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Notes on making plastic chanter reeds; these were developed for the bagpipes which I make. They would not necessarily suit a chanter of different design. The methods and   principles may be useful for iother designs, and the dimensions can be changed as                           appropriate. The dimensions given here are for a chanter in ’G’.



Mandrel; made from a piece of 6mm trol steel about 150mm long; turn one end to a taper to fit inside of staple; file tapering ‘flats’ 20mm long symmetrically on opposing sides of the tip, ending up with a slightly ovalised shape to the tip, the minor axis measuring about 1mm. See sketch.

Small vice.

Sharp knife; (e.g. Stanley).

Long-nose pliers; preferably with flat smooth jaws.

Small hard wood block; with very smooth surface; the ideal is end-grain box, 50mm diameter, 25mm thick,

(Reed blade shaping tool; see note below).


Plastic pot for the reed blades: I use Safeway Fromage Frais, 500gm size (see note below). This measures about 85mm high, by 95mm diameter at the bottom and 110mm diameter at the top. Diameter is important because it controls the degree of opening of the lips of reed.

Thickness is between 0.30 and 0.35mm. Food pots range from very soft to quite brittle. Choosing one from the middle of the range, tending towards soft is probably best. Prepare the pot by slicing off the bottom by cutting with the knife round the bottom corner; take off the top moulding in the same way. Make a single cut from top to bottom with scissors so as to open the cylinder. Again with scissors cut about 13mm from the bottom edge where the material is too thick to be useful. Then reduce the width of the remaining material to 95mm by cutting a strip from the top end. From this cut blanks about 25mm wide. You should have now a dozen or so blanks. Make a note at this stage which ends come from the upper part of the pot, and which from the lower. The upper will be at the tip end of the reed.

Staples; standard oboe staples, cork removed and reduced in length to 31mm by cutting off the wide end. See note.

Dental tape: (the wide kind of floss).

PTFE tape: (white plumber’s tape).



1. Prepare a staple by placing it on the mandrel. Flatten the end to conform to the flats filed on the mandrel by squeezing between the jaws of long-nose, smooth-jaw pliers. You can form a nice ‘eye’ with a burnisher (or any smooth steel rod) by stroking towards the tip.

2. Take a plastic blank, and cut it down the centre along the length, making two blanks. Cut each one to exactly the same trapezoidal shape, 10mm wide at the lip end and 3.5mm at the other, 35mm long. If you are making a lot of reeds, a shaping guide is useful. See note below.

3. Temporarily bind the blades together (concave surfaces facing) with a few turns of thread, or you can use a small square of 19mm masking tape folded across the tips (wide end).

4. Position the vice on right hand end of the bench (if you are right handed), or if it is a swivel vice, place it anywhere but angle it at 45 degrees; this is so that your hand does not hit the bench when winding on the thread. Place the mandrel in the vice, with flats above and below.

5. Place a prepared staple onto the mandrel, and slip the blades onto the staple. Secure them with a clove hitch round the tails without cutting off the thread. Adjust the position of the blades on the staple so that the tails are 12mm from the large end of the staple. Bind with firm, close turns of thread so that the edge of the last turn comes 34mm from the large end of the staple. Make the last turn a half hitch. Wind back to the start with two or three wide turns and finish off with two half hitches.

Wind thread onto the bare end of the staple to suit the reed socket in the chanter. Start from the bottom of the blades, trapping the end of the thread with the first few turns, wind to within 0.5mm of the end; back to the start with one turn, then close turns for two thirds of the way to the open end, back again to the start in one turn, then back in close turns for one third and finish with a half hitch.

5. Remove the mandrel from the vice. Cover the binding with a few turns of PTFE tape. Start from above the socket binding, work diagonally towards the top; make a couple of turns there, just covering the end of the binding, then return to the start, pull the tape to break it, and rub it down with the fingers.

6. It is necessary to give the blades a little more arch in the throat area. Do this by squeezing across the width in the middle of the binding; a fair amount of force is required and the plastic will bend quite dramatically; the sides of the blade will open slightly. Then squeeze in the opposite direction to restore the shape of the reed. The sides should be closed, but there should be a visibly greater curve in the centre of the blades above the binding. This area can be closed further (or opened) by gentle pressure to adjust the response later on.

7. The reed is finished by scraping with a very sharp knife. A new heavy duty Stanley knife is adequate, though a slightly curved (convex) blade is better as it can be used more selectively. First trim any excess off the tip by reducing the overall length of the reed/staple to 46mm; lay the reed flat on the cutting block and make a vertical cut over the whole width of the tip at once. The degree of scraping required depends entirely upon the quality and thickness of the plastic, and the required response. Safeway’s current formulation of plastic needs very little work. It is impossible to say how many scraping strokes should be made, because it depends upon how much material is removed at each stroke. Don't try to remove too much at each stroke. Attempt a mean between skating over the surface and digging in.

The objective is to produce a slight taper in the thickness for the blades from the binding to the tip. Start with 5 or 6 strokes from just above the binding towards the tip. The scrape will be mainly in the centre of the blade at the binding, but across the full width at the tip. Work progressively towards the tip, finally working on the last 2-3mm. Continue until the tuning, response and sound quality is correct. It may be necessary to raise the pitch of the reed by clipping the tip. Don't take off more than about 0.25mm at once. If you reduce the length of the reed too much, the upper octave (the B natural is especially noticeable) will become sharp. Remember that you can also alter the response of the reed at this point, by adjustments in the degree of opening at the top of the binding. Most often the reed will need closing here, which reduces playing pressure, and improves overblowing. It can also make low G more pressure sensitive, but this can be rectified by further scraping.

8 500 grit silicon carbide paper is useful for refining the tips of the blades. Hold the staple between thumb and fourth finger. pressing the tips of the blades onto the paper with the tip of the index finger. Aim to treat only the last 3mm or so. Adjust downward pressure and the amount by which the end of the staple is raised accordingly.


BLADE SHAPING GUIDE: Take a pair of long-nose pliers. Grind out between the jaws to take a pair of pieces of metal with the same dimensions as the reed blades (but slightly longer at the wide end), and having the same curvature. Braze one piece to each jaw (curves matching rather than opposing), in such a position that when the pliers are closed, a plastic blank is held firmly overall. A sharp blade along the edge of the metal inserts then cuts the blank to shape.

STAPLES: I get mine in bulk, to size, from Guercio, Wombachgerstr 65, 97816 Lohr-Wombach, Germany. They will supply standard sizes or make any size to order.

POTS: Since these notes were written, Safeways have changed their Fromage Frais pots (the bastards!), however their current Creme Fraiche pots appear to be the same as the original Fromage Frais pots.



l. Staple length, 30mm.

2. Distance from large end of staple to blade tails, 11mm.

3. Finished blade length will be slightly less.