Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

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Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby KimBull » Sun Feb 15, 2015 3:18 pm

I started making my own cane drone reeds last year, and finally got 'tooled up' to make chanter reeds this week. My cane arrived on Friday, so I now have a massive three days experience. I followed the instructions in Colin's book and from the Youtube videos he features in, but also had a range of reeds I've acquired over the years from several makers.

My first four reeds were ok, and I kept to the instructions in Colins book for these. They all sounded, but made quite a 'soft' sound, and not the percussive sound I was looking for. Even with digital calipers, getting the exact measurements was time consuming and not easy. My technique left a little to be desired too, and the tips of the blades on some are quite ragged and uneven. However, the process of making these made me think and change my methods.

I adapted the process for reeds five, six and seven, and today made reed eight and although it's early days I thought I'd share my observations.

Firstly, my reed making isn't an exact science. Secondly, there are a range of processes involved and some are critical and others are not. Thirdly, measuring is overrated and fingertip sensitivity and visual/aural acuity are more important.

To explain this, I'll describe how I made Reed No 8 this morning.
Step 1 - Prepare the slip. Split the cane tube into slips and rough these out with the gouge. Smooth the inside on the rounded sanding block. This doesn't seem to be a critical process and takes five minutes. I don't measure slip thickness, but for info the slip came out at 0.96mm/0.035". I then reduce of the width of the slip to about 11.3mm with a craft knife and sand the edge smooth.

Step 2 - Complete the slip. I cut the ends into nib shapes and sanded the edges of them and thinned them so they would blend nicely onto the staple. The length of this area is about 15mm/ 9/16". Exact measurements were not used for thickness of this area and it does not seem to be a critical process.
Image

I then thin an area in the central area of the slip with a razor blade. I thin it to 0.15" as suggested in Colin's book. This can initially be done quite quickly, as scraping results in a thinner area in the centre. When part of this area is the desired thickness I stopped measuring and used a light source to thin the rest of the central area as in the photo below.
Image

Step 4 - I cut the reed and attach it to the staple. Time taken so far is 30 minutes.
Image

Step 5 - I now thin the blades with a razor blade, working mainly down the centre towards the tip, and also at the edges. At this stage I put the bridle on.
Image

Step 6 - The scraping left a burl along the edge of the reed tip. I now go to the sanding block and thin this area, really by feel until the burl is gone. On reeds Nos 1-5 I sanded until the edge was so thin it started to fray. On this reed I stopped just short of this. Throughout steps 5 and 6 I'm sucking the reed after every few scrapes/sanding strokes and aiming for a 'jumping pitch'. No measurements are taken, it's all done visually, aurally and by feel with the finger tips.
Image
Image

So, conclusions -
1. I found measuring to be imprecise and not a guarantee of success. I needed to measure slip width (I suppose really to make sure it will physically fit) and thickness of the central scrape of the slip before I divided the slip into two blades, although this scrape was completed by 'looking' using a light source.

2. Not all the processes outlined in Colin's excellent book are critical processes - ie the thickness of the nibs and the blades at their base and under the wrapping doesn't seem to be too important.

3. Knowing this allows the reed to be made fairly quickly - time is only really spent on the critical processes which for me are thinning the centre of the slip (although this is done roughly with a blade) and the final scraping and sanding(I didn't do enough of this on Reed Nos 5,6 and 7 and I found the top half of the chanter played nicely but the bottom half from about the B downwards squeaked. By gradually scraping the reed the squeaking was chased down the chanter. When enough scraping had been done the squeaking stopped. I did not measure any of this, just used a combination of 'scrape and test').

This means that I was able to make this reed in 50 minutes from splitting the cane to playing in the chanter.

This is all new to me, and as I stated earlier I know have a massive three days of experience and have made 8 reeds. Of these, I damaged the tips of two too much, and another plays a very soft tone, but reed Nos 5, 6 and 7 seem very good to me and I'm really happy. Todays reed (No 8) is lovely and my favourite so far - nice and bright and percussive. I hope it stays that way as it settles down.

However, I appreciate there are many people with much more experience than me and would be interested in their thoughts on my findings.
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Richard Evans » Mon Feb 16, 2015 11:11 am

Sounds as though you have made excellent progress in a short time! You are right that some dimensions are not critical. I would be a bit more careful about the width of the slip. It affects pitch and tone. Our reeds (made by Anita, not me) are between 10.8 and 11.0mm wide, for reference. Anita uses a small plane for widthing, plus wet/dry paper. Length after clipping is initially 51mm and I would then generally shorten by maybe 0.5mm as part of the fine setting up. I also clean between the blade ends after trimming using a piece of fresh fine wet/dry pushed carefully into the opening. This improves the response of the reed.
The exact shape of the staple is very important. If the apeture of the reed is not quiet symmetrical, it may be a duff staple. The reed should open nicely at the end and the bridle should only be used for fine adjustment- if the reed is very wide or totally closed without a bridle, it probably won't turn out well.

I hope that's useful, it's great to see an increasing interest in reed making!
Cheers
Richard
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Silversmith » Tue Feb 17, 2015 7:04 pm

I am very impressed Kim, you have made a very fine looking reed there & your description is admirable thank you, this should make a valuable addition to the general reed making knowledge library. I would personally be inclined to sand the slip to about 25 thou'. I think 35 thou' might be a little oversize but others may disagree. This post is an inspiration.
John Ross
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby adrian » Wed Feb 18, 2015 1:19 am

Very different from my method of scraping! LOL.
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby KimBull » Sun Feb 22, 2015 3:46 pm

Well, I'm pleased to say that a week later and with another six or so reeds made things are going surprisingly well! I don't think my early efforts were a fluke as I seem to be able to reliably turn out good sounding reeds (in my opinion). I've started to establish the relationship between the thickness/scraping/sanding process and the sound of the reed, and noticed that optimum sanding/scraping is important for the chanter to play in tune. I wonder if any of the problems some people have with chanter tuning are related to the type of reed fitted?

Richard - thanks for your comments and suggestions. I haven't made enough reeds yet to find out about the effect that width has on tone and pitch - could you let me know what the effect is please (ie narrower = higher pitch etc?) I'm interested in your other points and that's all really useful information - thank you.

John - thanks for commenting too. It's interesting about the thickness of the slip. I made my early (!) reeds to a thickness of 25 thou, and had to be really careful to prevent the reed splitting when I fastened it to the staple. After my success with thicker slips, I've tried another thinner one today and it split slightly as I attached it. It seems to me (at this early stage) that a thicker slip (and perhaps a shorter staple length within the reed?) seem to give the reed much more strength and makes it less likely to split. The problem comes when binding to close the gap shown in this photo. I wonder if a wider reed helps prevent this too?
Image

Adrian - I'm sure my method of scraping is quite different to yours! How do you do it - would love to know!

Thanks for all your help with this.
Kim
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Gill Lyons » Sun Feb 22, 2015 4:14 pm

Well Kim I think you've done brilliantly and kept such a good record of your work to date. I am mightily impressed - I always intended to learn reed making - years ago Tom Swinney encouraged me to get a pair of digital calipers as a birthday present as a first step to getting my equipment together for learning once I retired from work - well retirement began nearly 2 months ago & I'm no further forward yet - so I'm mightily impressed - maybe one day you'll give me a master class - & maybe I'll even find where I put those electronic calipers to bring them along!!
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Richard Evans » Mon Feb 23, 2015 9:12 pm

A longer narrow reed could have the same pitch as a shorter wider one. I think this is related to the internal volume which I believe is an important factor in pitch (at least, that's what I have read!).
A narrow reed will tend to have a brighter clearer sound; it tends to sharpen the higher notes of the chanter and the lower notes may be quieter; all depending on the scrape. The difference between wide and narrow is about 0.5mm.

Your picture of the reed on the staple does not look too promising- that gap is much too wide. I think the trick is to form the cane to the staple before binding so that the thread just pulls it into the final position, closed at the sides. There's some info on ways of doing this in the reed making section on our website (link from the 'Maintenance and Reeds' section), together with other stuff which might be useful.

Cheers
Richard
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Francis Wood » Wed Feb 25, 2015 5:47 pm

Hi Kim,

Firstly congratulations on a first-class account of the progress including all mistakes and successes. It's all good information for others to see.

I'm not an expert on this, making reeds in batches with such long intervals in between that I partly have to re-learn each time. Which is where my own notes come in very usefully.

There are so many variables, and as with all mutations, variants through accident or design are sometimes disastrous and sometimes brilliant. I find that in sometimes forgetting precisely what I've done previously a new element emerges which is a good one.

Two characteristics that are perpetually necessary though are that the blades must be effectively identical and that the constructed reed must be airtight when the tip is closed. I say 'effectively' because blades that look the same may not actually be so, and vice versa.

I agree with Richard's observations on the gap at the side of the reed in your final photo. That looks hazardously wide and may lead to breakage of the cane with further tying, as well as some possible leakage. Assuming the staple is sufficiently flattened at its end (?) I'd add a couple of things to Richards remarks. Cane breaks much more readily when dry so re-wetting may help. Secondly, although most makers introduce the staple until it reaches the shoulder of the reed, you could try attaching the blades further down the slip so that the cane is less stressed when assembled.

Finally, although concern has been expressed elsewhere about NSP reed-making as a dying art, I disagree and think things have never been better! There are promising signs that an increasing number of people are willing to try and the resources for finding out through reading, observation and discussion are really good. Let's all do our best to make this forum better known.

Francis
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Silversmith » Sat Feb 28, 2015 11:58 am

Hi again Kim, Yes I would agree the gap does look a little wide I would suggest that the OD of the staple eye should be perhaps 2.5mm but then the tying on may be better done in two or even three stages. Firstly I personally soak the tail of the reed before tying on this helps to avoid cracking the slip but then tie on gently once not necessarily closing the gap. Let it stand to settle the cane for 10 minutes or more then untie & retie this time tighter. If you do this in two or even three stages it will also end up needing a much shorter distance of thread & in my opinion a much more sexy looking reed.
But very well done & please keep us posted.
John Ross
Last edited by Silversmith on Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Reflections of a Novice Chanter Reedmaker

Postby Silversmith » Sat Feb 28, 2015 12:00 pm

I have edited the previous post as I was referring to Kim not Francis sorry.
Last edited by Silversmith on Sun Mar 01, 2015 11:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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