Binding the Reed:
Take the reed off the peg on the drying-board and put it on the mandrel. If you find that the cane has shrunk leaving the wires loose, re-tighten the third wire so that the reed reaches the mark on the mandrel that shows where the reed will go the correct distance on to the crook. Then tighten the other two wires. To tighten a wire: grab the twisted bit with a pair of pliers; pull it firmly but not too tightly and then take up the slack by twisting. Do not tighten it just by twisting. Trim the first and second wires to about 4 mm with a pair of wire cutters. If you’re the kind of player that likes to play on new reeds, it might be worth your while leaving your reeds unbound. You might then need to wrap the third wire 3 times round the reed rather than 2. The reed will certainly be freer and vibrate more easily, but you’ll have to be absolutely certain that the edges are completely air-tight. As the reed becomes old, the cane shrinks when it is dry and the structural stability is undermined, which is one reason why I always bind mine. Bound reeds last longer! A compromise is only to bind the ‘Turk’s Head’ and leave the ‘tube’ unbound. If you’re going to bind the reed, trim the third wire as short as you can without it falling off. A good thread to use is 20 gauge crochet thread. It’s good to use 100 per cent cotton. If it contains any nylon or polyester it will be stretchy and since it goes round 100 or so times will exert an enormous constricting pressure on the cane. Beware! Some thread sold as reed binding thread does contain nylon so if you do use this, be particularly careful not to use too much tension. Put a small dab off instant adhesive like UHU round where the third wire is. Twist the end of the thread around the stub sticking up from the third wire and start twisting it round the reed. To find out how to make the Turk’s Head carefully unravel an old reed. When the Turk’s Head is finished, wrap the thread up to the second wire but not too tightly. Get the end of the thread tucked in just short of the second wire and cut it neatly by the twist on the wire. Fold the twisted bit of the first and second wires flat. Do this! An unfolded first wire can do terrible damage to a lip. If you make reeds in batches of more than a dozen and you find it tedious wrapping the binding on to the reed blank or if you find that it makes your wrists ache, you might have dreamt of owning one of the fabulous machines made by Rieger or Reeds’n’Stuff that wrap the thread and also create the ‘Turk’s Head’. But if you’re making fewer than a hundred or so reeds a year, it’s difficult to justify the expense. I’ve just put together a very basic tool that can be made in an hour or so. You will need: One Apple Peeler and Corer made by Kitchen Craft and one mandrel tip (made by Prestini and available in packs of 6 from good woodwind shops), a couple of cheap felt-tip pens (try Tesco) and a large rubber band. Next: cut the pens up so that you get a couple of thick washers or spacers or ferrules or whatever they might be called to fit snugly over the cylindrical bit of the mandrel and tightly inside the prongs that are supposed to hold your apple. Then wrap it securely round with the elastic band (add a dab of glue if necessary) or a ‘Jubilee clip’ and there you have your reed winder. Secure it to a work surface, stick your reed blank on the mandrel, attach your binding thread and get winding on that handle. I’d say it probably halves the time taken to bind a reed and it’s a lot less effort.
Wait at least 24 hours so that the glue is fully dried and then apply to two or three thin layers of cheap clear nail varnish to the thread. Any varnish that doesn’t get too hard or brittle and is water-proof will do. You can also use cellulose dope which you can get from a specialist modellers’ shop or on line. This is thick gloopy stuff and you must use this in a well ventilated room.
Cutting the Tip Off:
Having made your reed blank and left it for several weeks or longer on your drying board, wet the blade in tepid water and cut the tip off. Decide what length the blades on your best reeds are (the blades on mine are 27.5mm) and cut the end off. The traditional way of doing this is to put it on a cutting block (they are not expensive and all woodwind suppliers sell them) and cut it straight across with a very sharp knife or single edged razor blade. If you try this, however hard you try and however careful you are, you will nearly always end up with a lop-sided reed. The next best way is to use a pair of jewellers ‘end-cutters’. Hold the reed in the jaws of it then turn it round and see if it still looks square from the other side. If it does, squeeze the jaws closed. But the best way is to use a purpose-made tip cutter like those made by Reiger (http://www.georgrieger.com/html-en/home/index.html 160 Euros or Reeds’n’Stuff (https://www.reedsnstuff.com/en/ 170 Euros). They are very quick to use, accurate and completely square. Well worth the extra expense if you make more than a dozen reeds a year.
When the reed is bone dry wipe across the tip lightly with extremely fine wet and dry sandpaper (1000, 1200 or even 2000 grit). This will help in fast tongued passages and very soft attacks and possibly help the reed to last longer.
If you have used a good shape when making your reed, it should fit firmly on to the crook for the right distance. If, however, it’s a bit tight and doesn’t go on far enough, you’ll have to ream it out a little. Only do this on a bone-dry reed or else you’ll end up with loose fibres of cane sticking out and don’t bother trying to use a reamer with a single straight cutting edge. They are never as good as the spiral type made by Rieger and others. For finishing off, the diamond coated ones are good.
From this point on the construction of the reed is complete and further work is referred to as ‘finishing off’ which is where the fun really begins.
There is a useful series of illustrative video clips at http://www.people.vcu.edu/~bhammel/main/bassoon/reeds/video.htm .