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On Selecting Cane

From my letter to a Scottish Highland bagpipe reedmaker:

I assume you are using the same species of cane oboists use, arundo donax. I have found that soaking tube cane 10-10.5 mm in diameter for exactly 2 hours before gouging and otherwise processing it gives the best results. We use plain tap water; not hot, not cold. Also, it is important to process the cane immediately after the two hours of soaking is finished. Otherwise, the cane takes longer to dry out which seems to have a detrimental effect on the cane.

Cane will split for no good reason sometimes. Neither too hard, nor too soft, nor hot water, nor cold water seems to have a tremendous bearing on cane splitting during processing or tying. As I'm not familiar with the steps you follow in making a bagpipe reed, I can only but come up short with advice with regard to cane splitting. Again, however, I would refer you to my 2-hour rule with regard to soaking cane before processing it. There might be clues to higher quality pieces of cane which are less likely to splitting by looking at the color of both the bark and the inside as well as paying attention to the way it feels when (if?) you fold it after gouging. Specifically, my experience tells me to stay away from white colored cane as well as green, unseasoned cane. The interior color should be very close to the color of the bark. If, when looking down inside a tube of cane you see a red or brown tinge which, upon splitting the tube, remains, I would reject such a piece of cane. As for the bark, a medium golden color is preferred. A very dark yellow color never seems to yield positive results. By the same token, a white or platinum champagne color should be rejected. If some light, almost transparent brown mottling is present, most likely due to the proximity of the stalk's leaves during drying, you may happily use this piece. Sometimes you come across a piece of cane with a dark-brown or black spot on it. If you're feeling courageous, you could use this piece, but I wouldn't risk it, especially if the discoloration penetrates beyond the bark. A black or otherwise dark spot on the inside of the cane that corresponds to a similar spot on the bark indicates a rotten spot on the cane, much like a brown spot on an apple's peel will betray a significant defect within.

The feel of the cane when folding it also gives some clues as to the hardness of the cane; how much spring is in the piece and if it folds along a single line at the midpoint or cracks on either side of the midpoint. If the piece folds too easily, then the piece is soft or otherwise defective. If the piece has so much spring it in that it is hard to fold and the fold itself is not a sharp, clean line, this indicates you might have difficulty with that piece. Should a piece crease spontaneously at a spot on either side instead of the exact midpoint when folding, one should immediately reject the piece.

It is important also to look at the grains of the cane as one processes it. Typically, thicker and wider grains indicate a soft, pulpy piece which absorbs lots of water and generally is flabby; yielding reeds flat in pitch and of poor tone. Close, thin grains always work better for me.

Finally, we reject cane that is warped, curved, cupped or otherwise twisted. Not only do our gouging machines often throw such pieces, but it is harder to get a consistent gouge when they don't. Furthermore, the blades on tied reeds tend to stand apart or otherwise misbehave.

Copyright 2005-2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC

David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC
213 Church Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 * (215) 782-CANE

Copyright 2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC