Basic Reed Tools

Basic Reed ToolsOver the past cou­ple of weeks, I’ve been cor­re­spond­ing with one of my incom­ing fresh­men about what reed tools and mate­ri­als he’ll need when he arrives at school in the fall. This has inspired me to assem­ble a real list of the equip­ment that I want a begin­ning reed mak­er to have. I’ve combed the three dou­ble reed spe­cial­ty shops that I typ­i­cal­ly do busi­ness with (For­rests Music, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, and Miller Mar­ket­ing) along with a few nation­al chains (Ace Hard­ware, Home Depot, and Wal­greens) for the best prices on my rec­om­mend­ed items. There are a cou­ple of things that I rec­om­mend get­ting from Bar­rick Stees and Christlieb Prod­ucts, as well. For most items I’ve also list­ed oth­er options, in case you’d like to buy a bet­ter knife, or save on ship­ping by order­ing from few­er mer­chants. I won’t go through exact­ly how I use all of the­se now — that’s a top­ic for anoth­er post.


Pliers

Form­ing pli­ers (with a smooth hole in the jaws for shap­ing the tube of the reed) are a spe­cial­ty item, and there aren’t too many choic­es in brands. I prefer the orange han­dled Knipex/Rieger ver­sion. The­se have larg­er han­dles than some of the oth­ers, and are very well made. They also hap­pen to be the least expen­sive of the bunch.

Best Price: $45, Miller Mar­ket­ing (RBPLRS)
Oth­er Sources: For­rests Music (#E-29), Mid­west Musi­cal Imports

Reed Knife

I own a a few dif­fer­ent knives, and each one has things I like and things I don’t. I think all that real­ly mat­ters is that you find some­thing that fits your hand com­fort­ably and that you can keep sharp rel­a­tive­ly eas­i­ly.

Best Price: $24, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports (Rig­ot­ti straight knife)
Oth­er Knives: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, For­rests Music, Miller Mar­ket­ing

Utility Knife

Any basic util­i­ty knife will do. I like the kind that take the stan­dard trape­zoidal blades, rather than the ones with sec­tioned snap-off blades. The­se (along with extra blades) should be easy to find at any hard­ware store. My stan­dard knife is a beefy-handled retractable Stan­ley that holds extra blades inside.

Best Price: $4.48, Home Depot
Oth­er Sources: Ace Hard­ware

Short (Holding) Mandrel

I have a cou­ple of the­se, one by Fox and one by Rig­ot­ti. There are many oth­er brands to choose from, too — all that real­ly mat­ters is that you find one that’s con­fort­able in your hand.

Best Price: $15, Miller Mar­ket­ing (2X Reed Man­drel)
Oth­er Man­drels: For­rests Music, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports

Plaque

I hate the sound a knife makes when it scrapes on a met­al plaque, so I stick to plas­tic ones. Again, I have a few of the­se, but my favorite is a big red one that also works for con­tra reeds and is easy to spot when (not if) you drop it in a dark pit.

Best Price: $2, For­rests Music (#G-21)
Oth­er Sources: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports

Reamer

Good ream­ers are sharp, have mul­ti­ple flut­ed spi­ral blades, and are pre­cise­ly made to match the taper of a bocal. As a result, they aren’t cheap. Ream­ers get infre­quent enough use that a new stu­dent can sub­sist for awhile by bor­row­ing those of his or her stu­dio­mates. But any­one doing seri­ous reed mak­ing will need one even­tu­al­ly. I like my Rieger ream­er, but there are good ream­ers for a lit­tle less mon­ey, too.

Best Price: $79, Miller Mar­ket­ing (Miller Mar­ket­ing Pro Spi­ral Ream­er) or $80, Bar­rick Stees
Oth­er Ream­ers: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, For­rests Music (#E-31)

Handheld Torch

I like to heat my form­ing man­drels before using them (to make the cane more pli­able dur­ing form­ing), and have found a small hand­held butane torch to be the best heat source. The­se come in a vari­ety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Mine is an inex­pen­sive hard­ware store mod­el that sim­ply takes butane lighters as car­tridges. This is anoth­er item that can be bor­rowed from stu­dio­mates ini­tial­ly, if nec­es­sary.

Best Price: $20, Home Depot
Oth­er Torch­es: Home Depot, Ace Hard­ware 1, Ace Hard­ware 2

Forming Mandrels/Drying Rack

I like to form reeds on long man­drels, then allow them to dry before remov­ing them. My pins, which I love, were made by Accu­rate. Sad­ly, they’ve now gone out of busi­ness, but you can buy sim­i­lar racks/pins from oth­ers.

Best Price: $75, Christlieb Prod­ucts (6D Chucked Han­dle –and- 7A1 Dry­ing Board w/Brass Form­ing Man­drel Tips)
Anoth­er Option: Miller Mar­ket­ing (2XMS Reed Form­ing Man­drel Set)

Easel

My easel is just a six-inch sec­tion of tool han­dle that my under­grad­u­ate teacher, Dr. Jef­frey Lyman, cut for me. A 1.25″ dow­el will work too, but I prefer the higher-density tool han­dle wood. You can get very nice purpose-made easels too, but I’ve nev­er seen the need to shell out for one.

Best Price: $1.50, Home Depot ($12 tool han­dle, can be cut into at least 8 easels)
Oth­er Options: Ace Hard­ware (anoth­er tool han­dle), Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, For­rests Music

Measuring Device

The cheap­est and eas­i­est to find is a sim­ple six-inch ruler — just make sure that it has mil­lime­ter mark­ings.

Best Price: $2, Home Depot
Oth­er Sources: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, For­rests Music (#R-05)

Files

Some peo­ple make exten­sive use of files in their reed mak­ing; I don’t. I use a round file most often, and occa­sion­al­ly pick up my flat and tri­an­gu­lar files, too. You can buy very nice dia­mond files indi­vid­u­al­ly, or get a six-pack of assort­ed files from most hard­ware stores. A word of warn­ing — be sure to wash your files before use. They often have resid­u­al machin­ing oils that will make your reeds taste awful.

Best Price: $9.40, For­rests Music (#E-26)
Oth­er Sources: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, Miller Mar­ket­ing, Ace Hard­ware, Home Depot

Sandpaper

One pack­age of 320 grit wet/dry sand­pa­per (usu­al­ly black or dark grey) will last quite awhile.

Best Price: $6, Home Depot

Emery Boards

Coarse emery boards work like sand­ing blocks (pro­vid­ing a rigid sand­ing sur­face), but are less expen­sive, eas­ier to man­age, and more com­pact.

Best Price: $2, Wal­greens

Cutting Block

A sur­face to use when trim­ming the tips of reeds. A block with a diam­e­ter greater than 1 inch is best for bas­soon reeds.

Best Price: $11, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports
Oth­er Blocks: For­rests Music, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports

Cotton String

Anoth­er hard­ware store item — I use thick cot­ton string to wrap cane dur­ing the form­ing process.

Best Price: $3, Home Depot

22 Gauge Brass Wire

Some­times you can find this in a hard­ware store — make sure it’s 22 gauge, though! Larg­er spools can be ordered from pret­ty much any dou­ble reed sup­pli­er.

Price: $8–30, depend­ing on how large a spool you buy
Sources: For­rests Music (#G-05), Mid­west Musi­cal Imports, Miller Mar­ket­ing

Reed Tying Thread

I prefer nylon size FF thread. This also is avail­able from most dou­ble reed shops — in lots of col­ors!

Price: $6.50–10, depend­ing on brand
Sources: Miller Mar­ket­ing, For­rests Music, Mid­west Musi­cal Imports

Duco Cement

The old stand­by reed adhe­sive. Duco is avail­able in both met­al tubes and plas­tic bot­tles — which you buy is a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence and what your store stocks.

Best Price: $3, Miller Mar­ket­ing
Oth­er Sources: For­rests Music, Ace Hard­ware


Now, a few caveats about this list:

  1. The­se are the items that I con­sid­er essen­tial for my own style of reed mak­ing. Oth­er play­ers and teach­ers will like­ly have some­what dif­fer­ent lists.
  2. In list­ing the best prices for the­se items, I have tried to find tools that are suf­fi­cient for a begin­ning reed mak­er. They cer­tain­ly aren’t the only options, nor are they all the speci­fic mod­els that I use on a dai­ly basis.
  3. If you buy all of the “Best Price” items on this list, it comes to about $320, not includ­ing tax or ship­ping charges. This may seem like a lot, but con­sid­er that with com­mer­cial reeds at $15–20 a pop, mak­ing your own reeds will recov­er the cost of tools in rel­a­tive­ly short order. If you real­ly want to, you can wait on the ream­er and torch, bring­ing the total down to about $220.
  4. There are tools I use fre­quent­ly that I haven’t includ­ed on this list, because there are ways of accom­plish­ing the same tasks with those I have list­ed.
  5. You will, of course, need some­thing to put all of the­se tools in. For­rests, Mid­west, and Miller all car­ry nice tool pouch­es, but you can also just use some­thing you’ve already got or even the ship­ping box your tools arrive in.
  6. There is one addi­tion­al item with­out which all of this is use­less: cane! But that’s a sub­ject for anoth­er day.

Although I’ve made this list pri­mar­i­ly for my own stu­dents, I hope that it will prove to be use­ful for oth­ers, as well. Hap­py reed mak­ing!

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