Balancing reeds with Dutch Rush

Stephan

Vermeersch

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NL

Clarinets & Saxophones - Performer - Composer - Improviser - Teacher

Balancing reeds with Dutch rush

“Equisetum hyemale”(*)

-video at the bottom-

 

The placement of the tissues in the Arundo Donax stem and the process of drying and sunning can make your reed slightly out of balance. The left or right side then plays easier or stiffer. With Dutch rush you can easily remove a minimal amount of tissue from the stiff side so you can still get a good balance.



What is Dutch Rush?


It is a common scouring rush - occurring in moist woods and on riverbanks that reaches well over a metre in height. The stems are coated with abrasive silicates, making them useful for scouring (cleaning) metal items such as cooking pots or drinking mugs, particularly those made of tin. Equisetum hyemale, rough horsetail, is still boiled and then dried in Japan (under the name Equisetum Japonicum of Tokusa) to be used for the final polishing process on woodcraft to produce a smoother finish than any sandpaper



Is a "living fossil", as it is the only living genus of the entire class Equisetopsida, which for over one hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests.


Horsetails are unique survivors of a very ancient group of vascular plants, the Sphenophyta, which has a history reaching back to the Upper Devonian. Despite the striking conservatism of Equisetum architecture and anatomy and the small number of species in the modern flora, their ability to thrive under a wide range of conditions is remarkable. This is due to a diverse suite of adaptations that allow tolerance of disturbance, soil anoxia, high metals, and salinity, along with efficient nutrient uptake and nitrogen fixation.


(*) other names: Horsetail, Rough Horsetail, Scouring Rush, Snake Grass, Canuela, Tokusa


An article with more info: "An Introduction to the Genus Equisetum ( Horsetail ) and the Class Equisetopsida ( Sphenopsida) as a whole" by Husby Ch. E. * Walkowiak R. J.



grass tube   dried skin      wet skin

Equisetum hyemale
Equisetum hyemale (bloei), januari 2000, HR_2675
Equisetum hyemale sprdet. 180803_2676
equisetum-hyemale-001
Schuurbies_Leblanc

How to prepare?


You can or could buy for around $ 6 the Leblanc L2431 Reed Rush box with around 9 dried grass tubes. When wet they are very flexible and  accurate for small adjustments.


I wanted to try the Japanese way. In my local flower shop I ordered Dutch rush as cut flower for around $ 6. As you can see: plenty of grass tubes (for many years). Next step is breaking those in parts (internodes), soak them untif they get soft, cut the nodes and boil them for around one hour. Slice them on one side and remove the flesh by scraping until you keep the skin. In a dry state the skin rolls up but after short immersion in water the skin unfolds, then some dabbing and you can start. Rinse after use and let it dry before stowing in a box. If you take some care, you can use one piece for a very long time.The skin is much more flexible then the grass tube and therefore much more precise. 


Characteristics of Polishing of Wood with Tokusa by Masami NOGUCHI, Toshihiro OKABE, Hisakazu OHATA is an article on the abbrasive superiority of Dutch Rush on sand paper.



Microscopic view a grass tube with silica elements

Microscopic view a skin with silica elements

Check your reed and fix the balance.


When playing some notes tilt the clarinet left and right to test the balance. If one side is stiffer, you know which side you can retouch.With a soft pencil I mark the material I want to remove and test again. If necessary, repeat this procedure. Take a good look at how you handle the wet Dutch Rush skin. The abrasive part is on the outside (clearly visible in dry condition) what you can feel. It takes some experimentation to get satisfactory results, but it is definitely worth the time and effort.