rob moore

Uilleann and Northumbrian pipes, Hurdy Gurdy, Lira Organizzata, Eclectic Instruments

Reed Making


“The trouble free reed”, or catch me if you can

David Daye sharing his knowledge with members of the British Columbia Uilleann Pipers Society

David Daye sharing his knowledge with members of the British Columbia Uilleann Pipers Society


Lance Robson, fearless leader of the Northumbrian Musical Heritage Society sharing his knowledge with members of our local branch of the society

Lance Robson, fearless leader of the Northumbrian Musical Heritage Society sharing his knowledge with members of our local branch of the society


As any piper knows, the reeds are the heart, soul, and vocal cords of the pipes.  In order to have your pipes working at their best, it is best to make your own reeds, or at least know how to get the best out of the reeds no matter the weather or what else may be causing problems.  Due mainly to the fact that Uilleann pipes overblow to the next octave and also because they have a rather complex conical bore which varies from one chanter to the next, uilleann pipe reeds are prone to problems much more than Northumbrian or Scottish Small Pipe reeds by an estimated problem factor of   100 to 1.  That is why so many people have tackled the endemic problems associated with Uilleann reeds.   If  a Northumbrian or Scottish Small Piper were to tell a Uilleann piper that they rarely have to adjust  the reed, they wouldn’t believe you.With so much available information on the internet, there  is scarcely  anything I could add that would be of any added use to the reed maker.  However there are a few ditties  which I found to be useful in expediting the process or to aid in getting consistent results with Northumbrian Small Pipes, Scottish Small Pipes, or Uilleann Pipe reeds, see below under ditties.The volume of information available on the making of uilleann pipe reeds is so vast as to cause boggling of the mind.  It seems that every reed maker has their own take on the subject and the takes can vary considerably.  I have done experiments over the last 20 or so years making reeds for the same chanter but using specs from different reed makers.  I followed the procedure and used the recommended sizes from: Tim Britton, Evertjan’t Hart, Wilburt Garvin, Seth Gallagher, Benedict Koehler, Allan Moller, Cillian O’Briain, Andreas Rogge, Patrick Sky, David Daye, and Dave Hegarty.  Some reeds required a little more tweaking than others but in the end they all worked fine.   The chanter might require a rush up the bore or a tone hole might need a little wax to flatten it, however you will find out which method works best for you and your chanter.  If I were to  come up with some simple advice for the novice reed maker it might be, “Read all you care to on the subject, and put together your own method.”  And maybe, “Don’t get too obsessive about it all, it cuts into the actual playing of the pipes.”

For the Northumbrian or Scottish Small Pipes

Check out Richard and Anita Evans’ website:

Northumbrian and Scottish Smallpipes, chanter reed making

It comes with many photos and a very detailed text.

For making Uilleann pipe reeds

check out Evertjan ‘t Hart’s website.  Evertjan’s site also comes with many photos and a very detailed text.

Hart Uilleann reed making

also Seth Gallagher has an excellent site .

Gallagher Uilleann reed making

David Daye has lots of advice on making Uilleann reeds;

Daye reed making

My Reed Making Ditties


Planing shooting block in action

Planing shooting block in action

Gouging shooting block in action

Gouging shooting block in action

For a uilleann chanter  reed in  the key of “D”,  split a 1″ dia. cane  into four pieces/slips.  Take  one slip, cut to length, place it in the gouging shooting block and with a  chisel  remove the inner part down until the slip is  .09″ or so thick .  Next, put the slip in the planing shooting block and take a small palm plane set to cut very fine and plane it down to .080″ (2 mm.) or so.  After planing you end up with a “D” section of cane that is  accurate enough so that only a light sanding is required  on the sides to get the required width. Place the slip back  in the gouging shooting block, rub the surface of the slip with a soft pencil.  This will help in controlling the gouge by making it easier to see how much cane is being removed.  Now gouge the inside profile.    If you have a gouge that cuts near to the same radius as the finished internal profile of the reed, then it will take a lot less work to get the profile.  Finish with a light sanding on your profiling block.  I have been using a profile of  2 3/4″ ( 70 mm).

The above sizes can of course vary from chanter to chanter, however these sizes seem to work for most chanters in “D”.

Side view- plane shooting block

Side view- plane shooting block

The shooting block for planing shows a slit cut at an slight angle  with a 1/16″ brass strip inserted into the slit, just below the top surface to avoid contact with  the plane’s blade. This helps hold the reed slip in place during the planing operation.  The reed seat of the shooting block was put in using my small milling machine with a 1″ dia. ballnose end mill.  A router using a ballnose bit would do the trick as well.


Swage-O-Matic Stapler

I thought that reed staples, which require consistency in form, would be an ideal reason for making a tool. I conceived a simple device which I call the “Swage-O-Matic Stapler”.  Swaging is a procedure that is often used in forming metal into useful shapes. To quote the Tool Engineers hand book: “Swaging differs from other compression and squeeze-forming operations in that the flow of metal is usually free and at right angle to the direction of pressure. Considerable pressures are necessary, and the working surfaces of the dies must be highly polished and kept absolutely clean if perfect parts are to be produced.”   The pressure required in this case is minimal.



SWAGE-O-MATIC STAPLER shown here making a staple for  Northumbrian Small Pipes.  A similar tool works well for other types of pipes as well.


Simple as ABC

(1) Cut to length a thin wall 3/16″ outside diameter brass tubing. (Obtainable from most hobby stores).

(2) Anneal ( soften ) by heating to a dull red and letting it cool.

(3) Place tube into the hole of part A.

(4) Place part B over part A.

(5) Place part C into part B.

(6) Push all parts together until the retaining ring stop on part C comes against the end of part B

(7) Take part A out of part B and remove the newly formed staple.
To remove the reed staple from the swaging part of Part C  lightly tap the wide end of newly formed staple  with a small hammer, while it is placed flat on your bench.

All is kept in line, while inside part B, the force is spread evenly, helping to form a uniform and readily repeatable operation. If you polish the steel swaging unit which is set into part C and anneal the staple blank prior to the swaging operation, then the pressure required to make it all happen may be administered via the palm of one’s hand pushing down while the set-up is resting firmly on a bench.


Finished Staple on mandrel Shown with scraper

To finish the staple I like to place it on a mandrel and score cross hatching using a three cornered scraper, made from a file, in the area where the reed blades will fit against the staple. The scraper  raises the metal giving a better grip  for the reed blades as opposed to using a coarse file which removes metal, while not giving as good a grip for the reed blades.   You can use the file part of the scraper to remove any irregularities resulting from the swaging operation, usually a slight flair at the very tip.

Good luck with your reed making!


Old hippies know what to do when the finished reed fails to live up to expectations!