On forming blanks and cracking cane

For a number of years now I’ve utilized a cane processing and tube forming method that has resulted in zero cracking in my blanks on a very consistent basis. I did a rather recent unscientific experiment to see if one aspect of this process was beneficial and it seems like it is a critical component of keeping the cracking from happening.The first step I think is important in the process is preparing the cane before forming. Soaking and drying the cane several times after gouging but before any further processing brings the cane into a more stable, and slightly softer, state. Having the cane completely saturated at the time of forming also makes sure the cane is the most pliable. Since the cane has already been in and out of water a few times, the break-in process for the reed seems faster and longer lasting. I do not find that this produces reeds that are less resilient or brilliant in tone.

I do score my cane. I don’t find this actually has any effect on the final roundness of the tube, or on how much it cracks. I have made several dozen reeds without scoring and they don’t crack when using the rest of my method. What I did find is that the thread binding on the tube (the “turban”) does not stick so well to the smooth bark, and scoring the tube gives some rough grooves for the glue to get into, so the wrapping doesn’t come off. I only score the lowest 20mm of the tube or so, not really beyond the 2nd wire.

The second step, and the one I experimented with, is the process of boiling the tube for 10-12 seconds before inserting the forming mandrel. You can see the process I use for scoring, binding, and boiling to form the tube here (the video should start about 6:45 into the video):

The final results look consistent. Here is one reed that I didn’t do the boiling water on but otherwise treated the same as always. You can see a minor but noticeable crack on both sides that goes past the first wire slightly. This much cracking is not life-threatening to the reed, as most reed makers know. Notice that on one side the crack that formed didn’t even result from one of the scoring lines at all.




The reeds that I boil consistently come out without even this much cracking in the tube. This is a much more typical result for me when I form blanks.



Other factors involved in my forming process that are likely part of the end result include my forming mandrel (the Rieger “Bar” forming mandrel with the flattened tip) and my shape which has a slightly wider tube at the butt end but not an exceptionally wide area under the 2nd wire. The shape is my custom shape, the TJ shape is available from Fox on special order. The gouge thickness likely is also important: too thick of a piece of cane will probably be more likely to crack as more force is generated from the inside of the tube out when it’s pushed round. A thinner gouge will curl around a mandrel with less resistance. If you have cane gouged at 1.4mm you can try thinning the gouge at the tube end with sand paper or a Lou Skinner style inside scraping wheel.

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  1. Favorite blog posts, May 2019 | Bret Pimentel, woodwinds

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