Many of you may have read my previous blog post about building your first, and basic, set of bassoon tools. Those tools were mostly used for adjusting your bassoon reeds. Some items pictured were in my previous post.
This blog post is aimed at students who are fairly comfortable with the processes of adjusting your reeds. (I started adjusting in my second year of playing, just for reference, and that was possibly early). It is also for their parents, and anyone else interested in this. What this blog post is not is a tutorial on how exactly to use these tools. I hope that a private teacher is involved with you or your student, who can provide good instruction up close for working with all of this equipment.
My blog post focuses on the additional tools you will need when you are ready to make bassoon reeds. There will be a bit of overlap with my previous tools post. Also, all the tools for adjusting your reeds will be used in making your reeds, so it’s not like you spend the money and then stop using those tools because you get different tools.
I have created links from each basic category to our website where you can explore the options. I have also made the assumption that you are starting with cane which has been gouged, shaped, and profiled. Each of those processes has its own needs, and they can be quite expensive. For most, those do not need to be learned until college, and most universities will have equipment that can be used.
One additional word on equipment: you or your student will need something big enough and tall enough to soak your cane in before any processing into reeds can happen. There’s no need to buy something new just for this purpose: I recommend keeping an old spaghetti sauce jar. I remove the label, but it’s not necessary. Other options could be a round to-go soup container (it really needs to be over 6 inches tall) or an old cleaned out coffee can, plastic preferred. I prefer glass myself, but plastic containers are lighter and less prone to breaking. Whatever container you choose, a good, tight-fitting lid is very important, especially in the beginning, as you may carry it from home to lessons.
We begin with the part that is overlapped from the previous tools post: pliers. For adjusting, pliers are mostly used to loosen, tighten, or replace the wires, and for adjusting the tip opening by squeezing the wires in various combinations and directions. If you purchased pliers with the wire cutting edge and with a hole, you’re all set. The wire cutting edge can handle 22 gauge brass wire, the bassooning standard. The hole is not critical, but it makes forming the tube of the bassoon reed into round easier and more straight-forward. When forming the blank (a reed that has been constructed but with the tip not clipped open or the blades not yet worked to be playable), a stub or holding mandrel is inserted into what will become the tube. Gradually the pliers are used to form the cane into roundness that will go on the bocal. We want the bottom end of the tube to be as perfectly round as we can get it.
Serving purposes such as cutting the tip, cutting in the ledge or shoulder, shaping the cane, and beveling, there are a few options for what you can use. You can, of course, use your reed knife, but this will dull the blade, and you’ll have to learn how to sharpen your knife. You can use tip clippers (pliers but with a cutting edge that is usually perpendicular to the direction of the handles), or a tip guillotine, but I prefer basic old-school razor blades. The picture above is the shape of blade I prefer, but you can use whatever feels best and most-controllable in your hand, even the scalpel-looking type on the round skinny handle. At Hodge Products, we sell all the types mentioned above.
A word of warning here: razor blades are sharp! You can cut yourself quite deeply before the sting of it sets in. I personally suggest you keep an old coffee can or something like it in which to throw away used razor blades. I worry about being the one to pick up a garbage bag and slicing myself on a blade that is along the edge of the bag. Another choice is to keep the thin cardboard wrapping and tape it up over the blade when it’s no longer sharp enough to use comfortably. I buy razor blades in the 100-count packages, but we sell them in bundles of 10 blades as well.
If you have a dedicated station or desk for making your reeds, you’ll want a desk, and a desk lamp. Any lamp you like will do the job, as its main function is to give you light at your work station. But sometimes you need to compare the blade in one section to another to keep everything in balance: use your lamp! Angle it so that you’re not looking into the light bulb directly, but so that you can hold the reed, usually upside down, next to the direction tube that guides the light. From there you should be able to see gradations of light in different sections of the reed. It does not tell you exact thicknesses (wouldn’t that be nice?), but it does show you thickness relative to itself. Basically any brand and any style will do. Go as fancy or as streamlined as you like.
You’ll need a drying board or drying rack on which to allow your reeds to dry. This will be used in the steps of drying the blank after the tube has been formed. It will also be used when you’ve wrapped the reed in thread and then glued it to waterproof it.
Drying racks come in variety of materials, finishes, and capacities. Though six reeds at once will seem like too much work at once, I hope you get confident enough in your skills that six will one day seem quaint or adequate at the very least in terms of capacity. I have a couple of different brands of drying rack myself, having three, two in sizes to hold six reeds and another to hold twelve reeds. If you dig on the net long enough, you can find some that defies imagination in terms of quantity. Not pictured above, the Rieger (pronounced ree-ger, hard “g”) brand of drying rack is my personal favorite, but I’ve successfully used several others over the years. The one pictured above is a better price point.
Duco Cement is used to seal or waterproof the thread wrapped on the reed’s tube. In my previous tools post, I cited fingernail polish, which can be used effectively in re-gluing thread. I find that it takes a LOT of nail polish to get the same effect I want from my Duco, though I am also quite generous when I apply this too. There are other possible products to do this job: hot glue and gun (get some fun colors or glitter glue if you can, it’s more fun), and some people used to melt old toothbrush handles. I’ve never tried either of these myself, but I did buy some reeds with these alternatives, and they all work. Warning: hot glue is hot, and Duco fumes smell toxic, so proceed with caution, use common sense, and maybe ventilate your reed-making area.
The easel can be purchased with some lines etched on them to help with measurements, but it is easy to make your own. It is simply a 1-inch or 1.25-inch dowel rod cut into a six-inch length or longer. The easel can be used by placing sandpaper around it and running the cane lengthwise to smooth out the gouged side (inside the curve). When the cane is lying on the easel, it can be held by rubber bands in place so that you can score the tube area (multiple cuts), or score some cuts that will aid in holding the wire in place, or at least allowing you to mark the cane where the wires will go.
The forming mandrel is similar in concept to the stub, holding, or working, mandrel, but the use is quite distinct. The folded piece of cane is held in one hand, and the forming mandrel is gently and carefully inserted into the tube (or open) end. This action will gradually open and round the tube, if the scoring of the cane is done well. The pliers will aid in the rounding process.
The reamer is used to remove wood from the interior of the tube of the reed. This might be necessary because the tube opening is not quite big enough for the reed to fit on the bocal or to be stable on the bocal. It may also free up the vibrations of the reed in a noticeable way.
Many reedmakers choose to use rubber bands, wound tightly around the tube portion, and allow the tubes to dry on the drying rack. The idea is that the pressure from the rubber bands applies evenly and that the wood will dry round. I have not personally used this method, but I have done something similar with string, and many people claim great results with this method. Consult your private instructor about a good size for the rubber bands and a source. Wal-Mart does sell rubber bands, but I cannot specifically say if they stock a good size for this purpose.
Thread is wrapped around the tubes of the reeds. This serves a few functions. The color or colors used can help you identify your reed or a batch of reeds. The thread can add weight to the back end of the reed, so that any accidental drops will hopefully land on the tube end rather than the blades. It also gives you something to grip while placing the reed on the bocal. Alternatives might be heat-shrink tubing, hot glue from a glue gun, and melted plastic (a la toothbrush handles…which is not common anymore).
There are many brands of thread, and most of them are fine. I’ve never found one I couldn’t work with. Of more interest is the variety of colors available, including the multi-colored spools, also known as variegated. This is a very economical way to make reed-making fun, having all these color choices.
You have to clip the tip of a blank on your way to a finished reed. This can be done with a knife and a cutting block (see my previous tools post for more info), or a razor blade and a cutting block. There are also plier-like tip clippers that function much like fingernail clippers. My favorite option is the guillotine tip clipper. It is fast, and it is easy to use. Because the reed is inserted onto the sliding mandrel, positioned, then locked in place, you can cut the tip straight. It is also the most expensive option, but I decided in graduate school that it was worth it to me. For just learning to make reeds, this is the least likely choice to recommend.
Though I touched on tool bags in my previous tools post, a tool bag for transportation could be very useful. (One popular option is the Hodge College Tool Bag.) It can be as cheap or expensive as you’d like it to be. It’s great as one accumulates several spools of thread, multiple mandrels, and other items along the way. It can aid in keeping your reed-making desk as clutter-free as possible. If you’re new to making reeds, and end up making them at the table, a tool box is great for letting the space serve several functions.
Again, this blog is not meant to be a tutorial on how to make reeds, but to understand the many tools that will or likely will be used in the process of making reeds. Please explore the links I made to each product title for the variety of details and price points. Because there are many approaches to making reeds, not all of these items will be viewed as necessary, but I tried to include everything that might be discussed for this process that I didn’t mention in the last tools post. Work with your private instructor for a discussion of what he or she will be teaching you or your student, so that you can find only what you’ll need.
If you have questions about the products discussed, or any differences I’ve experienced between different brands, feel free to leave them as comments. As always, we are happy to be of help to you in any of your double reeds needs.
Overall, I want to share my observations on cane hardness, ease of use, and effort…