Timing

inventory

Timing in reed making is essential in creating bassoon tone. Allowing rest between stages prevents the fibers of the cane from becoming stressed. It also seems in my experience that the longer the cane can rest, or the slower it is processed into a reed; the longer the reed lasts.This is especially true of reed blanks. Blanks are fully formed reeds that are still closed at the tip and have not been finished (above right).

So my process is something like this… Self harvested cane needs at least 6-8 months to fully dry out and stabilize. I put it in a big plastic storage bin without the lid and put it in the sun on sunny days.

Store bought tube cane that you split yourself should soak for at least 2 hours. Most people I know soak it over night, but it really just depends on how thick the cane is from that harvest. Just think that the water has to soak in to the very center of the cane so that the gouger doesn’t need to work so hard.

After gouging and profiling cane, I give it a few days to rest. This is the first big step for the cane and it has basically gone from a shoot of plant to a finely measured material. Depending on when I want to have new reeds I plan on letting this cane sit for 7 days, but if I am in a rush more like 4.

Gouged cane or gouged and profiled cane needs an hour to soak before working with it. Then I shape it, score it, fold it over, add a wire, and put it on a pressure peg. These pegs (pictured left) are removable and paired with a handle. Reeds are put on here and wrapped with rubber bands creating continuous pressure to form the tube. This rests for a full day (if you listen close you can hear the snap crackle pop)

Turning this into a blank is just adding two more wires, wrapping, reaming, and sealing. Blanks get better with time and for me I notice a big difference after 5 days of resting. This stabilizes the cane fibers and gives the blank time to acclimate. Also important in making reeds last longer is having multiple reeds to play in turns. Working with a batch of reeds in this way allows reeds to last for weeks instead of a few days.

There are some different techniques that I have read about in curing cane. I read an article in IDRS a few years ago from a bassoonist in texas. He soaks all of his cane in very strong tea. When cane is soaked the water becomes cloudy. These are little particle being stripped off of the fibers and released into the water. His theory was that by already having water fully saturated that it wouldn’t take so much out of the cane.

This is a great article from IDRS that touches a bit more on the preparation of cane in the early stages

https://www.idrs.org/publications/controlled/DR/JNL19/JNL19Cooper.pdf 

Cane Harvest part II

This is the second post from my recent cane harvest. I harvested a bunch of cane from the Ventura river and dried it out. Now it’s time to get to the rest of the cane processes.

First I cut the “knuckles” out of the cane. These are the connecting sections of the cane that hold the shoots together. Since these knots are unusable it’s import to take them out without removing any extra cane, so I cut as close to the knots as I can.

 

Cane Cane

 

At this point all of the cane is free of the joints. This will help all of the sections of cane to dry more evenly. Some of the shoots were in the middle of a stalk of cane, and weren’t uniformly exposed to air.

Now with a caliper, I measure out every shoot of cane and mark the cut. I cut my cane to 120 millimeters because this fits all of my equipment. It’s important to keep in mind that cane continues to shrink as it dries out. So when cutting in the last few stages, its better to leave a millimeter or two extra.

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After all of the cane is cut to size, I store it vertically in a plastic bin. I leave the lid off and rotate it once a week since it is still drying out.

Home grown and harvested tube cane isn’t as pretty as store bought tube cane, but it cane be. Cane companies add a few extra steps like steam cleaning (which also sanitizes) they also sort out pieces with color variations. Home harvested cane isn’t quite as reliable as store bought cane either, not every piece cane be expected to become a good reed.

Cane Harvesting

I have the great advantage of living by a field of naturally occurring Arundo Donax. My mother lives in Ventura, California and the Ventura river, from the Ojai river, is infested with an unending source of cane. The easiest place for me to collect this cane is where the river meets the Ocean. The is however a problem with this cane, since it grows basically on a beach, it is very weathered and dry. From what I have experienced so far, much of this damaged cane makes very soft reeds. The sun, sand, salt, wind, humidity, and temperature take much of nutrients from the cane and leave it very porous and soft. The best cane is in the middle of the fields, so it takes a bit of work to get to, but this cane is the most protected.

All of the pieces I have cut are in different phases of the drying process. I have read many articles about the drying process and what some of the big cane producers do. First I have read from two separate sources to harvest cane the day after a full moon. “the pitch is up” and something about the gravitational difference of having the moon high in the sky during the day pulls resources from the roots into the fibers. From there on the process is very different company to company. Most french companies keep the cane outside to dry in a “teepee” formation for a whole year. Where as the Rico company keeps the freshly harvested cane outside in the sun for 10 days and then moves it all into huge indoor storage facilities and large ventilator fans.

For my part I am going to harvest enough cane to allow me to try a number of different methods. Some I will leave outside, others will stay mostly inside, and others I might cut to shorter segments to see if it will dry faster. Most of the pieces I cut are 5-6 segments long and so ill have different sections of the same cane to work with.

Ill be sure to post pictures of the reeds made from this harvested cane!

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