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Kevin Scott’s full article (which has been heavily truncated by the editor) dealt in detail with Uillean pipe reeds. Readers (who might also refer to Common Stock 17.1, pp 5-7) will appreciate that much in this area is shared by all bellows pipes.

When I first began reed making I had looked over the various websites and purchased the books available at the time. It became clear that a specialized gouge was needed as well as other tools not easily found. There were many opinions about which kind of cane to use, hard as opposed to soft, California as opposed to European, wild versus cultivated. There were also many ideas and techniques which seemed to work at cross purposes. What was clear is it wouldn't be easy.

I thought a short cut could be had by using gouged cane. This idea was short lived as once the cane was found and purchased it was clear it needed processing as well. After several years I worked out a method to use the cane for pipe chanter reeds. With this method testing cane using faulty methods could be thrown out as well as the other whizbang tricks used to sort cane. Gathering cane could be placed by the wayside with all the dangers involved with trespassing on private land or travelling long distances just to find suitable cane. I no longer needed to train as a short distance runner to outrun the nasty creatures who make cane breaks their homes. All that was needed was a bundle of gouged bassoon cane.

So I thought....

There are several types of cultivated cane. Add to that the many sizes available suitable for different double reeded instruments and it seemed there were too many choices. The most basic type is the cane tubes. These are sold in different diameters each for a different double reed instrument. There is gouged cane meaning the cane tubes have been split into sections wide enough for each instrument’s reed dimensions and gouged down to a basic millimeter thickness. And finally there is the gouged and profiled cane ready to be folded over a reed mandrel and bound to a staple. Looking over the many types it became clear that only the gouged, bassoon cane would work.

So began a long process of changing older techniques in order to make decent reeds. The result is nice crisp reeds that have incredible tone due to the hard cane normally used for bassoons. Out went the mushy sounding soft cane reeds. The hardness of the cane is due to the closeness of the grain. This makes the reed much less willing to accept the moisture which gives bellows pipes such problems. Softer cane has courser fibers with plenty of air space willing to take up that very moisture.

When buying gouged cane expect it to be sold in bundles of ten or twelve pieces. Picking and choosing individual pieces is not allowed in most cases. The cane splits are 120mm long and 15-20mm wide. There are dozens of cane farms found along the Mediterranean coasts of Spain and France with a few located at Italy. The cane is cultivated, cut and proc- essed each year. When the cane has been aged and dried it is processed further by splitting


and gouging. When the process is done the cane splits are bundled and sold internationally. The cost per bundle depends upon the brand name, plus the mark up the final retailer places upon it. Expect to pay between $12.00 and $20.00 for a ten piece bundle. This may seem expensive and at first glance it is. Take into consideration the cost of the more traditional cane used for uilleann reeds and the gouged cane cost does not seem so high. Even gather- ing cane has it’s cost.

The gouged diameter of most cane processed for bassoon reeds is near 30mm. The diameter which has proven to make the best uilleann reeds is closer to 50mm. The wider bored chant- ers use 65mm. If a gouge were used [by the reed maker] too much cane would be removed from an already gouged section of cane. The resulting reed would be too thin. A simple so- lution was to find something with the correct radius to use as a sanding block. Ideally it should be lightweight to reduce the fatigue in holding it. A few suggestions were plastic drinking glasses, cans with both ends removed as well as paper tubes found at the center of paper products such as paper towels. A more permanent solution is sections of clear plastic tubing available at hardware stores or plastics shops. The plastic tubes have other uses as well. Plastic or rubber stoppers can be bought at the same shop that sells the tubing. The tubing can then be used as a storage device for all the other small tools used in reed making by plugging both ends. Also, once a design has been worked out and found to be successful the rough cutting dimensions may be cut into the tube as an aid to profiling the reed.

The tools which are the most useful are a small saw, one or two small knives, a six inch rule, and various soft lead pencils as well as a permanent marker. Exacto, X- Acto makes a full line of small carving tools, one of which is a small backed saw. A jewelers frame and blades are also very useful but takes considerable more practice to use. The cutting knives can also be bought from Exacto. There are doubtless other brand names available, Exacto being the one which comes to mind for American consumers, X-Acto at Europe. A scalpel bought from a jeweler's supply is also very useful. Rio Grande ( 800 545 6566) is a jeweller’s supply at New Mexico that specializes in metal working tools and materials. They are more than glad to sell to the small craftsman. The six inch rule may be bought almost anywhere. Look for one that is near 10mm to 12mm wide. This can double as a measuring device to cut the width of the cane. A flat surface is essential for the cane profiling process. A waste piece of plastic sheet can be had at the same shop as the tubing is purchased. A section of glass works well or a piece of wood with a plastic surface on one side will work. Finally soft lead pencils and a fine permanent markers are available every- where. Make sure the pencil is indeed a very soft lead. They are very helpful in the sanding process. Add to this a block of bee's wax, thick super glue and Teflon tape. The bee's wax is important as it will save your fingers from the sanding.

The last item is a variety of sandpapers or glass papers. After going around using many dif- ferent types one has come to the forefront as being about the best for quickly removing cane. 3m makes a sanding paper which is made of loosely woven fibers. It is a mesh about 0.05mm wide with adhesive applied which holds the abrasive. The product is made for sanding dry wall. It comes in several grits, #2 being the best for this purpose. It is called


called “Drywall Sanding Screens, Grilles de poncage pour placoplatre, Malles para lijado de paredes”. It is 4 3/8in X 11in, 111mm X 279mm. It will quickly reduce the radius of a piece of cane and not load up. Also needed is a selection of wet-dry paper, 220-400 grits or which ever you have available.

The process involves increasing the radius to one usable by uilleann reed makers. Marking the two cane blades. Cutting and profiling the blades and finally binding them to the staple.

As written above hours were spent going over every technique in order to find those suit- able for making reeds using gouged cane. There is no doubt that many of the ideas and tech- niques used were taken from others who have gone before. The credit goes to those that worked them out previously.

Anyone making a reed should experiment with what works for the chanter being reeded. Also, never assume a set of dimensions is correct. They may have been correct for the item being measured at the time the illustration was drawn. A better technique is to build each reed to the chanter using an old reed as a model or a basic set of dimensions and tuning in the reed.

To locate gouged cane in your area begin with higher end music stores. If a shop specialis- ing in double reed instruments can be found, contact them. On the internet begin with the International Double Reed Society ( or The British Double Reed Society ( The cane used to write this article was purchased at For- rests Music, Berkeley California