How to Form a Reed

If you want to make your own reeds, first you have to make a blank! A blank is what we call a formed reed that is unclipped and unfinished. After forming and wrapping the next step will be finishing.

For a full list of reedmaking steps including forming, finishing and troubleshooting download my complete Reed Making Guide.

If you'd like to know more about the reedmaking process, I highly recommend the book Making Reeds Start to Finish by George Sakakeeny which includes helpful videos and images alongside the comprehensive text.

Tools You Will Need

You want to become as consistent as possible when making blanks to get the best results. I made hundreds of blanks before I felt like they started to be really good, so you'll want to make a lot! Most people find that placing the wires is the most frustrating part of forming, so be patient with yourself and practice. Blanks can be stored long term, so it's a good idea to stockpile them for when you need them most

Preparing the Cane

Start with great cane. Starting with bad cane is a waste of time. I love the GSP cane from Barton Cane. I recommend sticking with one style until you get the hang of it, then you can branch out and experiment.

  1. Before soaking the cane for a few hours, smooth the inside with sandpaper.
  2. Soak the cane in clean water for 2-4 hours.

Forming the Tube

  1. Cut three lengths of 22 gauge soft brass wire and put on the first wire: Line up the blades. Twist it onto the reed near the collar. Tighten it slightly
  2. Wrap cotton string snugly around the tube starting above the first wire, down to the butt.
  3. Carefully insert the forming mandrel with a twisting motion. When the mandrel is in half way, tighten the first wire a bit and insert it the rest of the way. This method of reed making depends on using a forming mandrel that is not too long. If the forming mandrel is too long the cane will probably crack.

Placing the Wires

  1. Immediately after forming, unwrap the string half way and put on the third wire. Tighten the 3rd wire.
  2. Unwrap the string the rest of the way. Put on the second wire, do not tighten it too much.
  3. Check placement of the wires and tighten slightly. The first wire should be one inch from the butt. The second wire, 11/32 inch from the center of the first wire. The third wire, 1/4 of an inch from the butt.
  4. Using pliers, crush the cane under the 3rd wire.
  5. Check placement of the wires and tighten. Pull and twist to tighten, but don't twist too tightly, or the wire may break when you least expect. The first and second wire should not be too tight or dig into the cane. Tighten the third wire as much as you can.
  6. Let reed dry overnight preferably on the forming mandrel.

Drying & Storing

  1. With dried reed still on the forming mandrel check the placement of the wires and crush the cane one more time. Check and tighten the wires. Be careful not to make the 1st and 2nd wires too tight. Just “snug” them down to compensate for cane shrinkage as the reed dried.
  2. Cut the third wire so only 3 twists remain. 
  3. If using hot glue, coat the reed from the butt to the second wire and let dry for 5-10 minutes.
  4. If using reed thread, make a turban with the string, wrap up to the 2nd wire and coat with duco cement. Let dry overnight.
  5. At this stage, the blanks can be stored for weeks, or months.