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Copyright 2009 Dale Clark
My forming process closely follows what I learned from Gary Echols in Nebraska that he learned from Lou Skinner. Skinner’s process depended on the style of reed you were making as well as when he taught you the process. Several of Skinner’s reed making students have commented that his reed making process changed over the years. I studied with three other teachers who also had studied with Skinner and their takes on Skinner’s process were all slightly different.
After the cane is beveled and scored, as I have described in a previous post, I soak the cane in hot water for 30 minutes. My slow cooker set on low feels slightly cooler than very hot tap water. When I fold over the cane I make sure the sides align perfectly so I don’t start off with an overlapped blade. I put the first wire on tight; the placement depends on the style reed I’m making, 25 mm from the butt for my style A. The wire should be tight enough that you see no light showing between the wire and the bark. If the wire is too loose the cane may split past the first wire into the blade, a common problem for students. If your profiler does not cut a shoulder into the cane, mine does, you may want to do this before forming as it makes splitting much less likely. I wrap the reed with cotton string from the first wire to the butt of the reed. Some makers wrap the blades as well. I don’t because the cane in the blade is not trying to push away from the mandrel as in the case of the tube where you need to produce a counter force. I place the cane back in the water a moment while I wax my Rigotti forming mandrel. I then insert my mandrel past the last mark, there are three marks, pushing it straight in with no twisting that helps avoid blade shifting. By inserting the mandrel this far I insure that when I set the final wire tension I will not have to ream my reed. I remove the string far enough to put the first wire on but leave the string tight above that. The third wire is placed at 5 mm from the butt and at first with enough tension just to hold it in place. Then I squeeze around the butt of the reed with needle-nosed pliers so that the cane joins at the seams. I then tighten the wire snuggly. Removing the rest of the string, I place the second wire at 16 mm from the butt of the reed, again with minimal tension. I then squeeze the cane between the second and third wires to bring the cane close to the mandrel before final tightening the second wire. I use a triangle needle file to make four shallow markings on the cane between the second and third wires on both sides as well as top and bottom. Once the string is applied, and glued, these marks will help keep the string in place.
Once placed on the drying rack the reed should be allowed to dry until the wires loosen, often a day will do this, and then the wires should be retightened. I like to wrap and glue my reeds at this point and then let them stabilize on the drying rack. Matt Ruggiero found that eight weeks was sufficient stabilizing time. I know that many reed makers have other ideas and I welcome your comments on this subject.
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