Make an Uilleann Pipe Chanter Reed

Also contains information on natural and artificial drone and regulator reeds.

Latest update 25 June 1997

Copyright 1996 David C. Daye, all text, image and sound files presented here.

Feel free to copy this work for desktop use and/or your individual study of piping. You may not republish all or any portions of this work in any form, or distribute it in any form, without permission. You may establish electronic pointers or links to this page. Questions, problems, comments or requests for permission to reprint may be e-mailed to me at CLICK HERE


  1. Overview and Disclaimer
  2. Seth Gallagher's Reed Making Page (Lots of description of things you'll see here.)
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Tools: Buying and Making
  5. Staples: Rolled and Tubing
  6. Cane
  7. Slip
  8. Gouging
  9. Sanding
  10. Forming Blades
  11. Assembly
  12. Initial Scraping
  13. Initial Testing
  14. Intermediate Scraping
  15. Finishing
  16. Troubleshooting
  17. Artificial Drone Reeds
  18. Aritficial Regulator Reeds

Overview -- Revised 06 December 96

This work will demonstrate tools, procedures, techniques and tests used in many of the popular reedmaking methods or "recipes" as I prefer to call them. There will not be a detailed recipe of my own or someone else's since there are many published in popular books such as David Quinn's The Piper's Despair, Pat Sky's A Manual for the Irish Uileann Pipes, Tim Britton's My Method, Wilbert Garvin's The Irish Uilleann Pipes, and Dave Hegarty's Reedmaking Made Easy book, not to mention regular articles in the Pipers' Review and An Piobaire.

What follow here will be photos, diagrams and some diagnostic sound samples of many of the aspects of reed making and adjusting which are not illustrated in some existing printed tutors or are not well shown in the few existing video tutors. No special claim of originality is made for this material. Most of it is routinely taught by piping instructors individually and at uilleann pipe gatherings and in the sources mentioned above. I present it here simply as a service to the piping community, especially isolated learners who may have difficulty interpreting texts or oral descriptions. Perhaps authors and editors of future works will find some useful ideas here for their own presentations.

I am willing to consider sharing this material or its original sources with authors revising or publishing new reedmaking works but please note this material is copyright so it may not be used without my express permission.

These illustrations should be used only as a guide for using a complete existing recipe which the maker of your particular chanter knows to be appropriate for it. Many experts have spent painful years learning the truth that measurements and techniques cannot be freely interchanged between different recipes, even though radically different approaches can produce excellent reeds in the end. I am most sorry that I cannot offer suggestions for designing reeds to suit chanters, that is a topic far beyond my technical expertise.

It is actually not very difficult to make a reed, even a good reed. A complete novice can produce a decent reed in 2 or 3 hours' work spread over several days, provided s/he has complete instructions, good raw materials, and of course a chanter which is well behaved and tolerant of modest variations that will occur naturlly when following any chosen reed recipe.

This last statement is more important than it appears. As some very famous and very frustrated pipers have observed, there seem to be many chanters in circulation which simply cannot be reeded to play both musically and comfortably. There is no easy way for a learner to know the quality of a chanter so it is always best to arrange to spend a comfortable period of time having an established player or maker examine the chanter in order to know if the instrument is worthy of purchasing or, if already owned, is worthy of further efforts.

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Tools and Supplies

A modest collection of tools and supplies is required for making reeds.

Generic or Widely-Available Tools

Tools That Must be Made or Changed

Generic Supplies

Special Reedmaking Supplies

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Steps in making traditional conical staple

Note: Certain illustrations below will be re-scanned for greater clarity in early December.

  1. Obtain thin sheet metal brass (typically .015") or copper (.020" to .025") from hobby store, roofing contractor etc.
  2. Cut into modest size pieces 2-1/4" or wider (equals length of staple) and several inches long (to obtain several staples side-by-side). Larger pieces of metal may be difficult to raise to high enough temperature for annealing.
  3. Anneal (make metal soft enough to bend easily) by heating to red glow using small plumber's torch or other suitable flame. It is not necessary to plunge red-hot brass or copper into water to preserve the softness (as is necessary with steel) but of course it makes the metal easy to handle immediately.
  4. Cut into individual staple shapes according to recipe. Leave slightly oversize. Many rolled conical designs used tapered blanks, which can be laid out in alternating directions on the sheet metal as shown in this photo.
  5. File into exact final shape. Notice metal appearnce (copper, but brass would look similar at this time). It is black from the annealing process. Finally, lightly file all the edges to remove burrs and roughness especially from the surface which will become the critical inside of the staple.
  6. Prepare for bending. Lay the metal blank over the forming-groove, then lay the forming-mandrel over the metal blank. Be sure everything is carefully centered.
  7. Tap mandrel and blank into the forming-groove. The claws of an ordinary claw-hammer are convenient for tapping the slender mandrel into the narrow groove.
  8. Tap edges of blank fully around the mandrel. First remove from groove, then tap edges with modest force using hammer. Some makers use a wooden block for smoother initial roll. Next view shows edges sufficiently close at right, still partly open at left.
  9. Finish forming by rolling the staple, with mandrel inside for support, firmly between 2 metal files. The files will impart a bit of roughness to the outside of the staple, seen at right in clean area of copper. Section at left has not yet been rolled and remains blackened from the annealing process. Notice the seam between the edges. It virtually disappears after a few seconds' rolling between the files. This seam is nearly airtight at right.
  10. Notice shape of ends of staple, perfectly round, and seam is no longer visible. The process of rolling between the 2 files makes this very easy to accomplish.
  11. If desired, seam can be soldered together to be perfectly airtight, and to make it easier to form the eye.
  12. Taper the bottom by filing, to allow staple to fit farther into chanter. Clean area at right end has been tapered.
  13. Insert eye-forming mandrel which is a steel rod whose end is tapered to match the taper of the top end of the staple. Most modern tapered staples will leave the larger end round, and have the eye formed at the narrower end. View shows the taper visible from the side, and the oval-shaped end which is the correct thickness for the finished eye. The oval must necessarily be much narrower than the width of the eye since otherwise it would be impossible to insert and remove the mandrel.
  14. Tap (and/or squeeze with pliers) the eye end of the staple onto the forming mandrel to begin forming the taper and the eye.
  15. Notice shape of partly finished eye. It is generally oval in shape but uneven, often too open at the sides. Often the the seam re-opens under the stress of forming.
  16. Finish shaping the taper and the eye by tapping and/or squeezing. If the seam is open, tap with a glancing blow in order to push the edges of the seam close together again. Be sure to tap or squeeze towards the edges of the eye to form the eye into a narrower, evenly shaped oval.
  17. Notice the shape of the finished eye.
  18. Tube-type Staple Eye: Staples made of thin brass tubing are easier to bend. The eye can be finished by inserting the eye-forming mandrel and then gently squeezing the outside of the eye with flat-nosed pliers as shown in this photo.
  19. Finish the staple by filing the tapered surface smooth of any small bumps. Large bumps must be first tapped away since they will also be present inside the staple, making the tuning and tone difficult to predict. File a small taper on the bottom of the staple, especially if the sheet metal was .020" or thicker, so that the reed will be able to be inserted fully into the chanter if necessary. This can make an important difference of 1/4" to 1/2" of insertion for tuning purposes, depending on the chanter.

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Forming Blades


Initial Scraping

General Topics:

Initial Testing

Dull tone in chanter reeds can appear any time, even the earliest stages. It is best either to attempt a remedy or discard the reed and avoid fruitless finishing. Dull tone is often or usually caused by deformed edges which are most easily seen when the blades are taken apart and the inside curve viewed under strong side light. The diagram shows basic principles.

Intermediate Scraping

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Artificial Drone Reeds

Artificial Regulator Reeds.

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End of "Make an Uilleann Pipe Chanter Reed"