I’m a big cheater here.

It’s important to ream before cutting the tip, as once we’ve cut the tip we’ve opened the door for blade slippage by way of twisting action if we ream later. So ream now and get it right so we don’t have to do it later. Again, having a Rieger reamer to match the other tools we have used for work on the tube is critical for consistency. The Rieger also cuts very well instead of tearing the cane away erratically.

So first we soak.

Make sure the tube soaks completely, about 5 minutes. Make sure the second wire is ROUND, just like the third wire, since the reamer is going to get up in there and we want to take cane out of the tube evenly. The first wire shouldn’t be too flat, but don’t make it totally round, just an oval about how it will probably be when you play on it eventually.

Then we ream. No big trick or secret here except to make sure you don’t go at a crazy angle.

Reaming removes a lot of cane. Note that with the Rieger reamer, depending on your bocal, you don’t want to ream all the way to the line. As pictured is about right for most bocals and a good fit for my Moosmann bocal.

Edit: I had some questions as to if I really ream wet reeds. Yes! Cane expands when it’s wet, so in order to get the proper fit you have to ream wet, the state that the cane is in when you are actually playing on it. A cheap reamer will just rip the cane apart and leave a very bad tube. Even a good reamer will do that if you go too fast or ream too much without keeping the reamer clean. I go just a little bit at a time and clean the reamer out with a toothbrush when it starts to get filled with cane guts. I make sure to turn the reamer a lot without out pressing into the cane too much. I also finish the job with the Rieger diamond reamer to smooth out the interior and use a rat tail file to clean any remaining fluff out from the throat area.

All that debris is from just that reed! So clean up after yourself:

Now, this is where things start to go different for different people. Depending on your profile the following steps might be completely out of the picture. If the profile is really close to a finished product there isn’t much more to do but cut the tip and do some finishing or whatever. The cane I get, and the way that I use it, requires a lot of work yet. First, the collar is not even close to where it should be. So the quickest way to remove it is with a backwards CUT with the knife. This is not for the faint of heart, and I honestly don’t recommend it unless you have good control, and I also don’t think you’d want to do this with anything other than a beveled knife, so double-hollow ground users need not apply.

First, we score the collar point. with the knife. This is a legit cut into the bark.

Here’s what the line looks like when it’s done, up close.

Now, set the blade parallel to the cane fibers just where the bark starts, and cut towards the score mark, being careful not to gouge the cane like crazy.

It will start to bring slivers of bark up. This requires a good deal of control to make sure the blade doesn’t dive right into the cane.

When it’s all over you have a very rough and uneven collar. It’s actually worse than the picture makes it out to be:

The best way to smooth things out is to use a triangle file and just blend away the rough spots.

The safest way to make the collar is really to only use the knife for the initial scoring mark, then use the file to take the bark off in a more controlled manner. It takes longer, though. Whatever.

So now we have a collar in, I will probably re-dip the reed in water to keep it wet, then finally we cut the tip. You can use a knife on the cutting block, or use a tip cutter. Since I can’t cut a straight tip to save my life:

Rieger again, to the rescue!

You should measure blade length from the first wire, as that’s where the vibration point stops, and it’s the last fulcrum point. The collar is arbitrary for blade length, and really is a part of the scrape, so it’s not a useful place to measure from. My blade is just shy of 30mm. Sometimes shorter if I want a A=442 reed. I “sand” the corners off with a salon board. The idea is that it keeps the corners from getting caught, and it helps with high register response. Left side hasn’t been done yet in this picture:

Now that the corners are on, we can scrape to our required thicknesses in the various places of the reed. I’m not going to get into details here, as it’s books and books on where a bassoon reed should be so thick here and there. Knife technique is also not something that you can really show through a pictorial step-by-step. So we’ll kind of skip what is, ultimately the most difficult part of reed making. The thing is, if you have a good profile going in, there hopefully isn’t much to do other than put an articulating edge on and maybe take down the sides and channels a little. For me, I cheat. Big time.

But it’s worth it. It’s like the Rieger tip profiler on steroids. I use the “Ultimate” reed finishing machine that is available at the fine establishment you can see the URL for in the picture. It does most of the hard work for me. I have to make sure the collar area blends in correctly and I do a few other minor tweaks, but basically this does all the scraping for me in about 30 seconds per blade. In the end I use a transparent Rieger plaque so I can see the shading, and therefore thickness, of the blades when I hold them up to a lamp. Here’s the shading I generally go for:

And that’s about it! Play test it and make a few minor adjustments depending on the individual reed and what it is you’re needing at that moment. Again, I’m very obviously glossing over the most difficult aspects, but that’s something you learn through study with a reed-making teacher and practice by screwing up many reeds. But if you don’t get things at the blank stage stable you have set yourself up for failure in the finishing process.

Leave a comment


  1. Julie Medlin

     /  April 6, 2011

    Thanks, your post was helpful and interesting.

  2. Hi Trent, I agree tip profiling machines are very much worth the money! Although I use the Rieger one – I’ll have to try the “Ultimate” reed finishing machine at some point. I just thought of another resource that might help bassoonists learn how to scrape reeds:

    I agree with you completely that the only true way to learn is to have a teacher on hand and to spend lots of time reed making working on a basis of trial and error but it helps to have a vague starting point.

    All the best,

  3. Debbie

     /  May 27, 2013

    It has been a very long time since I played or made reeds. Your posts will be very helpful to me. Can you explain the differences in the cane? I only remember Glotin.

    • There is a lot of different cane out there. I haven’t tried it all, and if you’re starting from GSP cane the shape and profile you get are probably more important than the cane quality itself. Ask your supplier about what they have at any given time, as cane density and quality within various brands changes over time. I like the Gonzalez cane right now, but also find good results with Rieger right now as well. The Gonzalez cane is currently impossible to find in just gouged format. I never had good luck with Glotin in the past, but it’s been a very long time since I made any reeds with it.

  4. Anson Hancock

     /  August 3, 2013

    Hi Trent,

    I recently purchased a used tip profile machine and was wondering how much of the blade you profile using yours? From the picture above it looks like your machine starts at the collar and profiles all the way to the tip, is that correct?


    Anson Hancock

    • The Rieger tip profiler will only profile about half of the blade. Most other tip profilers are the same way. This one (made by Rimpl, sold in the states as the Miller Ultimate Reed Finishing Machine or something) does more like 70%. It also takes a more sculpted approach to the scraping, since the blade is curved rather than flat. I like it, but not everyone does. The Rieger tip profiler leaves the reeds a little “blatty” sounding for my taste.

  5. Tanya Campbell

     /  December 29, 2013

    Hi Trent,

    This is so helpful. I made my first reeds ever recently and was rather surprised at how well they worked off the back. The Ultimate Reed finishing machine looks amazing!!!! If you could excuse my ignorance, what are the templates based on?

    Kind regards


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