Making reeds is one of the most amazing and frustrating parts of bassoon playing.
I really enjoy reed making. For me, it is a cathartic experience and gets me closer to the sound I really want, which I haven't been able to achieve with commercially available reeds.
But how do I do it? While I don't agree that there is a perfect system of reed making--and, in full disclosure, mine changes every once in a while--this is just my method. So, let's begin!
Cane: I both process my own cane and use pre-processed cane. When I process from tube, I buy Gonzalez tube cane from Anne Hodge Products, gouge on my RGD gouger, profile on my MD profiler, and shape using a Fox 2 shaper. When I use pre-processed cane, I buy exclusively from Barton Cane (Gonzalez G/S/P in Christlieb shape). I'll probably write more about the difference in shape and the flexibility of shapes later, but for now, that's where I get cane.
File: You can use any kind of file, really. There are purists who like diamond files and other assorted file materials. I use a large file I got from Harbor Freight Tools years ago for beveling and I use Tool Source files from Lowe's for everything else. I really like the Too Source files because you get small square, triangle, and rat tail files for approximately $5. You'll go through them quickly (1-2 months) but for $5...I mean...
Rubber Bands: I use (typically) size 16 rubber bands I buy in a huge bag from Office Depot. Sometimes I use thicker/wider or thinner rubber bands when I'm desperate, but #16 is a consistent thickness and stability.
Forming Mandrel: I use Christlieb forming mandrel tips on a Fox removable handle. Christlieb sells a mandrel handle, but I lost mine years ago when I lost all of my tools, so this Fox handle works well.
Drying Rack: My drying rack was made for me by my former teacher, Carolyn Beck. It is a walnut strip with 9 holes in it. You can get acrylic ones, wooden ones, and all sorts on line...or you can go to Lowe's and buy an outdoor stair cap (in the lumber section by the doors) for about $4 and drill holes in to it. Whatever floats your boat.
Step 1: Soak your cane
I soak 5-10 pieces at a time (with a full time job, it's often tricky to devote a lot of time to the reed table). I boil water in an electric kettle then pour it over the cane in a plastic container or bowl. I find that putting water over the cane instead of placing the cane in water helps it soak more effectively.
Step 2: Bevel
I go back and forth between using a file and using a knife depending (mostly) on the density of the cane. I was originally taught to use a wide flat file at a 27-33 degree angle (that I have never once measured in my life). The point of beveling is to allow the tube to form as a complete circle. If you don't bevel, the sides won't line up and leaking will occur at the bocal.
Step 3: Wrap the Top Third/Half
Using a wide(ish) rubber band cut in half (so it is long), wrap tightly on the top third to half of the cane (I usually judge this based on the thickness of the rubber band). Tie it off like you would tie off a balloon, pulling tightly.
Step 4: Wrap the rest of the reed
While holding the side of the blank, insert the forming mandrel. Some cracking is normal. Then, using the remaining bit of rubber band, tightly wrap the bottom 2/3 to half of the exposed tube. Once you reach the bottom of the tube, continue wrapping back up the tube until you reach just enough rubber band to tie off.
Step 5: Snap, Crackle, Pop!
Once the reed is tied up, place the mandrel pin on the drying rack. Leave the upper wrapping on anywhere from 15 minutes to overnight. Leave the bottom wrapping on for 1-2 days before wiring.
Stay tuned for part 2 once these reeds are done forming!