Saturday, March 2, 2013

Off-label dowels

Off-label Uses For Dowel Rods

Most hardware stores have a good selection of hardwood dowel rods in various diameters.  A dowel rod will set you back $2-$3. I use long 1" dowels to dry cane after gouging.

By banding the gouged pieces to the dowel for several days, you accomplish two things:
  • The gouged pieces will retain their original curvature when dry.  Most pieces curl up after gouging or profiling if left to dry without binding to a dowel.
  • You can change the curvature of the gouged piece if it's too curved or not curved enough.  Cane diameter has implications for the shape of the tip opening the reed will have.  Too big a diameter (for me 26mm or larger) will result in a tip opening that's too flat.  Too small (23mm. or less) lends an opening that's too arched.  Flat will have a weak high register, arched a weak low register, yielding a one-dimensional reed.

I also cut small sections (about 4") from a 1" and a 1 1/4" dowel for use in sanding the gouge.  The 1" is great for smoothing out the gouge and preparing the cane for further processing.  Just wrap a cut sheet of sandpaper around the dowel section and sand with the cane laying in a 1" diameter bed.

For more on preparing the cane for profiling, etc. by sanding the gouge see my instructions on my website.

Sometimes I run into a batch of cane that's too soft to use.  One way to nudge the cane into the "Useable" category is to experiment with the gouge.  You can thin the gouge until it's .005" thinner or more by sanding with the 1" dowel as described above.

Another way to adapt the cane for use is to make the gouge more elliptical (thin sides, thick center).  I do not like cane that's gouged concentrically (just as thick on sides as the center).  It just doesn't seem to work with my bassoon.  Concentrically gouged cane yields reeds with tips that collapse readily.  By modifying the gouge to make it more elliptical, you remove the softer, pithier cane away from the bark on the sides of the gouge.  This leaves only the harder can nearer the bark and adds a stiffness to the reed at the sides of the blank.  As a result, tips stay open more readily during playing.  The reed blade has more spring to it.

Here's my method:

Since the gouged piece of cane is split from a tube that's roughly 1" in diameter, it stands to reason that sanding with a 1 1/14" dowel will sand only the sides of the gouge first, yielding the elliptical shape I desire.

First place the piece of cane in a bed that is 1" in diameter.  An old-fashioned child's block set may have one of these.

Using a carpenter's pencil (because of the really wide lead), mark a thick stripe down the center of the gouge.  When sanding watch for the point at which you begin to sand away the pencil mark.  When you notice this, stop.  You will also notice cane dust embedded in two places in the sandpaper but not in the middle of the sandpaper.

Here's a little movie of the sanding:


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