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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000207.txt from 2001/05

From: jim & joyce <>
Subj: [kl] Subject: Re: [kl] breaking in reeds
Date: Mon, 7 May 2001 13:29:07 -0400

Bill wrote>> As a starting point, water affects wood.

Reed isn't wood. However, much is know about wood and I
suspect that little research has been published on reed and
maybe they are close enough. Bruce Hoadley has a wonderful
book on wood and I highly recommend it. Wood expands and
contracts fairly elastically up to the fiber saturation
point (usually around 30 to 35% moisture content by
weight. However, that doesn't mean uniformly. Wood often
deforms after it cycles as a result of humidity change.
Most warping results from the presence of compression or
reaction wood, or because heartwood and sapwood have
different properties. None of these factors apply to cane.
The other problem is that early wood and late wood can
expand and contract differentially. Here there may be an
analog since the outside of the cane and the inside of the
cane may have different properties. If this is what is
going on, then simply wetting and drying the finished reed a
couple of times should produce most of the change. This
could be done cheaply during manufacture. (The advanced
player, of course, would final finish new reeds, as now.
Players such as myself would continue to use them right out
of the box.)

Wood does deform if it is constrained when it dries or
absorbs moisture. It is possible that bending while playing
effects the reed more than simply wetting. The effect on a
reed would be to put a slight bow conforming to the
mouthpiece. However, I don't recall folks mentioning bow as
a reed warping problem, only axial tilt and cupping, which
would seem to be moisture only problems.

Bill wrote>>You can see one aspect of pith movement if you
lightly scrape
(Larry Guy's book uses the term "dust off") the back of a
reed after it
has been wetted and rubbed dry. The 'pith dust' will come
off on your
knife. So clearly the wood is changing in this regard at
least during
the 'break in' period.

In wood, pith is the initial year of growth, seen in the
center of the heartwood and is not true wood. Pith does not
refer to material between the fibers. Wood consists of
fibers. The difference between summer wood and winter wood
(seen as rings) is not that one is fibers and the other
pith. Rather, it is the difference in fiber type, size, and
characteristics. Perhaps in reeds, pith is something else,
but I suspect that finished reeds do not have pith, per se.
It is possible that some weaker fibers close to the surface
of the reed break down and can be rubbed off. This would
leave relatively more of the harder fibers and likely affect
vibration characteristics. Perhaps the weaker and less
stiff fibers tend to dampen vibrations. It is also
possible that agents in saliva dissolve the weaker wood.
All of this is consistent with some folks observation that
reeds are best after 10 hours of play. Perhaps someone
would like to experiment with different types of soaking
solutions that replicate spit. (Any biochemists on the list
who could help with suggestions.) If a simple soak solution
could pre-break in a reed, the added cost would be very

Bill wrote:>>Also, most 'break in' regimens include rubbing
down as well as
wetting and drying. Cane has pith as well as fibers, and
the rubbing
process redistributes the pith and fills in some of the
'pores' between
the fibers. Allegedly, this reduces the magnitude of water
and hence the magnitude of dimensional changes when the reed
is exposed
to moisture.

The finish won't effect the overall amount of moisture that
is absorbed, only the rate at which it is absorbed. Even
wood with a urethane finish will lose and absorb moisture
over time. However, the rate of change is very important
because differential drying and wetting causes stress and
cracks. If this is important for clarinet reeds, then
perhaps a very thin finish on the reeds would serve the same
function. (For wood, linseed oil would be the obvious
choice. It is a fine finish for surfaces that contact
food. Dunno about the 'yuck' factor.) Again, this would
be an area for experimentation.

I agree, it wouldn't be economically feasible for a
manufacture to have people hand scrape reeds, etc. But if
moisture cycling, pith removal and finish are important to
the final state of the reed, perhaps some automated steps
could be introduced during manufacturing without adding
significant cost.

jim lande

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