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Wednesday, September 2nd 2009

8:44 AM

Gouging - the foundation of reed making

Before I start on the process I’ll tell you that I use a fine Rieger gouging machine to gouge my cane.  At the IDRS, I almost drooled over the new electric gouging machine made by Udo Heng of Reedsn’stuff and was also impressed by the Innoledy gouger, though only the oboe gougers are currently on their webpage.

Since few of us can grow our own bassoon cane, we are left with the duty of either gouging our own cane, or finding gouged and/or fully processed cane that will work for us.  Gouging is the process of cutting the inside pulp down to a dimension so that we can then profile the bark down to start the finishing of our blade. Consistently and accurately gouged cane is a necessary product if our profile results in good reeds.  First, though, if gouging ourselves, we must pick the proper diameter of tubes for the gouger.  If the gouger bed is 24 mm in diameter, then of course 24 mm diameter cane is best but you will probably have to buy 24-25 mm tubes.  This probably won’t matter so much as tubes aren’t perfectly round anyway.  Some 26 mm tubes may work but the larger tube diameter means the cane won’t sit flat in the gouger and result in cane gouged thinner in the middle than you intended.  Smaller cane than 24 mm will result in gouged cane that is thinner on the sides, though 23 mm will work well in my machine.  There are two types of gouged cane produced by machine and several variations thereof.  Concentric cane results in a gouge whose circle is parallel with the outer surface, the bark.  Eccentric gouge uses a larger diameter circle for the inside than the outside, resulting in thinner sides to the gouge than the center.  How much thinner depends on the shape of the gouger blade.  It also varies whether you are using a 24 mm tube or 25 mm tube.  There are many possible variations made by hand gouging, some of which are covered in The Bassoon Reed Manual, Lou Skinner’s Theories and Techniques, by James R. McKay


My gouger is eccentric, but only by .1 mm from center to edge, not as dramatic as many.  The reason for an eccentric gouge is to have the thin corners of the reed come from the harder cane closer to the bark so the cane will be stronger and the corners will tend to stay open.  The opening of the tip is also controlled by the diameter of the tubes.  Smaller diameter tubes produce reeds whose tips will tend to stay open.  This is extremely important to oboists, but less so to bassoonists who control the tip opening with the wires. 

There is no one perfect thickness of the center of the gouge.  You may purchase cane from 1.1 mm to 1.45 mm or even perhaps a little thicker.  I currently gouge 1.30 mm =-.1mm.  There will always be some variation in the thickness regardless of the type of gouger you use because of natural variations in the cane.  One of the best features of gouging my own cane is that if my reeds turn out a little bit too hard I can easily thicken the gouge a little on my machine where changing the profiling machine is a more complicated process.

Splitting cane is no art.  I use a commercial splitter that splits the cane into four segments.  Then I soak the cane in room temperature tap water for 2 hours.  I try to not let the cane soak for more than 4 hours as it gets a little spongy for good gouging.  At this point many reed makers cut their cane to gougjng length, usually 120 mm. I only cut the cane as necessary to pre-gouge.  I pre-gouge with a Reedn’stuff  pre-gouging machine.  This way, if the cane is a little warped on the end, I can cut off the warped or damaged end of the cane.  I always cut a little cane off both ends of the pre-gouged cane to my gouge length, again in order to avoid warped or damaged ends.   When gouging, I start in the middle of the cane and go to the end.  If I start at the end with the clip raised then the cane often raises a little resulting in a thinner end of the gouged cane than my desired dimension.  My machines are set up from the pre-gouger to the gouger so I only have to make two or three passes in each direction to complete the gouge.

When purchasing gouged cane you should determine the finished thickness in the center of the gouge before purchase.  Thinner gouges will make the surface of the profiled cane closer to the bark and result in harder reeds while thicker gouges result in the blade coming from softer cane.  Other growing factors determine softer and harder cane but the one factor we control is thickness of the gouge.  At least one manufacturer of gouged cane, Bonazza, on their website allow you to choose from three different gouge thicknesses and three different profiles as well as hardness and softness of cane.  You should ask your supplier the thickness of their gouge and information about concentric and eccentric gouges as well as various profiles.  Millermarketingco.com offers a webpage comparing cane dimensions and hardness from various suppliers that is very handy.  However, it is always wise to ask your supplier details about the gouge being currently produced and perhaps if that company can supply the type of gouge you require.  I hope to hear from many of you about this blog entry.



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