Northumbrian Smallpipes Tutor

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Making smallpipe chanter reeds by hand - Scraping and Finishing

Now you are ready for the hard part!

Scraping the reed
I use 240 grit wet and dry paper to begin with, and a sharp straight bladed craft. knife. A combination of sanding and scraping removes the excess material from the reed blades, and regulates the shape and size of the scrape area. I keep the reed close to me, and hold the knife near the blade for extra control. Put the wet and dry paper on a flat surface. Alternate between sanding, holding the staple with the thumb and second finger, and your first finger over the top half of the reed, and scraping with the knife blade. Keep turning the reedand work on both sides equally. The reed blades will begin to thin and flex, and flatten between your finger and the flat surface. Hold the reed up to a strong light at frequent intervals to check on progress. Take care when scraping near the middle of the reed blade, just as it begins to curve out and back towards the staple end. It is quite easy to be a little too enthusiastic, making weak spots which are too thin, and the reed will be spoiled.

rubbing on wet & dry paper scraping with knife blade thinned reed blade starts to flex

Once the reed blades start to flex and flatten to your satisfaction, (sorry, this is a case of trial and error, and practice), twist a piece of wire around the cane part just above the wrapping and secure the ends. This is the bridle. It can be used to make adjustments to the reed aperture. Use pliers over the bridle to gently squeeze the reed blades together. (I use two turns of tinned copper wire, 22 SWG, but some may prefer one or more turns of thinner or thicker wire).

adding the bridle securing the bridle squeezing bridle

Continue with some gentle sanding (400 or 600 grit wet and dry) and scraping if necessary, then trim the end of the reed with a sharp blade, so that the total length of the reed is 51mm. Use the reflection in the knife again to ensure you are cutting squarely. I use a small cutting block for this job. Continue sanding and scraping, checking against the light.

trimming the reed to length the end of the reed after trimming
continue sanding........ ........and scraping

Open up the reed aperture a little by squeezing the sides of the bridle and check that the "lips" of the reed are not getting too thin. The reed will begin to "crow" when sucked (blow the dust out first!). Unlike Highland Bagpipe reeds, these reeds must not be exposed to moisture. Take great care not to over thin, especially the tip of the reed. Again, only trial and error and a lot of practice will tell you how to proceed at this stage.

opening the reed aperture finished scrape

The finished reed sounds 'C' sharp when sucked.

Small quantities of good quality reed cane can be obtained from:

The Lowland and Border Pipers' Society has some very useful reedmaking resources.

Richard & Anita Evans

Makers of Northumbrian and Scottish Smallpipes