The Landwell Reed Knife
The Landwell reed knife is the gold standard for oboe reed making in my opinion. They have a thick enough blade to not chatter but are thin enough to provide great control. I tend to use double hollow ground knives for tip work and for windows where fine detail is needed and Landwell reed knives are my preferred choice for double hollow ground knives.
Each Landwell knife usually costs around $100, so they may be on the expensive side for a student or someone just getting into reed making/adjusting. The blades can be sharpened and re-ground many times over the course of the knife’s life, so there is a lot of value. I go through around a knife per year. I am a professional oboe reed maker and make many reeds. Most other oboists can expect to get more time from their knives.
The Landwell reed knife will come in one of three different hardness levels, Soft, Medium, and Hard. The hardness rating refers to the hardness of the steel on the Rockwell scale. I personally like the “Hard” knives, but each has its advantages.
The soft knives are the easiest to sharpen and establish a smooth burr. They also are the quickest to dull on metal plaques, and the quickest to be worn out from use due to the need to be sharpened more constantly, and more steel being removed at each sharpening due to the steel being softer.
The Medium steel provides a good balance of ease in sharpening and longevity of life. I personally suggest students buy this reed knife to start. While the soft knives are easier to sharpen they also must be sharpened more and also have the potential to be ruined by incorrect sharpening easier.
The Hard knives will last the longest, can be sharpened to have the smoothest burr, but take the most skill when sharpening. I like to use a smooth sharpening steel/burnishing rod on the Hard knives, but not on the medium or soft. These softer steels can develop knicks in the blades when sharpened with a burnishing rod.
Landwell published a great book by Daryl Caswell on sharpening the specific knife a while back. I am very grateful to have been given Permission by Daryl Caswell to publish a pdf of this incredible book here on my website. Here is a link for interested oboists.
I like to sharpen my Landwell reed knife with an India Bench stone, Smooth sharpening steel, and leather strop combination. I establish the bevel of the blade on the India stone. I will try to write about this process in another post. Once the bevel is established I lengthen the burr with the sharpening steel. I then polish and smooth the burr with a leather strop.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this style of sharpening
- Advantages. The knife will be INCREDIBLY SHARP! I find this method makes my knives sharper than anything else I have tried. I remember the first time I tried this method I had the stupid idea to rub the knife along my arm to see if it would shave my arm hair…. it did. I had a 3 inch bald square on my arm until it grew back. The burr at the tip will be very thin, and malleable.
- Disadvantage. The burr will be very thin and need to be sharpened very regularly. I usually use the strop to touch up the burr every few minutes while I am working. I can sharpen the blade in this way a dozen times while making a few reeds. It does not take long one you have the process down, but some reed makers may not have the patience for this sort of thing.
I really like the shape of the handles of the Landwell reed knives, I find it to be ergonomically pleasing and helps to balance the weight of the knife. The greater mass toward the back of the handle places the center of gravity closer to the base of the blade. I find this to be important when holding a reed knife for many hours a day. Any oboist will spend many hours holding, scraping with, and sharpening knives and while the overall weight of reed knives tends not to be much, the balance can play an important part in comfort over time.
Landwell reed knives are made with quality materials and workmanship which is reflected in their somewhat high price. I highly suggest them to reed makers looking for a lightweight double hollow ground knife. I suggest them to my own students who have progressed past the beginning stages of oboe reed making.
The price may be a limiting factor for some oboists, but the return on investment will be greater than some other reed knives.