Posts Tagged ‘tools’

An Inexpensive Cane Scoring Tool

Scor­ing is the process of cut­ting a num­ber of par­al­lel ver­ti­cal lines in the bark a piece of gouged, shaped, and pro­filed cane. These cuts make it eas­ier to form the cane into a cylin­dri­cal tube and help pre­vent crack­ing dur­ing the form­ing process. Dif­fer­ent reed mak­ers have var­i­ous the­o­ries of scor­ing, involv­ing dif­fer­ent num­bers, spac­ing, length, and depth of score marks. There is also quite a vari­ety of tools one can choose from to actu­ally per­form the scor­ing, rang­ing from a $4 util­ity knife to Rieger’s €946 scor­ing machine. The tool I have used for years is close to the inex­pen­sive end of this spec­trum. It is sim­ply a tap (a tool for cut­ting screw threads) mounted in a file han­dle.

Parts and Assembly

Left: file han­dle and tap. Right: assem­bled scor­ing tool.

I cer­tainly can’t claim to have invented this — I saw Pro­fes­sor James Lotz at Ten­nessee Tech Uni­ver­sity demon­strate such a tool when I was a bud­ding reed maker in high school. Miller Mar­ket­ing also sells a scor­ing tool that looks to be basi­cally the same thing, made by 2XReed. I don’t remem­ber what the orig­i­nal tap and han­dle cost (I’ve been using the same scor­ing tool for about 15 years). But I recently made a sec­ond one to keep in my office, and the parts came to a whop­ping $8. Here are a tap and han­dle sim­i­lar to the ones that I recently pur­chased. If you’re lucky, the tap will just fit snugly in the han­dle — my first tool went together that way with a sim­ple fric­tion fit. If you’re unlucky (as I was with my recent parts), you’ll have to glue the tap into the han­dle to keep it in place. No big deal. There are prob­a­bly higher qual­ity file han­dles out there with more con­sis­tent con­struc­tion, but this is what my local hard­ware store had.

Tap Close-up

Detail of the tap

The speci­fic size of the tap isn’t crit­i­cal — you just need some­thing with cut­ting teeth (close up at right) with the spac­ing you want to achieve in your scor­ing lines. I use a tap for cut­ting 10–24 threads; the 2XReed tap looks big­ger. If you actu­ally buy your tap at a hard­ware store rather than online, you can just looks at all the dif­fer­ent choices and pick one that looks right to you.

To use the tool, first put your piece of cane on an easel. Then, hold the tool per­pen­dic­u­lar to the cane at the point you want to start your score lines — I like to start just above the sec­ond wire. Make sure that you have the edge of one set of cut­ting teeth lined up to dig into the cane, apply a bit of pres­sure, and draw the tool straight down your cane. I like to plant my thumb on the back end of the easel and use a sort of closing-the-hand motion to help keep my lines straight. One pass with the tool with score about half the width of the cane. To score the other side, just repeat the action on the other side. You can put one tooth of the scor­ing tool the last exist­ing line to keep the proper spac­ing and direc­tion of your score marks. I’ve thrown together a quick ani­ma­tion of the scor­ing process:

Scoring Animation

Click to see an ani­ma­tion of the scor­ing process

Finished Cane

Cane after a cou­ple of passes with the tool

And there you have it: eight or nine per­fectly par­al­lel score marks in a mat­ter of a few sec­onds. Above right you can see a piece of cane after a cou­ple of passes with the scor­ing tool. I went a lit­tle too high on the left side of this piece of cane, but it’s not a big deal. It does take a lit­tle prac­tice to align the cut­ting teeth prop­erly, and also to make the first cut per­fectly straight. But get­ting the hang of it doesn’t take very long, and pretty quickly you’ll be get­ting very con­sis­tent results. The one draw­back of this method is that it doesn’t quite cut as deeply as I’d like; I like my scor­ing to go all the way through the cane at the back end. So, I typ­i­cally deepen the marks with a util­ity knife — another pretty quick oper­a­tion.

My Daily Tool Kit

In a pre­vi­ous post, I set out the basic tools and mate­ri­als that I like my stu­dents to have. These are all nec­es­sary for my method and style of reed mak­ing, but I don’t need all of them every day. I keep a stream­lined set of tools in my bas­soon case for the daily busi­ness of fin­ish­ing and adjust­ing reeds. I’ve spent a good deal of time fig­ur­ing out what I truly need to carry with me, and have acquired alter­nate ver­sions of some tools to keep my kit as com­pact as pos­si­ble. My kit also con­tains a cou­ple of items for quick instru­ment fixes. I gave sources for some of these in my post on basic reed tools, so I’ll only provide links for the new items.

Raily Reed Tools

  1. Util­ity Knife — My big Stan­ley knife is pain to haul around, so I carry this svelte Ger­ber EAB fold­ing knife instead.
    Source: Ama­zon
  2. Pli­ers — Form­ing pli­ers aren’t nec­es­sary for daily adjust­ments, so I carry this small pair of Crafts­man needle nose pli­ers instead.
    Source: Sears
  3. Reed Knife — I like this fold­ing Fox knife for its small size.
    Source: Mid­west Musi­cal Imports
  4. Hon­ing Steel — Reg­u­lar use of this Vic­tori­nox steel (made for pocket knives and remounted in a file han­dle by me) lets me sharpen my knife a lit­tle less fre­quently.
    Source: Smoky Moun­tain Knife Works (or find one on eBay)
  5. Emery Board — Half of a wide coarse board fits here nicely.
  6. Cut­ting Block — I prefer trim­ming reeds with my Reeds ‘n Stuff guil­lotine, but this and a util­ity knife will do in a pinch.
  7. Screw­drivers — These two jeweler’s-style flat­head screw­drivers came with my Püch­ner, but can be eas­ily obtained else­where.
  8. Files — Just round and flat for daily use.
  9. Plaque — Big, plas­tic, and red. Easy to see if you drop it onstage or in a dark pit. Large enough to use for con­tra reeds, too.
  10. Short (Hold­ing) Man­drel — Fox: sim­ple and com­pact.
  11. Tooth­brush Head — For quickly clean­ing shav­ings out of the reamer.
    Source: any drug store
  12. Reamer — My trusty Rieger.
  13. Sand­pa­per — A stack of small rec­tan­gles (cut from a larger sheet) of 320 grit wet/dry lasts a while.
  14. Caliper — great for mak­ing repeated mea­sure­ments on dif­fer­ent reeds.
    Source: Sears
  15. Ruler — Although I mostly use the small caliper above, this small six-inch ruler takes up almost no space and comes in handy from time to time as well.
    Source: Office Depot
  16. Spring Hook — I made this out of a big paper clip years ago, and haven’t yet felt the need to upgrade to the real thing.
    Source: your desk drawer

All together, these tools cover about 99% of what I’ll ever have to do dur­ing a rehearsal or prac­tice ses­sion. I wish I could carry my guil­lotine with me, but it’s just too big. As you can see below, all the tools I’ve listed above fit com­fort­ably into my leather tool wal­let, which itself fits very nicely into the acces­sory pouch of my Mar­cus Bonna Gentleman’s case. No cram­ming nec­es­sary!

Daily Reed Tools in Case

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.


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


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


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)


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)


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


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!