How To Gouge Oboe Cane For Best Oboe Reed Outcomes

  • by Kathy Sheinhouse
Techniques Of Oboe Cane Gouging:
This post assumes you started with oboe tube cane, and completed processing to the pre-gouged level.  This post offers techniques on how to gouge oboe cane for best oboe reed results. When you follow certain guidelines, you should get a better yield of quality slips of gouged oboe cane for your shaped oboe cane and can achieve better oboe reed outcomes.
This post applies to users of traditional single radius gougers, but has information applicable to players using a variety of equipment.
1) About Soaking. Cut-to-length cane needs to be soaked at least 1-2 hours in warm water. The cane should be placed in a bowl with the outer side down. Typically, when it sinks, it is ready to work with. If you are gouging a lot of cane at once, be careful and plan so that they all don't sink at once because some may over soak. The longer you soak (without over soaking) the less likely you are to avoid cracking the cane. However, when you over soak the cane, it can distort the gouge because the fibers expand past their natural state when they are in your mouth. You will likely end up with a thinner gouge than you expected when the cane dries, and a reed that doesn't perform to expectations. While imprecise, if you have over soaked your cane, consider a thicker gouge to compensate. One of the reasons certain modern gouging machines are popular is because the cane can be gouged dry, streamlining the process and making the initial gouge more precise. However, cane of different densities absorbs water (saliva) differently. Cane that is soaked will better resemble its state in the mouth. I tend to gouge more cane at a time than most, but have to be mindful not to do too much at once, lest the cane get over soaked.

I had been gouging my cane dry for awhile.  Kunibert recommends it for their gouging machines, and I mistakenly thought that it would yield more consistent results if gouged to .58-.59 with an expection that it would swell to .60 when soaks.  I recently came to the conclusion that it produced an inferior result and led to some unanticipated problems.  First, it creates more dust and debrise.  This was a problem for the gouger and me. The gouger constantly got dirty inside the bed and effected the clasps that hold the cane in place, so I got more fails, and thought it was the cane.  It is also not good for the lungs.  I developed an allergic reaction to the cane, and it probably affected my lungs too.  It and dulls the blade more, and changes the way the ribbons come off the blade.  My ribbons are beautiful now, and I get a more consistent result. As a professional reed maker, I gouge a lot of cane at once- surely more than the personal reed maker.  The risk of over-soaking is less for you than it is for me, but is still possible if you don't pay attention. For high volume gouging, gouge in moderate size  batches that can be finished in 1/2 -3/4 of an hour- a little less if you are shaping at the same time.

2) About Pre-gouging
Push or crank- your choice. Notice how the cane travels through the device. It will give you information about hardness. Cane that successfully travels through a pre-gouger is not necessarily suitable for gouging because of aberrations in conformation.  If you are not sure, put the cane aside for when you have more time to test it. I have been told that crank pre-gougers take too much out of the center of the cane too early, and can lead to complications when transferring to a gouger. I have not seen this for myself.
3) About Gouging With A Single Radius Gouger (I can't speak to double radius because I don't use them)
  •  Bed needs to be bigger than the largest diameter you work with. Every slip needs to be measured before placement in the gouger. If it is larger than your bed, put it aside, because the gouge will be completely distorted, and can be thinner by up to 4-5 mm.
  •  If the cane is flared at one end, it will have an uneven gouge from end to end. If that is a deal breaker for you, put it aside for students.
  •  Be careful placing the cane in the bed so that it is perfectly centered.
  •  Know how to maintain your machine and keep the blade sharp. A sharp blade gives more freedom to glide the carriage across the cane, as opposed to pressing down. I have been told that if a light touch doesn't do the job, then the blade is not sharp enough. Pressing down will compress the cane and distort the gouge. It can actually create an inconsistent gouge across the length of the slip.
  • Some people suggest that cane should not be gouged on one's lap because it promotes excessive pressure. I gouge both ways, but try to be extra careful on my lap. As a rule, calibrating the gouger for thinner ribbons lead to a more precise gouge than thicker ones.

5) About Positioning The Slip In The Gouger 

  • Be sure to position the slip straight and and never off center.  The blade creates a certain thickness in the center and a particular slope to the sides.  If it is out of position, all of these relationships can be altered to your disadvantage.

6) About Hand Pressure Through The Stroke

  • My first strokes are firm enough to extract a decent ribbon off the slip.  After that, it is important not to put too much pressure on the handle.  It impacts how a slip sits on the bed, and no cane produces slips that exactly one diameter.  It can also create pressure points along the path that can lead to deviations in gouge along the length of the slip.

7)  About Unexpected Deviations In The Gouge

  • I was always puzzled by the fact that I found variability in gouge within a batch.  I always thought that a gouger that was set to .60/.45 would generate that result, or near that result.  I thought it was the gouger- well it is a little.  But it is really the cane.  If you gouge cane between diameters of 10-11+, there are going to be certain deviations by size given the use of one gouger.  The rule of thumb is to buy a gouger with a bed, and a blade designed for cane for the widest diameter you use.  For me, my gouger has an 11 bed.  It does not work for 11.25, because the cane does not sit properly in the bed, and it gouges thin.  Narrow diameter cane, may gouge a little thicker.  It is best to sort cane by diameter, and gouge by diameter so that the gouger can be adjusted as needed to get a consistent result.  Professionals who need different diameter cane to accommodate concerts in different venues sometimes have more than one gouger for this reason, and choose their bed sizes accordingly.
4) Final Remarks.
  • Pre-gouged canes are fine for long-term storage when kept dry.  Rigotti recommends it should also be exposed to air.  Personal reed makers (except the most elite) typically have smaller inventories that they go through in 6 months to a year. It should be sorted by size and strength to accommodate seasonal changes to get best results. As a professional reed maker with a big stash of cane, I am happy to age it both ways.  Good cane gets better with age.  Mine is between 3 and 6 years old.  I hope to have plenty of this cane for use over the next 5 years.  Note: Gouged Cane almost always has a diameter that is larger than it measured on the tube/ split or pre-gouged, so plan for this. 
  • This is my take on gouging, and there are serious players out there that may have different opinions, so check them out too.  Also, this is by no means an exhaustive tutorial on cane processing, but hopefully, most people will learn something new. Subscribe to my site to receive new post announcements.  

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