Northumbrian Smallpipes Tutor

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Making smallpipe chanter reeds by hand - The Staple

Article Index


The staple
I buy 3/16", 28swg brass tube from a model shop, cut into 22.5mm lengths. Smooth off any ragged edges inside and out. Use a profiled nail tapped lightly into one end to start off the shaping, then squeeze with some pliers from the eye end to within 6mm of the round end.

staple end elipse

This shaping will affect the quality of the reed, so take care! It should be a nice even ellipse of 3mm diameter.

starting to shape the staple tube using pliers to squeeze the staple end showing the shaped staple end

File the outer surface of the staple to provide a key for the cane part.

Attaching the staple
Insert the shaped end of the staple into the folded cane slip so that about 6mm of staple protrudes beyond the points.

the staple in the reed body reed body and staple in straight line


WHILST THE HEAT METHOD DESCRIBED BELOW WORKS WELL (AND CAN BE QUITE EXCITING!), I NOW FIND IT'S JUST AS EFFECTIVE TO DIP THE TIPS OF THE FOLDED SLIPS IN SOME WATER FOR ABOUT 20 TO 30 SECS. BEFORE INSERTING THE STAPLE AND CAREFULLY PUSHING THE THREAD DOWN. THEY DON'T TAKE LONG TO DRY, AFTER WHICH THE GLUE CAN BE APPLIED IN THE NORMAL WAY.

The next stage requires a small camping stove or similar source of heat, and I use this method as an alternative to making the cane pliable by soaking.
Grip the tips of the cane slip points on the staple with pliers, and hold the exposed end of the staple in a flame. Allow a short while for the cane to warm and become pliable, but stop if it bursts into flames and turns black!! Take care as there may be fumes from the superglue. Push the wrapping gently down towards the 'shoulders' of the reed. I use the nails on my thumb and index finger to push at the very edges of the thread wrapping. After the initial heating of the staple end, you can keep taking the staple out of the flame for a few seconds while you work the thread a little further down each time. You will find that the cane moulds itself to the staple while the heated superglue will help it stick and reduce the risk of splitting.
Make sure the staple and the body of the reed are in a nice straight line. You can make fine adjustments by gently re-heating the staple. If the edges haven't closed up, try pushing another wrapping down while re-heating. This sometimes works, though obviously its better to get it right first time.

heating the staple moulding to the staple after heating

When cool, apply a small drop of superglue to each side of the points and allow to dry with the staple end pointed slightly downwards - glue must not enter the upper body of the reed.
When the glue is dry, use a file, knife etc. to chamfer the edges and points and make a nice smooth base for the wrapping.

secure the staple with glue chamfering points to take the wrapping ready for the wrapping



AT THIS STAGE, THERE SHOULD BE NO GAP AT THE SIDES OF THE SLIP. I HAVE FOUND THAT THE AIRTIGHTNESS OF THE FINISHED REED IS IMPROVED BY SMEARING A LITTLE ALL PURPOSE BATHROOM/KITCHEN SEALANT (NOT SILICONE) INTO THE 'V' SHAPE ON EACH SIDE WHERE THE POINTS FIT TO THE STAPLE. WHEN DRY, ADD A LAYER OF PTFE TAPE FOR GOOD MEASURE, THEN PROCEED WITH THE NORMAL WRAPPING. I NOW APPLY TWO COATS OF PVA GLUE AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO VARNISH OR SUPERGLUE.

Wrapping
Using waxed yellow hemp thread, embroidery thread or similar, wrap the end of the reed carefully up to 25mm above the end of the staple (should be just past the reed shoulders). You can start from the very end of the staple, but I usually leave some of the staple bare and add a few turns of loose waxed hemp later when its ready to be fitted in a chanter. (I have now started putting a few turns of PTFE or plumber's tape on before the thread, which makes the finished reed beautifully airtight).

wrapping the reed varnishing the wrapping ready for scraping

The wrapping needs to be made airtight by coating with a mixture of knotting and shellac, or varnish. I use two coats of brush on superglue. I have tried nail varnish, but found it wasn't particularly airtight. Perhaps some of it is designed to be breathable. Again, this is something you can experiment with.
Leave until absolutely dry.

Richard & Anita Evans

Makers of Northumbrian and Scottish Smallpipes