Topic: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

Irwin Siegel, the bassoonist in our quintet, told me that he used a dull knife to finish his reeds. He said, moreover, that his teacher, Jane Taylor, hadn't sharpened her reed knife in a long time.

Was he pulling my leg?

Edward B. Flowers (ob)
New York City

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Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

Hi Edward:
In general, I don't think bassoonists are as picky about sharp knives as oboists are because our reeds are thicker.  I used to sharpen my knife only once in a while but every time I did I enjoyed working with a sharp blade, so in the last while I have taken the trouble to learn how to get a sharp blade and keep it sharp.  It makes reed making so much easier.  Kent

Dr. Kent Moore
Principal Lecturer In Bassoon and Theory
Northern Arizona University

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I think that where on the plant the cane comes from has something to do with it too.  Oboe cane I believe comes from the very top of the plant, and the larger the reed the further down you go.  I think the cane might be "coarser"  further down the plant.  I lent my reed knife to a clarinetist who wanted to tweak his reed, and he said it was way too sharp. Apparently single-reed players like to sand their reeds, which also fills in the larger pores in the material itself.

Last edited by oboe1960 (2006-10-07 08:57:04)

Darlene

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Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I only rub my knife against a stone a few passes every so often to put a burr back on, but otherwise I don't scrape.  I use a really odd knife that only gets "dull" in three years, so I just replace the blade ($12 for a three pack!)

In general I think the burr is more important than how sharp it is for me, since that's what actually grabs the cane.  I don't need to make a paper thin tip like my oboe playing friends.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

"Dullness" is not really the issue but, rather, I think the type of knife that is used. I do not find some of the thinner bladed knives such as Herder or even Landwell to be the best knives to use on bassoon reeds. They do, in fact, seem to catch more and create gouges and knicks, especially along the edges of the reed. I prefer a heftier knife and for my reed-making use the Mark Chudnow knife. However, I certainly don't use it in a dull condition. Using a dull knife is an exercise in frustration. You scrape and little comes off. So, you bear down, compress the cane, and still don't remove cane from the areas you want to thin. You need a sharp knife to effectively control what you are removing and where you are taking material off the reed. I find that the heavier knives give me more control when working on bassoon reeds. They seem to have more bite over a somewhat larger area, reduce knicking, and just do a better job for me than the thinner knives.

On the other side of the coin, when I made oboe and English horn reeds I did not find the heavier knives very satisfactory and used a Landwell knife. Again, though, never a dull Landwell. The object is to thin the reed, be it a bassoon, oboe, or English horn reed, by removing material from the blank, not by compressing it like a chicken cutlet ready for breading.

Gene Carter, Owner
Linden Reeds

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I think I'm with you Gene, now that you think about it.  I'll show you what my blade is:
http://www.amazon.com/Freud-C351-Jointer-Knives-4-Piece/dp/B00004RK6P/sr=8-5/qid=1160286246/ref=sr_1_5/002-4338190-4542450?ie=UTF8&s=hi

I mount that in a multi-purpose tool handle and voila!  The biggest reed knife ever.  It's very heavy and actually pretty sharp, so I don't do much work.  No double hollow ground for me.  Single bevel all the way.

M.M.A., D.M.A. University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign: B.Mus. Lawrence University
Bassoon professor at University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire
Maker of the Little-Jake electric bassoon pickup and Weasel bassoon reeds

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I suppose everyone approaches these things differently, but I personally cannot stand working with a dull knife. I also love my Landwell knife, which I keep as sharp as possible, especially for tip work. I have found that a dull knife leads to the accidental ripping of chunks from the tip, always a heartbreak.

I can also see the value of using a heavier knife; I use one for areas away from the tip, for the exact reasons mentioned by Gene Carter: reduced knicking. But never a dull knife, certainly ...

Ryan M. Hare, Assistant Professor of Music
Bassoon, Composition, Theory
Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99163
509-335-4813

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I have to keep my knife constantly quite sharp.  But I'm an oboist, and my reeds are light, with very thin tips.  If I'm working on the tip and I apply any pressure at all, I'll likely tear it.  I keep my knife sharp enough that the weight of the blade alone supplies all the downward pressure needed.  I suppose it makes sense that this might not be the case for bassoonists.  Now I'm curious.  I'm gonna have to go chat with some of my bassoonist friends and see what they think about all this.

Cheers,
Drew

Last edited by kdrew922 (2006-10-08 15:30:28)

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Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

Ryan's comments on finishing the tip of bassoon reeds raise another interesting aspect of bassoon reed-making. Ordinarily once I use my tip profiler to finish the tip of the reed I find it necessary to make only small adjustments to the tip, most of which compensate for a minor difference in the way my tip profiler pattern block trims the two corners of the reed. Sometimes, though, the tip needs a little more thinning at the extreme end to open up the sound.  To do this I use some ceramic blocks that Bill Roscoe used to provide with his bassoon reed sampling kit several years back when he was still providing bassoon reeds and graded bassoon cane. These consist of two sets of curved ceramic blocks that he glued together so they looked something like this...)( Each of the resulting four surfaces had a piece of wet-dry sandpaper glued to it and each piece of sandpaper was of successively finer grit.

The idea was that you made up your blank and then finished the tip by drawing it through the trough across each successively finer sandpaper to refine the very tip of the reed. The curvature of the trough thinned the wing more than the center of the tip so if you performed the operation carefuuly you would up with a nice moon shaped silhouette on the tip. I have had this set of blocks for many years and still find them useful when I want to carefully thin and bevel the tip to open up the sound of the reed. I use only the two finest grits and they really do the job in a much easier and exact manner than using a knife.

I don't know if Bill still has these but they are handy to have. He is at www.doublereeds.com.

Gene Carter, Owner
Linden Reeds

Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I'm a little surprised that no one has jumped in with the most obvious difference in the needs of oboists and bassoonists: bassoonists are doing most of their reed work much further from the bark, and therefore in much softer cane than oboists. Using a blade as sharp (and as thin) as oboists do will usually result in way too much chattering and gouging, in part because the thinner the blade, the more flexible it is, and the more it will chatter in the softer cane. The sharper it is, the more easily it will dig in, also leading to chatter. I prefer a bevel-type blade, such as the Landwell, over the thinner double hollow-ground razor type (Herder). I've had some success with grinding down Herder-type blades so that there is much less flexibility at the edge, but why bother with such nice bevel-types available. I also like the triangular scrapers for tip work - never a hint of chatter, no matter how sharp (and not really possible to get as sharp as a razor-type blade).

Bob Barris

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Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I currently use two knives for my bassoon reeds and they work quite well.  I use a sod-buster jr. for general work at the back of the reed and a Weber Reeds "Chinese Knife", "drop blade style" for work at the front of the blade to thin and shape the last 8-10mm or so.  I moved to this system about one month ago.  Up to then I was just using a sod buster, and I find the two knife system far superior.  The Chinese knife is fairly heavy.  I tried the system of using the joiner blades in a tool handle, but that did not work for me, the blades were over-balanced to the top of the knife and took off too much cane.
Peter Brower

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Re: Bassoon Reed Makers Use Dull Blades?

I agree with Gene.  Once I finish my tip in my (Reeds&Suff) tip profiler practically no knife work is needed on the front third.  With my roll adjusted (with tape) Rieger profiler, I came to a semi perfect adjustment too.  So, what I now use is basically, believe it or not, Reed Rush.  That is way more controllable than my hands with the best of the knives (in my case, at least).  I stich a chop stick in the rush, and work with almos no pressure, where necessary.

My only problem now is cane consistency.  I went from Rieger, to Rigotti, to Danzi, to Gonzales.  Now they are hard to get, so I went to Van Doren, and then (because of the price) to Bonazza.  Now these are hard to get again.  I'm back to Van Doren.  Now imagine that each change I have to review the height of the profilers' knives.

Any suggestion?

Greetings to all,

Rev. Mike Nahas

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