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The Right Mandrel for You

When I got my first mandrel in 9th grade from my oboe teacher, she seemed particularly fussy about how it fit my oboe staples. I didn't fully appreciate how important something as mandrel fit was to tying reed blanks and ultimately, making successful reeds. Years of experience, a variety of different makes of staple and several mandrels later, I now recognize my former teacher was not just being punctiliously particular due to her eccentric character. Having a mandrel perfectly mated to your staples is crucial. The performance of your reed is dependent on a variety of factors, such as, gouge, shaper tip, the length, shape and make of staple, the diameter and quality of cane, type of scrape, the sharpness of your reed knife, the make and type of your oboe, the climate, the altitude, and your embouchure. Several of these factors are addressed in these articles. This article however is narrowly focused on mandrels.

In essence, a mandrel for reedmaking is a tapered metal shaft with a handle. It is used to secure and orient a staple onto which one is tying a piece of shaped cane. The four most important aspects of a mandrel are:
1. The oval at the tip of the mandrel exactly matches the oval of the top of the staple.
2. The taper of the mandrel conforms to the taper of your staple so the end of the mandrel snugly fits into the staple and neither protrudes beyond nor falls short of the top of the staple.
3. Once the staple is firmly seated onto the mandrel, is must not rotate at all.
4. The handle of the mandrel must be perfectly aligned with the oval of the top of the shaft and be of such a shape that it allows the user to easily determine if the piece of cane is aligned correctly.

If the either one of the first two requirements above are not met, the staple will rotate on the mandrel and it will be impossible to tie a piece of cane onto your staples correctly. The resulting reed openings as well as the way the blades of the cane are "slipped" will be troublesome, to say the least.

The shape of the handle is important because it allows you to know how to align your piece of shaped cane on the staple even when the oval is hidden. Ideally, the handle will be flat on the two opposing faces with which you can line up the flat sides of a shaped piece of cane. Especially helpful is if there is a line on the handle that bisects the oval between its focii. Not only will this line show you if your piece of cane is rotated out of true, but it will also indicate if your cane is deflected up or down within its plane. The MCW Mandrel fits our Sierra Oboe Staples beautifully. The hexagonal metal handle provides the reference lines required to tie straight and also is designed with a small hex nut that allows you to reposition the shaft should it ever rotate out of true. This is especially nice and an improvement over traditional wooden handles that can never be adjusted and eventually become unglued from the metal shaft. Another lesser consideration with regard to the handle is how it feels in your hand. Is it comfortable? Too big, too small? Not everyone's hands are the same.

It is impossible to discuss mandrels without referring to staples. Whether it is an oboe, English horn or oboe d'amour staple, one thing is certain: the staples must fit perfectly on your mandrel. I keep one staple of each manufacturer I use in a special drawer with the label "Standard" on it. I never use these staples except to compare how each new shipment of staples fits my mandrel. If some of the new staples don't fit the same way as the "Standard", I send them back to my supplier. Another benefit in retaining a "Standard" staple is if my mandrel gets lost or damaged, I can fit new mandrels to it until I find one exactly like my old one. Believe me, this can and has happened. Having to use a mandrel different than to what you are accustomed can end up throwing a real monkey into your reedmaking practice.

When you are choosing a type of staple, you want to get one that won't deform easily when you put it onto your mandrel. I've had staples, both nickel-silver and brass, that have changed their shape after one tying or even as soon as I put the mandrel in it! Be sure not to force the mandrel into the staple. It should fit snugly, but any excessive force will deform the staple and possibly get it stuck onto the mandrel. The easiest way to avoid deforming the staple with your mandrel is by buying a mandrel from the manufacturer of your staples. They typically are designed to fit together perfectly and save you a ton of frustration with your finished reeds due to improperly tied blanks or deformed staples. Occasionally, your staple and mandrel supplier will change manufacturers or retool thus subtly changing the dimensions of one or the other. Again, your "Standard" staple can help you in this instance, but in rare instances, you might have to buy a new mandrel to fit the new staples.

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