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Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Thu May 29, 2014 2:31 pm
by MickBauer
Hi, all:

Is it just me, or do chanter cane slips whose bark has dark brown mottling tend to be problematic? It seems that very frequently, when I scrape away bark with surface blemishes, the cane/pith underneath is some combination of blemished all the way through with black lines, dessicated (having very coarse/open grain), or brittle. Reeds I make from slips with the latter characteristics usually don't end well.

I'm not referring to gray mold, which is easy enough to spot & avoid, nor anything else coating or disrupting the texture of the surface. I'm talking about brown markings that are integral to the bark. The cane in question comes from reputable uilleann cane dealers.

Anyhow, is rejecting such slips or tubes warranted? My failure rate even just getting reeds to a squawkable state nowadays is high enough that I'm questioning every stage of my process.

Thanks in advance!

Re: Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Mon Jun 02, 2014 8:34 am
by billh
Hi Mick,
I actually prefer the cane with dark integral markings on the bark.

If the bark is too hard to mark with a thumbnail, it is probably too hard.

Re: Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Thu Jun 05, 2014 9:36 am
by MickBauer
Thanks, Bill!

As it happens, out of the batch of five reeds I'm working on right now, my two "mottled-bark" reeds are turning out as good as or better than my three "pristine bark" reeds, black grain-lines and all. Some porous/brittle-looking grain right under the mottled bark turned out to be a thin layer that disappeared very early in the scrape-sanding process, revealing discolored but sound pith underneath.

So between that and your reply, it seems the answer to my question is "stop worrying and work on the cane you've got." ;-)

P.S. Re. my high failure rate, right now all five of these reeds are crowing nicely. It's probably no coincidence that this batch has been less prone to reed splits/cracks; and (a) it's been quite humid here lately, and (b) I'm (reluctantly) back to an all-sandpaper "scrape" method -- I guess I haven't yet developed a light enough touch with the Stanley knife to make a "proper" scrape yet (i.e., to "scrape the scrape" the old-school way).

On the upside, I've become a bona fide expert in saving gravely-wounded reeds via rapid surgical intervention with cyanoacrylate. :-P I've been surprised how badly cracked a reed can be, yet end up fine in the end (sometimes even after two or three cracks have been repaired, but after four I do give up).


Re: Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Fri Jun 06, 2014 12:41 pm
by wooff
regarding your comment about using a Stanley knife for working on the ' Scrape'; this, to me, is like using an axe to cut your bread ! Better to use a more delicate tool.. I use a No.22 Scalpel blade ( attached to its dedicated handle)... either keep them VERY sharp or change blades often. One could also make or buy a fine scraper.

I like the various shapes of scrape I can obtain from my Scalpel... using the pointed end for working into the edges of the scrape, using the curved section to remove 1 to 2mm wide trenches to each side of a central spine and out to the corners and using the flat back end of the blade for gently lowering the height of that spine.

It is in the finishing of the head that turns an 'airtight assembled reed looking thing' into a musical tool... the balancing and grading of the Scrape by sanding alone is too hit and miss .
Good Luck with your reedmaking...


Re: Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Thu Jun 12, 2014 1:44 pm
by MickBauer
Thanks again for the feedback, Geoff! For what it's worth, on your advice I have been using a curved (scalpel-like) X-Acto blade for reed finishing; lately I've only been using a straight blade for the initial, bulk removal of material. The next time I do a "full scrape," I'll just use the X-Acto.

Even though my current batch has turned out O.K., as I said, I'm re-thinking my entire approach. The Britton method that I used for these five reeds has worked very well for me over the past few years, in terms of producing reeds that work (the simple fact of which amounts to a bit of an achievement, it seems). But I'm finding that many reeds I make this way have a pretty strident tone, and few play well for longer than a few months -- they usually change when the weather does, and don't change back later (though this is probably much more a function of my volatile climate than anything else). :-(

One way or another I need to settle on a method that produces reeds that work well and sound great and last longer than a few months. So, it's time yet again to immerse myself in NPU's "The Heart of The Instrument" DVDs. I'll pay special attention to your section. :-)


Re: Judging cane by its bark

Posted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 12:51 am
by wooff
That NPU video :

I tried to put in as much as I could ... though the thing was done ,pretty much, in one take with very little repeats or editing (ie " send me a copy and I'll see what should be improved and we'll do it again next week)...

Certain aspects could have been emphasised more... it just is not easy to think of all the fine points whilst doing the making and talking about what you are doing and doing things at an angle that the camera can pick them up......

Generally reeds made in half an hour will last half a year.... reeds made slowly over a period of a week can last a lifetime, climate allowing. I always recall Dan O'Dowd's comment about Willie Clancy " Willie was in too much hurry to start playing reels on a new reed" or words to that effect.

Scraping; when to stop is the difficult bit, arriving at the 'enough carving done to release the flexibility but enough strength left for playing-in' stage. Where to scrape and how to scrape is something I can help with but is best done 'hands-on'.