musings of a professional bassoonist

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The specifics of how I form blanks

First things first- I turn on my 7" digital TV purchased from CVS.  I don't exactly watch the TV- I listen and maybe glance at it now and then.  Dr. Phil provides the perfect backdrop for reedmaking; however, if there's nothing good on TV, I listen to operatic, symphonic or chamber music.

Prior to soaking, I sand the back of the dry cane (the non-bark side) with 320 grit sandpaper until it is as smooth as glass.  Then I soak the cane in water for at least 2 hours.  Then, with a pencil, I bisect the stick of cane across the exact center:

I use that line to center the cane on the shaper: 

A dime is the perfect screwdriver for the set screws on the shaper, which make an indentation of a circle at the center on the ends of the cane.  Those circles fit into raised circles on the profiler barrel, as you'll see later.

 I shape the cane with an exacto knife:


When I take the cane off the profiler, the circle left by the set screw is visible.  It may be helpful to click on the photo below for a better view:

 The circle indented in the cane fits onto the raised circle on the profiler barrel:

 I use the profiler blade to cut a line on each end of the cane at the top of the collar:

I remove the barrel from the profiler in order to remove the top layer of bark with a knife, using the lines I just made as a border. This step preserves the profiler blade, so that I don't have to sharpen it as often:

Machine profiling comes next:

Here's the shaped and profiled piece of cane:

Next I score the bark using a scoring tool from Miller Marketing:

 I fold it over a knife (at the fold in the center created by the profiler) and place the end of a ruler at the fold. At 2 5/16 “ I mark the cane with a pencil to show the line where I’ll be cutting a small amount off each end of the cane:

Next I cut off each end (cutting on the line marked with pencil) with pruners:

Then I fold the reed, line up the edges, and apply a top wire at exactly 1″ from the bottom of the reed. I wrap string around the reed from the top wire down:

The next step may be foreign to many reed makers. I use a tool called parallel pliers (very, very difficult to find) to nudge open the wrapped tube:

Next I insert the forming mandrel, being careful not to twist the reed:

Then I unwrap the string at the very bottom of the reed to make room to add a temporary wire at the bottom of the tube to ensure roundness. I wrap this wire around the tube 3 times rather than the usual 2 times:

Ideally, I allow the blank to dry for at least 2 weeks. Once I remove the reed from the forming mandrel, I insert the reeds onto brass mandrel tips from Christlieb to ensure the proper shape of the tube.

After at least 2 weeks, I remove both wires from the dry blank:

Then I bevel using a sanding block made by Norman Herzberg.  Each end of the cane is sanded around 25 strokes or so- whatever it takes to make the ends of the reed halves meet perfectly.  The sanding takes place at the ends of the bark, from the bottom to 3/8" up:

Before beveling:  

After beveling:

Then I fold the reed and tie dry string around the bottom half of the tube (bark):

I apply the middle wire at 5/16' below the top wire (I can see the marks where the top wqire was placed:

Then I apply the bottom wire at 3/16" from the bottom of the reed, and the top wire at 1" from the bottom:


Next I apply Duco Cement along the edges of both sides from the middle wire down to the bottom to ensure that the binding never becomes loose:

I then wrap the reed with 100% cotton #3 size crochet thread, available at places like JoAnn Fabrics and Michael's Crafts:

 After wrapping, I cover the binding with Duco Cement and allow it to dry overnight: 

Next I mark the 2 1/8" line at the top of the reed:

Reaming is next, followed by smoothing the inside of the tube with a rat tale file if needed.  I use the holding mandrel on the right below to tell when I've reamed enough- when the reed fits down to the black line, I'm finished with reaming:

Then, after soaking the reed in water,  I cut the tip with a guillotine, at the pencil line I drew at 2 1/8":

 Then the tip is finished with a Reiger tip profiler:

Using a knife, I cut the corners at a 45 degree angle:

Sometimes, at this point the reed is finished.  Often it's necessary to refine, though, with a file, knife or sandpaper, removing cane in the area shaded below:

My finished reeds measure 2 1/8″ from top to bottom. The blade is 1 1/16″ long from the top of the collar to the tip, and the collar measures 1/16″. The bottom wire is 3/16″ from the bottom of the tube.  The top wire is 1″ from the bottom, and the middle wire is 5/16″ below the top wire.

Bassoon students often buy their cane already shaped and profiled so that the amount of work required to make the blanks is greatly reduced.


Stephanie said...

Do you use a dial indicator at all? If so, what are the usual measurements?

B.S. said...

That's a great question, Stephanie, and now that I think about it, it makes sense for me to write a post on this topic.

My ideal measurements on the dial indicator would be (starting at the tip and going back by 1/8" increments to 1"):
7 (18 in metric)
15 (38)
20 (50)
24 (61)
27 (69)
29 (74)
31 (79)
32 (81)
33 (84)

These are the Van Hoesen measurements.

I'd like to know what measurements you use, also.


Trent said...

Thank you for outlining the Herzberg method of tube making. I've been doing this with my reeds for several years ever since seeing a video Yoshi put up on the IDRS forum of Herzberg demonstrating this method. It really opens up the tip opening a lot and creates very consistent tubes. The only thing I'm missing is a set of drying pins that are exactly what I want out of the tube. Those Rieger drying racks are expensive!

B.S. said...

Thanks for your comment, Trent. I have a set of drying pins from Christlieb, and they fit onto a metal base to make a drying rack. That set wasn't terribly expensive. You may want to look into the Christlieb drying pins, or sometimes they're called mandrel tips.

Tina B. said...

Well, if that doesn't bring back some memories from the late '80s!!

I would have LOVED to have had that scoring tool. I sliced through more than a few reeds during my reedmaking days...

Anonymous said...

Betsy -

It looked like you were using the chucked mandrel tip holder, but I just wanted to clarify: do you remove the blank from the mandrel and place it on the drying rack, or remove the entire mandrel tip, blank attached, and insert that into the drying rack?

B.S. said...

Dear Anonymous,

My forming mandrel (which happens to be a Popkin mandrel) does not have a removable tip. I take the newly formed blank off that mandrel and insert it onto a Christlieb mandrel tip which I then place on a drying rack. However, if it's the last reed of the day, I leave the reed on the Popkin forming mandrel until I need the mandrel again. I do wonder sometimes if it's OK to remove the blank so soon from the forming mandrel, but I only have one forming mandrel. The reeds seem fine after I do it, so I doubt that it matters. The Popkin mandrel tips are the same dimensions as the tip of a bocal, so they should be just right.