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Richard Evans

As I write, November the fifth is rapidly approaching, so a note on this subject seems       appropriate. This is not actually a joke- there are at least two highly practical uses of naked flames- three if you include brazing.

The first is very well known. A cane-tongued drone reed which is shutting off can be cured using a match or lighter. The reed is held so that the tongue is facing down and open, about half a millimetre for small reeds and one millimetre for large ones, maybe a little more. The flame is passed briefly across the thin end of the tongue, next to the wrapping. The outcome is a slightly blackened, fully operational reed. If you overheat the cane (apart from the     obvious outcome), you will make the reed too hard and will need to thin it. The whole   process can be reversed by holding the tongue shut and heating it again; presumably there is some limit above which damage ensues.

The second use of flame is (I think) less well known. When making smallpipe chanter reeds one of the critical tasks is bending the cane around the staple without splitting it. This is easy if the staple is well flattened, but the resulting reed is likely to be weak. Good reeds seem to require the staple to be formed to a broad oval, about the same shape as a rugby ball (league, rather than union, for the hair-splitters). Many makers soak the cane for ten minutes or so, to soften it. This then requires that the reed is left to dry for a couple of days, before thinning.

The cane can, however, be softened by heat. A small camping stove is ideal for this         purpose. The cane slip is prepared and folded, and a few turns of yellow hemp thread are tied round the blades so that they can be slid up and down, but tight enough to stop the blades opening. The staple is slipped into position. The next procedure makes use of the staple to conduct heat into the cane.

Hold the assembly with fine pliers just above the pointed ends of the cane slip, so that the staple is held firmly in position between the two ends. Heat the exposed end of the staple in the edge of the flame until the cane on the other side of the pliers, above the top of the staple, is hot. How hot? If you touch it, it will hurt (!!) and there might be a little wisp of steam. Flames are a bad sign. I don’t know how long this bit takes- maybe about five     seconds. Anita makes our reeds; she says she keeps testing it until it hurts and that’s why chanter reeds are so dear.

The hemp thread is now slid down the blades to the point where the bridle is going to be, and the cane will mould itself around the staple without splitting. Allow it to cool and fix the staple in position with a couple of drops of superglue. Feather the points of the blades, wrap, etc. etc.

This is the method we have used for many years; it is quick and reliable and produces physically strong reeds with good tone.



This is an area of current practice which remains under-researched and, perhaps little understood. There are many parallels between the tools of the pipemaker and those of wizards; all sources emphasise the importance of the wand or staff to the magician (cf. T.H. White, ‘The Sword in the Stone’, an impeccably researched and highly recommended volume) but it is less widely realised that pipemakers use similar methods. Most makers possess a collection of wands, inscribed with lines and runes which would be of great power if they could be understood. Mine are made of extruded aluminium angle.

Picture the scene...

The magus retires to a small, poorly lit room. Doors are closed, ostensibly ‘to keep the dust out’. The wood is taken in one hand, the wand in the other, and the ritual begins. Mysterious sounds are heard; repetitive music begins (Radio 3?). There is a humming and whirring and levitation may be suspected- the only way to explain the bizarre location of vital tools (a problem also experienced by Merlin, according to White). Oaths, curses and other spells feature all too frequently. A peak of activity is reached. The ‘maker’ emerges, clutching some new item. He claims to have ‘made’ this in order to allay any suspicion of unorthodox activities, but do we really believe him?

There is a PhD (at least) in this for somebody, but these days there isn’t a hope in hell of getting the funding.