9 Reasons why your oboe reeds are leaking
1. The cane was tied onto the staple unevenly.
This is the most common cause for a leaky reed for novice oboe reed makers. A piece of cane that is not centered on the staple will leak from the side near the staple. Always be sure that the cane is properly centered on the staple and if you see any gaps on the side where the two pieces of cane must be re-centered. I suggest starting the wrap around 45mm wrapping towards the end of the staple, 47mm assuming you are using a standard staple, and examining visually if there are any gaps in the cane. If there is a gap slacken the thread slightly, and push the cane over with your thumb and then tense the thread again. Do this until the cane is well centered and no gaps can be examined. Be sure the reed is wrapped just to the end of the staple and finish the tying process.
2. The cane was improperly shaped.
Cane that has not been attentively shaped may have indents or thick spots. Be sure to use a sharp blade for hand shaping, or sharpen your blade often if you are using a shaping machine. Use a new razor blade for every piece or two of cane, dependent on the length of the blade. Always ensure the part of the blade being used to shape cane is sharp. Shaping cane ends with metal on metal, so whatever type of blade that is being used will become dull very quickly. My own rule is to only touch each section of blade to the shaper tip once. I use long utility blades to shape cane, so I can usually get 2-3 pieces of cane shaped per blade. It is easy to look at a piece of cane and know the condition of the blade that was used by how smooth the sides are. Save yourself time, heartache and headache by only using very sharp blades to shape cane. If the sides of the cane is not perfectly smooth when it is shaped the two sides of the cane will not line up and leak from the inconsistent spots.
3.The cane is bowed or not straight. Make sure every piece of cane that is selected is straight with no bows in any direction. Do not waste your time with cane that is not perfectly straight, you will not make a good reed from it. I spend a lot of time in my early days of reed-making trying to get my moneys worth from tube cane. Lets face it, if you are spending $120-$180 on a pound of tube cane you may think you are doing your bank account a favor by using as much as possible. By all means do use as much as possible but be picky and smart. I encourage oboists to realize early on in reed-making that ever step affects the later steps so if you cut corners it will ultimately just be a waste of time later in the process. A bent or bowed piece of cane will make a reed that leaks or has loose sides later in the process once it is tied onto a staple. You will save time, energy, your gouger blade and time spent maintaining your equipment by rejecting cane that does not meet certain specifications. The very minimum specification should be that it is straight.
4.The ears were removed improperly. Cane that is shaped by a traditional hand shaper tip and handle will have “Ears” that need to be removed at some point. Some reed makers will remove the ears before the cane is tied onto a staple and some will remove them after the cane is tied. I remove ears after the cane is tied onto the staple. I use a very sharp beveled knife to do this. If the ears are not carefully removed the tip of the reed will leak. I find the reeds usually leak because not enough of the ears have been taken off and the protrusion left behind creates a small hole between the blades where the ear meets the other piece of cane.
5.The reed is tied too loose. A reed that has been tied too loosely will leak where the staple meets the cane and sometimes through the thread. This can be harder to detect where the leak is coming from at times, so if I suspect a reed is leaking because it is not sealing properly , I will submerge the whole thread and block the end of the staple and see if bubbles are coming out of the thread. I will discard the reed, but you may try applying beeswax to the thread, but do be sure to tie your reed slightly tighter next time.
6. The Thread is not sealing. I have used many different types of thread from upholstery thread, to ice fishing line to make oboe reeds. Some threads work well, some do not. If the thread weave is too wide the reed may leak. If the material is too rigid, or smooth it will leak. Much of what is sold through double reed suppliers will work fine. You may coat the thread with beeswax before tying the reed to limit leaking.
7. The cane was tied on too short or too long.
Cane that is tied onto a staple too long will not allow enough contact between the two sides of the cane. Find the perfect length to tie on a specific shape with the staples you are using. The suggested tie on length of specific shapes can change depending on variables like staples. A thick-wall staple requires the reed to be tied slightly shorter than a thin-wall staple. The opening of the staple will also affect the tie on length.A reed that is tied on too short can cause the sides of the cane to bow further up on the reed. This will cause the tip of the reed to be loose and leak.When I experiment with a new shaper tip or type of staple I like to research the suggested tie-on length supplied by the dealer or maker and tie 10-20 reeds at quarter millimeter intervals moving slightly below and above that length. If the suggested tie-on length for a shape is 73mm I will tie 2 reeds at 72mm 2 at 72.33, 2 at 72.66, 2 at 73, 2 at 73.33 2 at 73.66, 2 at 74. This can be a tedious process if you are not making many reeds, but I find it to be very helpful in really narrowing in on what works best with different variables. The process also makes sure my reeds are not leaking from using incorrect tie-on lengths.
8.The reed was under-wrapped.
The thread must be wrapped just to the end of the staple. Most players use 47mm staples, but be sure you know what size staples you are using before tying on a reed. I suggest measuring every staple even if it was sold as 47mm, there can be slight variations in length from staple to staple. The reed can leak from the gap between the thread and the staple if the reed is under-wrapped. More problems will be caused if the reed is over-wrapped. Spend the extra 10-20 seconds to be sure the reed is wrapped perfectly to the end of the staple. This will save time, energy and frustration in the long run.
9. The sides of cane is gouged too thin.
For those advanced reed makers who are suddenly getting reeds with leaky sides and you are not sure why, it might be worth suspecting it is the gouge of the cane. I find that if the sides of the gouge are too thin the reed will have loose sides, and not seal properly. This may happen if you experiment with a different shape and do not adjust the gouge to compensate for differences in dimensions. The gouge may also need adjustment due to changes in seasons or climate. I would suggest eliminating all the other possible causes before trying to adjust the gouge, as it is the most labor intensive. I suggest buying processed cane from an area that shares similar climate to where you will be making reeds, this will help to control some variables in reed-making for those oboists whom buy their cane processed.