NOTE: The following article pertains primarily to making reeds for 
non-Highland pipes (Scottish small-pipes, Northumbrian pipes etc) 
with the exception that this sort of reed is ideally suited to the 
type of practice chanter used in learning Highland piping.

Reeds of this sort are very easy and quick to make and do work quite
nicely for their intended purpose. After only a day or so of
learning the technique, it now takes me only a bit over 15 minutes, 
start to finish, to produce a Scottish small-pipe chanter reed.

PS  The type of Yoplait yogurt container you want has a number 6
    stamped inside of the "recyclable triangle" on the container's

Dennis Havlena


Making Plastic Bagpipe Reeds
by Casey Burns

Materials Needed:
        #6 Yogurt Cartons
        Oboe Staples or Hobby Store Tubing
        Waxed Dental Floss
        Brass Wire (Finer gauge works best)
        Propolis (available from a beekeeper) or Beeswax
        Super Glue ("Hot Stuff")
Tools Needed:
        Tubing Cutter
        120 grit Sandpaper
        Small Pliers
        Chopping Block (8' X 8" X 1" of hard maple)
        Small Hammer
        2 - 3 Utility Blades

Making the Staple:
I have found the staple size to be extremely critical for plastic bladed
reeds. Apparently, once the acoustics of the staple have been satisfied,
the plastic blades are able to operate under a narrower and more
specific set of parameters. What I mean to say by this is that a reed
with an incorrectly sized staple will never play, whereas one with a
correctly dimensioned staple will allow some variation and forgiveness
in the size of the reulting reed blades. Obviously, if your instrument
has any reeds that once worked, use the staples from these reeds at
least as your staple pattern. For double bladed drone reeds, follow the
directions for the Smallpipe reeds.

For French or Spanish Bagpipe reeds, remove any cork from an Oboe
staple, and cut off the staple to length by removing material from the
fat end. This can be done with a tubing cutter, but I prefer to sand the
end off with a disk sander. Carefully file off any burrs or overhangs
that may result. The exact length of the staple is dependent upon your
instrument, and the initial length of the Oboe staple itself. Generally,
however, I remove 8 - 9 mm off of a 46 mm staple for pipes in G/C, and
use the full length for pipes in D/G. For Spanish Bagpipes, or the
smaller Chabrettes, a shorter staple is fine. Usually, I make staples of
varying length, and don't be too careful about it. Then I make a mess of
reeds, and pick the best. The differing lengths of staple gives me
useful information. The other task required is to slightly flatten the
small end of the staple. I do this with pliers, and just add a bit more
oval to the narrow end.

For Scottish Smallpipe or Northumbrian Pipes, I use hobby store tubing
(aluminum or brass) of 3/16" size. I usually form the end of the staple
first and then cut it to length - generally about 1", plus or minus. A
smaller size seems to restrict the air too much. I shape the end first
by squeezing the tubing longitudinally with pliers for about 3/4", until
the end is almost closed. I then insert my special "staple tool" (this
will be explained in the workshop) and force an almond shape into the
orifice. I then grind the outer surface - usually with a disk sander -
so that all the curves are fair on the staple. Then the staple is cut to

Uilleann pipes sometimes use a staple slightly narrower than the
Smallpipe staples. What has worked best for me and my associates is to
use the original staples supplied by the maker. In one case, we used a
staple from a reed that was over 30 years old that came with a set of
Rowsome pipes.

Shaping Yogurt Cane
I have experimented with several different brands of Yogurt, and found
that for smaller reeds, that the little 6 oz. Yoplait Yogurt containers
yield the best plastic. For larger reeds, the 1 quart Alta Dena
containers work well. When buying Yoplait, check the pull dates! I found
several which were moldy and inedible! Strawberry-Banana is my current
favorite flavor. From here, I will refer to the plastic as cane.
To prepare the cane, remove the bottom of the cleaned container, and cut
into linear sections about 15 - 20 mm wide. Cut off any protusions, etc.
Stack one piece on top of another on the chopping block - keeping the
"orientation" the same on each piece (i.e., the lettering should face
the same way on each piece).

For tapered blade reeds (French or Spanish pipes) place one of the
Utility blades on top of the cane at an angle (7 - 10 degrees or so) to
the long axis of the cane. By striking the back of the Utility blade
with the hammer, you can cut out one side of the reed. But hammer until
the Utility blade is driven into the chopping block. This will lock it
the cane into place for doing the opposite side. Now do the other side,
so that both pieces of cane form a V.

For parallel sided reeds (Smallpipe or Uilleann pipes), chop the blades
out by first cutting two rectangular pieces, following the method of the
last paragraph. I then tie the blades together, and then chop out the V
shape on the staple end. The taper is usually less great than that of a
true cane reed - otherwise, the thread wrappings slip down too easily.

Note that you can vary the initial "elevation" or opening of the blades
by using cane from the upper of lower part of the container. Note that
the container is a section of a cone, and that the base of the reed
might by smaller in diameter or larger. Generally, I use the smaller
diameter end for tying on.

Tying the reed
Take the 2 pieces of cane and tie them on as you would for a regular
cane reed. Before, I like to rub beeswax or propolis (bee glue -
available from beekeepers) on the staple to give a better bond to the
blades. I tie the ends of the blades together with a few turns of thread
to align. Then I start wrapping at the base, using firm pressure, using
dental floss. I am careful to leave no gaps.

When the thread wrapping has reached the same height as the end of the
staple, the blades should be closing on the sides. Take the needed turns
to fully close the sides of the blades then stop. At this point, I wrap
3 - 4 turns of thin brass wire around the reed as a bridle, and then
twist the ends together and bend them down over the wrappings. Then I
wrap towards the base of the reed, wrapping over these exposed wires -
so that my reed has no sharp ends. Finish the wrapping and seal with
superglue, if desired. Usually, there should be no visible leaks in the
wrap. Dental floss will smear to seal any leaks.

Finally, chop the reed to length. The shape and the length of the reed
should be based on existing reeds for your instrument.

Scraping the reed
Usual scraping techniques will work - but what I have found for these
reeds is that sanding 10 - 15 strokes sideways on each side, and then
3-6 strokes at the tips on each side will produce a working reed.
Adjustment by chopping (to increase pitch), thinning at the tips (easier
playing), and overall thinning (softer reed) is best learned by
practice. With these reeds, however, it is easy to go too far.
Fortunately, the time involved in preparing the cane makes it easy to
learn this technique quickly and cheaply.

Double bladed drone reeds are mostly in the experimental stage, although
there are several historical precidents, such as the Musette de cour.
These reeds usually favor less scraping, and work better with a longer
and narrower blade, parralel sided.

A note on Bags
Reeds generally work better if the instrument itself is airtight.
Replace those old worn out bags with a large, new one (smaller bags mean
less control!). I use Canadian Bagpipe Leather from Van-Tan Industries,
21 E Hastings Vancouver BC V6A 1M9 (604-681-4844). It costs
approximately $140 for a half hide, enough for 4 - 5 bags. I cut out the
welt from the edge, and give myself plenty. Then I cut out from a folded
portion the bag. I lay out the 2 halves joined at the fold skin side up,
and smear 1" of barge cement on the border to be glued. After letting it
dry 15 - 20 minutes, I fold it over and join it. I then hammer the joint
-this seals it well. Then I trim it, and then sew a seam 1/4" from the
edge usin button thread on an ordinary sewing machine.

After that, I smear barge cment on the suede side of the welt. Then I
smear 1" of barge cement over the sem, and work it into the threads of
the seam on both sides. Usually I add 2 coat. When dry, I carefully
apply the welt, keeping it even, then hammer to seal. Tese bags work
well and never need any seasoning.

About my Bagpipes and Futes
I make several different types of Bagpipes as well as Irish flutes. My
curent catalog is in preparation - so the best thing to do is to call
me or come isit me for the complete Bagpipe tour, if you are interested
in my instruments.Call for directions. Currently I make simple or keyed
Scottish and Northumbian Smallpipes, several species of traditional
French bagpipes, Musette de cour Italian Zampogna and simple or keyed
Irish Flutes. I use various woods, such a Blackwood and Boxwood, as
well as fruit woods and Mountain Mahogany. Prices fo bagpipes start
around $800 and flutes around $300. Simple bellows blown Scttish
Smallpipes in blackwood, with brass slides and artificial ivory trim 
areavailable from me for approximately $1100. A simpler
fruitwood version with no rim is available for $800. Delivery in 1994 -
1995 will be subject to a distracion: I will be building a house then
and will only be making in incliment wather!

Casey Burns - Wind Instrument Maker
9962 NE Shorty Campbell Road  Kinston WA 98346
(206) 297-4020

Click here to access Casey Burns' homepage.

Click here to access Dennis Havlena's homepage.