All About Reeds

Reed making is an art in itself. Necessary are having the right tools, from quality cane, to an incredibly sharp reed knife. Just like playing the oboe, it can take years of practice to master, and will require great patience as the process takes significant time and energy. There are no "secrets." but some excellent resources. Private study and lessons on reed making with a professional are vital. Keeping a reedmaking journal is recommended. If you are interested in private instruction to learn how to make your own reeds, please contact Noelle via email at ndrewes@gmail.com.

Purchasing Reeds

Please note that ONLY students in her studio can purchase Noelle's handmade oboe and English horn reeds!

If you are not in Noelle's studio but wish to purchase reeds, please visit some of these great local reed makers that sell reeds online:

Aria Double Reeds
, Kerry Willingham, Mark Christianson, David James, and Bethany Slater.

Resources for reed making

Making Oboe Reeds by Joseph Shalita (link to ebook)

The Principle of Balance in the Making of Oboe Reeds by Mark Hill (free pdf download)

Oboe Reed Styles by David Ledet (book)

The Art of Oboe Playing by Robert Sprenkle & David Ledet (book)

The Oboe Reed Book by Jay Light (book)

How to make a good reed last

Most importantly, keep your reeds in a safe/secure place. The perfect home for a reed is a solid oboe reed case. All oboists should have one of these. They come in all sizes and price-ranges, but any type will be well worth it. No reed will last forever, but storing your reed properly will help prolong its life.

Reeds should not be permanently kept in the plastic cases they are sometimes shipped in when you purchase reeds online.

Be sure to blow excess water out of the reed before storing it. Reeds that don't dry fully can become moldy.

Try your best to keep the reed clean, both on the inside and outside. Any kind of build-up will shorten the reed's life. For example, you need to wipe off chapstick before playing. It is also best to brush your teeth between eating and playing.

Keep in mind that it is very important how you soak a reed. Generally all you need to do is dip the reed, up to the string, in room temperature water, let it sit for a minute or two, then you can play. Do not soak the cork as it will corrode and eventually fall off. There are also some tricks for finicky reeds: If a reed is getting old, it may be a bit too closed/soft/sharp: soak in warmer water and/or for a longer period of time.

Reeds are very delicate and slight changes in temperature and humidity can affect them. Reeds will also change as they age, and sometimes it will be possible to "revive" them. Ask a teacher if you're unsure or want help.

A special note about English horn reeds: The purpose of the wire on an English horn reed is to be able to manipulate and stabilize the size of the opening of the reed.  If the reed is closing down, slide the wire up the reed to open it back up.


Reed Making Supplies

Many items are needed to make your own reeds. Below is a list of the requisite items. Most of these items must be purchased from a dedicated double reed supply store online.

Cane To start you'll want pre- Gouged and Shaped cane. You'll need a LOT. You will always need to have cane in stock. In the beginning just go for an inexpensive 'brand' as you're just learning. Eventually, you will learn to gouge and shape cane yourself, and will require several additional tools described further down on this page under Cane: Gouging and Shaping

Staples - get at least 10 (I use Sierra 47mm bronze from Mark Chudnow), these will be reused over and over

Oboe Mandrel - this is used to hold the staple during tying. It needs to fit your staples precisely

Thread - size FF in your favorite color (or two or three), though it's easiest to learn with and write/notate on a lighter color (i.e. get yellow or pink instead of purple or black)

Beeswax - used to coat the thread

Knife - there are many types of reed knives to choose from - I use a  Landwell-medium, they are expensive, but it is worth it. If sharpened regularly, a knife can last for years. Be careful and always store it in its sheath

Sharpening Stone/device - There are many types of sharpening implements and techniques; I use a Wicked Edge system and crock sticks

Cutting Block - medium or large

Plaques - get a few, especially if you tend to lose small things. I prefer flat steel plaques with a rounded tip

Reed Case - you may need to upgrade to a bigger case, or multiple cases since you will have more reeds now

Short Metric Ruler 

Razor Blades - you can get a pack of 100 from a hardware store or order from a double reed supplier

Medium C-Clamp - easily found at your local hardware store

Leakproof Tupperware for Water - cereal bowl size is perfect

Pencil & Notebook - you'll have a lot to write down and keep track of

Container - You'll need something to keep all your reed making supplies in.  Most of my students use a craft/fishing tackle-box. Basically, the more compartments the better.

A Powerful Desk Lamp - you need to be able to see what you're doing

Sturdy Desk/Table

Micrometer - this is not necessary in the first few weeks of reedmaking, but if you are getting serious about it, you will need one


Cane: Gouging and Shaping

The principle material used in making oboe and English horn reeds is Arundo donax or "Giant Cane." This organic material is both strong and flexible. It is the same type of cane used in making reeds for bassoon, clarinet, and saxophone.

Cane can be purchased in several forms, the most natural of which is "tube cane" which needs to be processed before it can be tied onto the staple for an oboe reed. Professional oboists generally do these steps themselves in order to control as many variables as possible. The equipment needed to process cane is not inexpensive.

Cane may also be purchased already gouged and shaped, by simply ordering "pre-shaped cane" if you do not have access to this equipment. Beginners should buy pre-shaped cane for now. Eventually, you will need to purchase the tools and learn to pregouge, gouge, and shape your own cane.

If you wish to purchase your own tube cane, you will need the following tools to process it:

Pre-gouging and Gouging:

Shaping: