Reed Making

Process and photographs of reeds in various stages

An outline of my reed making process

Fri, Jan 18th, 2013 12:00:00 am

On many occasions, I have been asked to outline the process by which I make my English Horn reeds. The following is a brief discussion.


Reed making

Since the dimensions of an English Horn reed are larger than those of an oboe reed, I scrape the reed over a period of several days, letting it dry out completely overnight. This allows the tip opening to relax and gives the entire reed more time to conform to the many changes that occur when scraping a blank into a finished reed.  I have found that this method results in a more stable reed that generally takes less time to "break in".

Day 1: Shape cane and tie the blank.  Measuring from the tip, scrape about 7 - 8 mm of bark back from the tip to relax the opening, but do not clip the reed open.  

Day 2: Scrape off the remaining bark back to within about 5 mm from the top of the staple, thin the tip and clip it open.  Rough in the spine, make a pencil mark on the cane at 54mm from the bottom of the staple and rough in the tip, but do not finish the tip.  The pencil mark signifies the top of the heart.  For those who prefer to mark the back of the tip and scrape from that point, make the pencil mark at 52 mm.  The reed may crow at this point, but it will likely be a very loud and raucous crow.

Day 3: Continue to blend from top of the heart through the tip and thin the heart.  Define the spine, scrape and define the back (or channels), but be carefull to leave side rails in the back to help support the opening.  Check the thickness of the various areas of the heart and tip using a dial indicator thickness gauge.  Continue to scrape areas that are unbalanced to better balance the reed.  Clip the tip to within a millimeter or less to its finished length. The reed should now start to crow fairly well at an octave "C" or, depending on the length and thickness of cane, an octave "B".  

Day 4: Continue to refine the heart, tip and back.  Check again for unbalanced areas with the dial indicator thickness gauge.  Thin the corners of the tip, clip the tip (if necessary) and finish the reed.  As a point of reference, the finished length of my reeds is 56 - 57mm.  If using silicon or plastic aquarium air tubing on the staple, put it on at this point.  Be aware that the reed will crow at a lower pitch once the tubing has been put onto the staple, since the overall length of the reed will have increased.  Since any tubing applied to the staple with dampen the vibrations, it may be necessary to scrape a bit more off of the reed.

I am frequently asked about the diameter of tube cane I prefer to use.  I have had the most consistent success with cane that is 12 -12.5 mm in diameter since I use a shaper tip that many consider to be on the wider side on the spectrum.  However, some players prefer a smaller diameter of 11.5 - 12 mm, especially if they use a narrower shaper tip.  I suggest that players experiment by making reeds using cane from several diameters to find what works best for them.  However, I would advise against trying to make a reed out of tube cane with a diameter smaller than 11.5 mm.

My "new" favorite tool is a reed thickness gauge, or Dial Indicator, which can be purchased from many double reed supply dealers.  Though it is a somewhat costly item, I think it is well worth the investment.  This tool has made a huge difference in my reedmaking by helping me to accurately monitor the thickness of the hearts and tips of my reeds, thereby making my reeds more consistent.  For those who are unfamiliar with this item, the "tongue" of the tool is inserted between the blades of the reed and the thickness is then displayed on the dial.  Using this tool has saved me time by taking much of the "guess work" out of the scraping process which has resulted in more evenly scraped reeds.



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