Leaky Reeds

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    Hello all. This is my first post.
    I’ve been making oboe reeds for about a year. My teacher has told me I’ve been making great progress and I’ve been playing on them since almost basically when I first started making them. But a problem that has been plaguing me from the start has been leaky reeds. Almost all of my reeds leak pretty high up and so I’ve had to wrap them in teflon usually up to just below the heart. Obviously, that’s a bad thing. I’ve tried different batches/shapes of cane, different staples, etc. At first, I may have been tying on way too tight (often breaking the thread), so I’ve been pulling less tight. I allow a bit of overlap between the blades of cane. I am definitely not overtying. One hypothesis that I have not tested is that I’m leaving too much bark on the cane after I cut the tip so that some warping may occur when it dries. But are there any other reasons for why this might happen on probably 90% of all my reeds? My teacher says the reeds looks like they’re tied on properly.

    Andrew R. Nogal

    How long are you soaking the cane before shaping and wrapping it? If the cane has been soaked too long, or in water that’s too hot, it may be waterlogged and bloated by the time you work on it. In my experience, this problem can have a dramatic effect on the blank, especially in the dry winter months.


    Well, I was told to soak for an hour (supposed to sink and not float) although admittedly I have a tendency of leaving it in the water for a few hours before tying it on. I start from shaped cane, so I don’t do the shaping. I use cold water. I leave it at least a day after tying before I do any work on it, and the work I do is mainly doing the initial scrapes across the blank, thinning out the tip enough to cut open the tip, and sometimes defining the back. Then it gets left for another day to finish.

    I also have a tendency of soaking it a while before working on it, since I tend to work on reeds and practice simultaneously over a period of 2 hours or more, so some get dunked for a while, depending on what I’m doing. A new blank I will leave in water at least 15 mins before working on it, those that I’ve already started a few minutes. But in general, longer.

    I’m in Canada, and live in a dry region, and it gets really dry during the winter.

    John Towle

    Soak for 15 to 20 minutes in hot tap water. If the cane hasn’t sunk after 15 minutes, replenish the hot tap water. The cane should sink right away. Then tie. If you are soaking more than one or two pieces of cane, take them out of the water while tying. Give each one a quick soak just before tying the next one & so on. In essence, you are soaking the cane too long. Immediately after tying, scrape the blank & clip the tip open. Let the blank sit overnight in the open air…not in the reed case…before working on it. Dip the plaque in water then suck on the plaque to coat it with saliva. Then insert the plaque. You should feel a slight resistance. Never insert a dry plaque into the reed. Doing so will potentially cause leaky reeds. This should help; it’s stuff I’ve had to learn over time. Most important, don’t give up.




    Thanks for your advice, John. I will experiment with your suggestions. Interesting, I’ve been told never to work on a blank right after tying but to give it a few days rest.

    Michael Tijerina-Cho

    You might be tying the cane too high on the staple. Depending on the shape you use the height to tie it should be different.


    I don’t think teflon is usually used for loose sides issues (leaking at the top)—it’s more for if the leak is at the bottom near the thread.

    That said, I have some suggestions for experiments and questions you need to ask yourself to figure this out:

    1. Is the reed leaking when you initially tie it on (like just after you clip it, or after you soak it up again the day later, or
    only after you’re done? If it’s leaking already after it’s just clipped, then it is more likely a tying issue; otherwise it is more
    likely at least partially related to your scraping. Testing with the plaque as mentioned above would also check if the sides
    are at least tight.

    2. Have your teacher do a blank or two with cane & staples you supply—it he has trouble, then maybe you need to try
    something different in your supplies. Conversely, buy some cane and staples that he uses from him and see if you have
    better luck.

    I’m generally a believer that working over a longer period of time is better, so I don’t think your overall timeline is a bad one.
    I’m able to get away with longer soaks, and the thing I’ve generally heard more being bad about soaking too long is that if you
    are shaping your cane, it’s more swelled up and thus will shrink more from the shape you thought you made—but you’re not
    shaping, so that doesn’t apply. The recommendations here are more in line with best practices; I’m just saying that wasn’t where most of my loose sides issues were (it’s something I have to be careful about as well).

    If it’s in the scraping phase (i.e. the reed is tight after you clip the tip but gets leaky the more you work on it), it could be too much knife pressure (dull knife?), working too dry, or sometimes using a contoured plaque. Usually it’s some combination. My particular theory about the contoured plaque is that it is more likely to cause problems if you jam it down too far/hard and/or
    try to get too much surface outside the edge of the reed—it allows you to have a bit more stick out on the side so you can get better support, but if you try to overdo it then the fatter part in the middle forces the blades apart more and it’s worse the further down you shove it. But that’s just my theory.

    If the problem is in the tie on, then you’ve hit the major issue I had, which was tying on too tightly, especially near the top.

    I originally learned to not clip the tip until after the reed dried once, then went to opening it at tie-on time after just scraping the tip area (mostly getting the bark off). I did that because it led to larger openings, which I prefer, but I’ve since gone back to a modified way of not clipping it until after the reed has dried once and then been re-soaked. So I shape, tie on, scrape the tip,
    and then let it sit. Ideally I’d like to let it sit more than a day, but my minimum (more common just due to outside constraints) is 8+ hours. Then soak up, clip, and scrape; dry another day and finish (hopefully).

    But try the experiments to try and narrow down where the problem is (with logging) rather than just trying things because they worked for someone else.-kby

    Michael Tijerina-Cho

    post a picture

    Aaron Lakota

    I know this is an old conversation, but I figured I would respond. I wrote an article addressing the most common causes of leaking oboe reeds that I have encountered. http://aaronlakota.com/9-reasons-why-your-oboe-reeds-are-leaking/.

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