Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Drama of Sharp Objects

If you make your own reeds, you've certainly dealt with the drama that surrounds just the creation of these little buggers, which I fondly refer to as my neurotic children. I'm not going to attempt to deal with that all in one entry, but I'd like to address one aspect of their creation process - The Knife.

There are many different varieties to choose from out there, and I've learned everyone has their own favorite. I, myself, own four knives from three different makers. My first knife, a Vitry, was included in my reed making kit. As I became more adept at cultivating my reeds, my First Yoda suggested I purchase another knife - a double-ground Charles knife. These two knives served me well. Then I went off to college and was introduced to my friend's Landwell. New school, new teacher - why not new knives? So I purchased another Charles knife and my very own Landwell (medium).

Each knife has its own quirks and personality. I found Vitry does not sharpen very well at its butt (the part closest to the handle) or its tip, but the center is good. I move up and down the length of my knife when shaping a tip to constantly use the Vitry. But it works well for tying on reeds. Charles I will always have a special place in my heart, but I found Charles II to be less giving than his predecessor. They both have specific sweet spots, and I've found Charles II to work well with preliminary scrapings. Charles I does fairly well for English horn reed making. Landwell is by far my favorite. It keeps a sharp edge from the butt to the tip, and while it needs the most sharpening, this is only because I use it most often. It is the knife with its own leather sheath, and is not left at home on the reed desk when I go to rehearsals.

So imagine my horror when I pulled him out at an Erie Chamber Orchestra rehearsal to find rust covering the tip and along parts of the knife. I know it had been almost two weeks since I'd pulled out that knife, but had no idea how the knife or its trusty sheath got wet enough to create such damage. Thankfully the other oboist had a knife which she allowed me to borrow to beat one my temperamental children back into submission - they don't like changing weather.

Once I returned I re-examined the damage. The butt of the knife was not bothered, just the tip and up the edge. I attempted to see how the sharpness was badly affected, and oh it was. Unless I could somehow remove the rust, Landwell would become nearly useless. I took paper towels and an old handkerchief I often use to wipe my knives and tried to rub as much as I could off. It only served to turned the handkerchief rust colored and tear the paper towel apart. What could remove rust from metal? What could be strong enough to pull the rust from knife? Then it hit me - steel wool. Steel wool mixed with strong soap - Brillo pads.

It couldn't hurt, right? The knife was pretty much destroyed at this point anyways, so why not at least try? It didn't remove every speck of rust, but it got rid of the worst of it. Granted, the metal that the rust ate through is gone, but it looked a lot better. I spent a bit of time sharpening it, and then tried using it. SUCCESS! Its not as perfect as it once was, but its actually usable now.

My only fear is that I may not have gotten every bit of the Brillo soap off the knife, transfer the soap to my reed and poison myself. But I figured if I've lived through all the sharpening stone oil and nail polish I've ingested over the years, a little Brillo soap probably won't kill me!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Coffee Grounds... save old coffee grounds and cover the knife for a couple days. Rust gone! And the the metal isn't damaged by steel wool/etc. I'm amazed that there isn't much out there on this.