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For the second year in succession Richard and Anita Evans gave a talk on maintenance and other matters connected with Scottish smallpipes at the Galloway Summer School (see Iain Murray’s report elsewhere in this Issue). The notes on reed-making, designed to accompany Anita’s talk, would I suggested, make interesting reading for a wider audience if accompa- nied by photographs. These Anita has kindly provided.


The reeds we use in our Scottish smallpipes are the same as our reeds for Northumbrian pipes in ‘F’. Also, please note that while most of the procedures and dimensions are standard, this is my way of making reeds and some of the techniques differ from other makers.

These instructions are not complete in that they are designed to accompany a demonstration

[or, in this case photos. Ed].


TUBE CANE   I order mine from Windcraft Ltd., Riverside, Mill Lane, Taplow, Nr Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 OAA. Tel.01628 778377. Ask for bassoon cane. A kilo gives you quite a lot of pieces, about 7 inches long by 1 inch diameter. It’s best to share between a few people if you don't make many reeds, as I find the quality of the cane does deteriorate in time. I store mine in a sealed plastic bag.

MAKING THE REEDS        Cut one of the tubes into two pieces, each being a minimum of 3 1/2 inches, maximum 3 3/4 inches long. If the tube isn’t long enough I use the shorter pieces for Northumbrian ‘G’ reeds, but if you don't need these there will be some wastage. (Photo 1).

With the tube upright, tap with a chisel into several pieces each about 1/2 inch wide. (Photos 2 & 3).

Thin down each piece using a sharp gouge and a gouging block. Keep turning the pieces round to ensure even gouging. Don't make it too thin (apparently it should be the thickness of a good quality business card!). Technically speaking it should be a minimum of 25 thou [thousandths of an inch] and mine are usually nearer 30 thou.

It’s very important to gouge evenly - hold the slips up to a light to check for thick parts. Finish off with wet and dry (wrap it round a short piece of broomshank) on the inner sur- face. This early stage is crucial to the quality of the reed, and needs a lot of practice. (Photos 4, 5 & 6).


Trim the edges of the cane slips so that they are 7/16 inches wide, and make sure the edges are parallel and straight - use a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface.

I use a home made gauge to check the width. (Photos 7 & 8).

Supporting the slip on the broom shank, trim each end to a point, to a depth of 5/8 inches. Use a craft knife with a very sharp blade. (Photo 9)


(Non standard technique) - coat each end of the slips on the inner surface with superglue and leave to dry. I find this helps to stick the cane to the staple later on and helps prevent splitting.

Using the broom shank for support, mark the centre of the slip and press the knife blade down enough to score but not cut. This must be at right angles to the slip. (I use the reflection in the knife blade as a guide).

Gently but firmly fold the slip in half. The edges should line up and the points meet! If they

don’t, the reed won't work. Keep the edges together by wrapping with sewing cotton, but not too tight as this has to be moved down later. (Photos 10, 11 & 12).

THE STAPLE    I buy 3/16 inch brass tube from a model shop, cut into 7/8 inch lengths. Smooth off any ragged edges inside and out. Use a profiled nail tapped lightly into one end to start off the shaping, then squeeze the ends with pliers. This shaping will affect the quality of the reed, so take care! File the outer surface of the staple to provide a key for the cane part. Insert the shaped end of the staple into the folded cane slip so that about 1/4 inch protrudes beyond the points.

(Non-standard technique) [see CS 77.2. p.37 Ed] - grip the cane slip on the staple at the pointed part with pliers and hold the exposed end of the staple in a flame. Allow a short while for the cane to warm and become pliable, but stop if it bursts into flames and turns black!! Take care, as there will be some fumes from the superglue. Push the wrapping gently down towards the ‘shoulders’ of the reed. You will find that the cane moulds itself to the staple and the warmed superglue will help it stick. Make sure the staple and the cane are in a nice straight line. (Photo 13).


When cool, apply a small drop of superglue to each side of the points and allow to dry with the staple end pointed slightly downwards - glue must not enter the upper body of the reed. When the glue is dry, use a knife, file etc. to chamfer the edges and points and make a nice smooth base for the wrapping.

Using waxed yellow hemp thread, embroidery thread or similar, wrap the end of the reed carefully up to an inch above the end of the staple (should be just past the reed shoulders). This wrapping needs to be made airtight by coating with a mixture of knotting [obtainable from your friendly DIY] and shellac, or possibly varnish. Leave until absolutely dry. (Photo 14)


Now you are ready for the hard part!


SCRAPING THE REED      I use 240 grit wet and dry to begin with, and a sharp bladed craft knife. Alternate between sanding (with the wet and dry on a flat surface) and scraping until the desired area begins to thin and flex. Hold the reed up to a bright light at frequent intervals to check on progress. When it feels right, (sorry, this is a case of trial and error, and practice), twist a piece of wire around the cane part just above the wrapping and squeeze gently with pliers. This is the bridle.

(Photos 15, 16, 17 & 18)



Continue with some gentle sanding (400 or 600 grit wet and dry) and scraping, then trim the end of the reed with a sharp blade, so that the total length of the reed is 2 inches. Using the reflection in the knife again to ensure you are cutting squarely. I use a small cutting block for this job. Continue sanding and scraping until the reed begins to ‘crow’ when sucked.

Unlike Highland bagpipe reeds, these reeds must not be exposed to moisture. Take great care not to over-thin, especially the tip of the reed. Again, only trial and error and a lot of practice will tell you how to proceed at this stage.


Hopefully at the end of all this you will have a wonderful reed which you can ‘fit and forget’ for years. It's worth a try, anyway!