Making Oboe Reeds: Creating the “Shell”
Scraping an oboe reed blank is a little like creating a shell for the reed to live in. It isn’t really an oboe reed yet, but it has to be a good enough shell so that the reed can eventually take shape within it. It seems like a rather abstract idea now, so just remember… Your initial goal is to just get some cane off the reed.
All that hard shiny cane must go for the reed to vibrate. Although this part of oboe reed making is not very detailed, you will have to learn basic knife control to get the shiny cane off. Of course, practice makes perfect.
As your reed making skill improves, however, don’t let yourself get bogged down with this step. I have seen may experienced reed making students take such care and time with this part – the “getting the cane off” part. It is not necessary!
Eventually you want to get the rough cane off as quick and as easily as possible. Someone that knows nothing about oboe reed making could learn to do this efficiently and consistently with just a little practice.
Although you will probably end of finishing your reeds while they are wet, I like to scrape blanks (up until the point where I clip the tip) when they are pretty dry. That is just my preference because I don’t feel that the actual blank scraping is the detailed part.
Again, you are just making a reed shell right now. You will have to experiment with how hard you press when you are scraping. It isn’t something I can explain in words except to say you always want to use the least amount of pressure possible so that you don’t crack the cane.
Your right hand is just going to move the knife, it is your left hand that will anchor and apply pressure when you need it. You will figure many of these things out for yourself. Even a private reed making teacher wouldn’t be able to actually feel how much pressure you are using. And it is a totally individual thing anyway.
So take your blank and mark 68 mm. A finished reed will be about 69-70 mm, so I like to start scraping my tip at about 68. Don’t forget to keep that picture of each side of the oboe reed separated by the important spine.
With your knife, you are going to do at least 15 scrapes of the tip on each side of the spine. Start at the line you drew and let’s do the left side first. Draw your knife up and all the way to the very end of tip so that it goes off the end.
This is a very important habit to create.
You always want to scrape the tip and get used to going off the very end. Once you do about 15 scrapes on the left side of the tip, do the right side. Then turn the reed over and do the same exact thing on the flipside.
When you are done you will have rough scraped the tip of the oboe reed!
Now onto rough scraping the body of the reed.
We’re going to apply the same concept you used on the tip and scrape all the way from a few millimeters above the string up until the heart starts, probably about 65 mm. Again you are going to honor the spine, and when you are done with this part there will be a visible spine that you have made down the entire reed. Do about 10-12 of these scrapes on all 4 sides of the reed. You should have taken off a good deal of cane by now.
If you barely see any cane on your table, you are probably not pressing hard enough. These rough scrapes need to remove cane, not just caress it. There is no way a reed is going to vibrate if it has tons and tons of heavy cane on it.
Sometimes I am ready to clip at this point. But most of the time I go back to the tip and kind of repeat what I already did – 15 scrapes on each side of the spine and then again on the flipside.
This article is a short excerpt from “The Beginner’s Guide to Making Your First Playing Oboe Reed… in 9 Days or Less”, a step-by-step guide to help you start your oboe reed making journey.