Time to begin the reed making adventure!
First, soak cane in lukewarm water until the cane sinks to the bottom. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Don’t oversoak!
CHECKING STAPLES FOR PROPER FIT TO MANDREL
While the cane soaks you can check your staples. Look through them to see that the inside is smooth and clean. If you see bumps, kiss the staple goodbye. If it looks dirty you can usually clean it out with a slightly damp pipe cleaner. if you don’t know if they are the proper size you should measure them. Staples (or tubes) should be 47 millimeters long (from here on out I’ll abbreviate millimeters to mm), and should fit well on your mandrel. If the staples don’t fit TOSS THEM OUT! Or at least make Christmas ornaments or earrings out of them.
Check to see that the end of the staple is flush with the mandrel.The mandrel keeps the staple from getting bent when you pull the thread tightly to close the sides of the reed.
If you look at different staples you will notice that some are rounder and some are more oval. I know people who use the rounder; I use the more oval shape. Either one is fine, but it’s best to stick with one shape … the fewer variables in reed making, the better.
If you have good staples and the cane is now soaked, move on to the next step:
TRIMMING CANE ENDS
Shave the ends of the cane. You can use a pencil to keep the cane from splitting. Eventually you’ll have an easel and you can use that instead. (An easel is a tool you’ll use when you learn to shape your own cane.)
Having the ends of the piece of cane thinner helps to keep the cane from splitting as you wind, and it makes the reeds look smoother as well.
Secure the reed thread to something stable. I use a chair, but some people like to keep their chairs looking nice so they attach it to a hook that has been driven into their desk. Of course then they’ve ruined their desk, so if you decide to purchase a reed desk, and plan on using a hook, don’t bother with a fine piece of furniture!
Wax your thread with beeswax. Run the beewax along an arm’s length of the threadThis wax keeps the thread from slipping and, as well, helps the seal.
Now it’s time to get that reed wrapped!
GETTING THE CANE STRAIGHT ON THE STAPLE
Here’s a tricky part — you have to be sure that the cane is straight. It has to be centered on the tube, and the “flat” of the reed must be flat to the flat part of the mandrel handle.
After you get that piece of cane centered you must measure and make sure that you are at a proper length. As you master all of this you’ll learn what length works best for your particular shape of cane. (The wider the cane, the longer you will want the wrapped reed to be.)Meanwhile, plan to wind the reed to a 73 mm length. (I wind my reeds closer to 74 mm.)
One way to check and see if you’ve managed to get the flat of the reed to the flat of the mandrel is to put the ruler against the flat part of the mandrel and compare to the reed.This does, of course, require you to have a mandrel that is “true”! Many mandrels I’ve seen are poorly constructed and the flat part of the mandrel doesn”t line up with the flatter part of the metal portion of the mandrel.
Check both sides … the openings should be the same.
After you place the cane on the tube and check for its straightness to the mandrel you can verify that it is evenly placed on the tube by checking the sides. The opening on each side should be the same.This not only tells you that the reed is straight, but it is more likely that the reed will seal on both sides when you pull the thread tightly to close the reed.
Mark the cane at the end of the tube. You never wrap a reed past the end of the tube. It’s okay to wind slightly less than 47mm, but anything longer and you need to unwrap or toss the reed. Really.
WINDING THE CANE ONTO THE STAPLE
Begin winding about 5 millimeters below the mark at the end of the tube. Holding the spool of thread with your right hand, and the mandrel, staple and cane in your left, place the staple and cane on top of the thread. (Yes, it takes a while to learn how to hold all of these things without dropping something!) Wind up toward the top of the reed. Don’t pull the thread too tightly yet, but keep it snug enough not to slip. Make one or two winds up toward the tip.
You must now slip the blades. No matter what direction you wind, no matter if you wind left handed or right, you want to have the top blade butt into the bottom blade in line with the torque. In other words, the pressure the of the winding will push the top blade into the bottom and, thus, will help the reed to seal. For a right handed person who is winding as I do, the top blade will be shifted to the right, and the bottom to the left. NEVER have the slipping go the incorrect direction. If you do so, you must rewind the reed.
Continue wrapping toward the tip. When you come close to the pencil mark (probably 3 or 4 wraps around the reed), check and see if both sides still have the same size opening.
Measure to see if you are at or beyond 47mm. If it appears that you have reached 47mm, go back 1/2 wind just to be on the safe side.
Now is the time, too, to make sure that the blades are slipped properly. Shift the top blade to the right 1/2 mm if it appears that it has moved back over to the left.
If you’ve measured and you’re okay, you see that the blades are slipped correctly, and it appears that the sides will close evenly when you pull tightly, go for it! Pull that thread firmly to close the sides of the reed.
After you pull tightly look at both sides. Do both sides appear to close? You want a good seal. You can check, too, by trying to blow air, or suck air, through either side. This isn’t a guarantee that it’s sealing, but it’s at least a way to catch some problem reeds.
If the read appears to be sealing, you are set to begin the easy stretch of reed winding. If not, you have to unwind the thread and reposition the cane — probably needing to bring the cane down a bit so you have wider cane and the end of the staple, allowing the reed to close. And yes, you need to re-mark the end of the tube.
Now you cross the thread over what you’ve already wound, and begin moving downward toward the bottom of the reed. Do the cross-over on the flat of the reed, rather than a side.
Now check the reed again! Measure to be sure you didn’t go over 47 mm. See if the reed is straight and centered. Check both sides, just to be sure.
If you’ve gone over 47 mm, or if the reed is crooked, you need to take the reed apart and you need to rewind.
If not, you are ready to wrap down …
Wind a bit more down the reed.
Continue wrapping down toward the cork. Try to “wrap clean” — no overlapping, no gaps.
When you’re nearing the cork, you need to make a few knots. Do at least 3 half-hitch knots. I usually do a few with the thread that is winding the reed, and then I do one or two with the thread that’s attached to my chair.
To do the knots:
First loop the thread over your thumb.
Put the reed into the loop.
Pull the string tight. Most of the time the thread won’t break, but if it ever does I immediately put super glue or clear nailpolish on any existing knot(s) to make sure the reed doesn’t unravel. (There’s nearly nothing worse than having a good reed unravel on you!)
Do several more knots.
Clip the two threads (the one attached to the reed and the one attached to the chair).
You now have a wound reed! Fun, eh?
Remove the reed from the mandrel. One last time, check that you’ve got your measurements right; is the reed a workable length (it should be around 73 mm long or possibly longer)? Did you tie to 47mm or shorter? Remember that if you’ve gone over the staple length you must unwrap and tie again! Check to see if the reed is straight.
The cane should be straight on the staple in three ways: ovally* (looking through the bottom of the reed), laterally (not tilting to one side or the other, but in line with the staple) and vertically (if you were to draw a straight line up the side of the staple it would continue up the sides of the reed).
The reed should be overlapped to the right (for a right-handed person), and both sides should look the same.
The reed should seal:
You can recheck the seal in the way I described above
You can also check by putting the wound reed in your mouth. Do so all the way to the thread. Block the bottom opening of the staple and suck air in. When you remove the reed slowly from your mouth you shouldn’t feel any air leaking. Again, this isn’t fool-proof, but it’s helpful to check this.
Don’t worry if the reed leaks closer toward the tip; you are concerned about the sides and the bottom (where the thread is anchoring the cane) of the reed.
Did you do it?! Fabulous!
… but you can’t stop here. You must at least make the initial scrapes on the reed before you put it away.
Move on to Reed Making – Part Two for more fun.
* Look through the bottom of the reed and see if you’ve centered the reed properly in that way: the widest part of the reed should be in the center of the reed … you should see something that resembles a sideways cat’s eye centered to the round end of the tube as well as the oval end of the tube.