View Full Version : wood reamer

05-01-2005, 08:32 AM
Well I'm back to playing with my musical instrument hobby. I'm working on making some piccolo head joints which are made from African Black wood, and other exotic woods. Very hard dense woood! I've been boring the headjoints out in my lathe, with good success but it is slow. I would like to make a reamer (which I have never done before)that will finish the bore very smoothly. The bore is approximately .430" in diameter for 4" then it steps up to about .470" for 1/2" an inch. The wood blanks I start with vary, but are approximately 5/8" in diameter and 6" long.The bore is a through hole by the way. They easily fit in my lathe. I've looked for production reamers that are .430", but nothing is stock, and the adjustable reamers jump that size in the enco catalog. I would like to be able to chuck up the blank, rough bore it to size, then ream the finished bore. How do I make a reamer for this? I am equipped at home with a mill and lathe, but no surface grinder. Any solution would have to entail making the parts on these machines. (no buying new equipment for playing)

05-01-2005, 08:43 AM
Check the MSC catalog www.mscdirect.com (http://www.mscdirect.com) for decimal-size reamers. I think they have -- or can get for you -- pretty much any decimal size you want.

I think spiral flutes would be the way to go for wood, since you have grain to contend with.

You could try making a reamer, although hardening/tempering at home something the size the reamer would be would be very difficult if not impossible without a heat-treating furnace.

Another thought: if you just want to do a fine scrape at the very end to smooth things out, you could make a so-called "machinist's reamer," which is nothing more than a round blank of appropriate diameter with a taper of about 1:4 or maybe up to 1:8 ground on one side so you get a sort-of chisel form. You'd still have the heat-treat problem, unless you could make it out of a pre-hardened blank, but at least you wouldn't have the difficulty of cutting and sharpening flutes. To sharpen a machinist's reamer, you just hone the flat on an oilstone.

05-01-2005, 08:52 AM
The machinist reamer is what I had in mind. I have torches, so I could heat treat that way, but warping was a consern. I'll look at MSC. Thanks.

05-01-2005, 09:45 AM

I have a friend that builds/repairs Pipes. We had the local sharpening shop grind him some piloted drill bits. I know he is working with Blackwood. I do not know the specifics how the bits work or when he uses them. I do know that we ordered some long bits from MSC and had them modified. If you have questions let me know.


Norman Atkinson
05-01-2005, 12:46 PM
Never mind the route for fancy shop made reamers!

Reamers are made from round silver steel. I think that you folks call it "Drill rod"

Take a rod of the correct size- leaving it soft and untempered.

Mill a flat of say 3/4" long in one end.
This is milled to leave a flat of half the diameter- plus 5 thous.

Put a say 5 degree lead on its end

Temper the end.

Then proceed slowly as the end soon fills with turnings and heats up.

This may well contradict our friend SGW but I assure you that this is the classical way that has existed for hundreds of years.

Taper reamers- for Highland Pipes and Half Longs are made from French bayonets from the Napoloeonic Wars.

Stephen Thomas and I had quite a discussion in "Exotic Woods" about such things.

Might I assure you that Northumbrian pipe makers will drill an 1/8th dia hole in blackwood for 20 inches by this method.

You have my E-Mail number if you I can help further.

Have good cheer, Master Machinist! It is my 75th Birthday on the 11th June and there has been the promise of a digital camera.


05-01-2005, 03:16 PM
I did find the production made HSS reamer sizes I wanted, But I may try to build a stepped reamer with the specs I need. I vaguely remember seeing the method Norman used in some magazine. Happy Birthday Norm, and if you get that camera send some pictures if you can. I was going to order a piece of Silver Steel AKA drill rod and do some experimenting. Hopefully it will work out.
Thanks for All of your assistance.

Norman Atkinson
05-01-2005, 04:04 PM

Thanks for the greeting: it was nice of you.

I now have a date for all this-64 years ago!

At no point should you start making stepped reamers. Drill under size and then ream- actually, the word is D Bit, to a fine finish each dimension.

Following on from this, might I add that we extended conventional twist drills with either drill rod( the ends of HSS drills are soft) or slightly undersize mild steel rod.

What you have to remember Matt, is that African Blackwood and the other exotics are dense and usually fairly oily. They, therefore, don't need cutting fluids, but provide their own. You can actually polish the outside with the turnings from the lathe tray. Lignum Vitae comes off the conventional sharp metal working tools like brown grease.

I have written to the Forum about this and to Model Engineers Workshop in the recent past. I also suggested that a modern Italian maker is using CNC but polishing with almond oil.

Whether anyone believed me when I suggested that we used olive oil is anyone's guess.

What people fail to grasp is that woodwind instruments were often made with the crudest tools in shepherds cottages by the light of the fire and a flickering oil lamp at the end of hard winter's day in the hills.
These old boys were probably using nothing more technical than the wife's knitting needles and knife from the barn.

I get stories of ornamental turning lathes and such which were involved. What a load of old cobbler's balls!

You have the tools- have you a impeccable ear for tuning?

I got too close to a German bomb!


05-02-2005, 07:42 PM
My mechanical skills are far better than my playing or hearing. My wife and I both play flute and piccolo and I collect them (not wives). We play in the community band and in a flute choir. I have a degree in instrument repair, but I gave it up as a full time career about 10 years ago. I collect instruments and repair part time for a local shop. Keeps my daughters supplied in sheet music, reeds and other music stuff. I became interested in making my own head joints because of my flute playing, and there is a world famous flute head joint maker in NY (not too far from my home), but I can't afford his stuff so I decided to make my own. As far as making woodwinds using any old tools available, this was probably true way back, but some of the modern high production makers are pretty high tec. The traditional hand made instruments are still made with old techniques, but still pretty precise mechanisms. BTW, you Brits were once known as one of the finest flute makers in the world. Still make some pretty nice brass stuff to this day. If you want an interesting read, get a copy of The Flute and Flute playing by Theobald Boehm. Dover Publications. He was one of the first makers to put some research and science into the art of flute making. Interesting to read even if you are not a flute player. He was quite the engineer and researcher in his day.
Regards, Matt

Norman Atkinson
05-03-2005, 01:47 PM
Congratulations Matt. Instrument repairers are rare breed. We have one that wrote two books on locomotive valve gear, is a world authority on tugs, is a mean composer and arranger and turns a mean lathe.

Present stock of instruments are roughly
Bass sax, bari sax(2) alto, tenor soprano and C Melody.
Clarinets- E Flat, numerous B's and A's,
alto, contra alto, contra bass and E-Flat contra.
Flutes, bassoon, oboe, and down to a 7/8 1911 Bluthner grand. These are what she owns up to- there must be more!
I did up a Hawkes( before they were Boosey) simple system and there is a metal B flat.

There were 51 saxes and clarinets on stage
together on Saturday.

I keep blaming the Germans for my hearing loss: maybe I'm wrong.

Have fun with your instrument making- piccies please.


05-03-2005, 06:33 PM
Those All your instruments? I'm coveting the bass sax already!! Pretty rare instrument! I saw a Contra Bass Sax at the Leblanc factory in Wisconsin.Player had to stand up on a stool to reach the mouthpiece.

When I got out of repair school I was going to buy and rebuild one of everything for a full orchestra. I got up to most of the woodwinds and brass before I decided to get rid of them because they were taking up too much space. Just sold my last good clarinet on e-bay, but i've got a few more simple system/albert system clarinets that are collectables, key oe Eb and C.

I have a trombone that i'm currently rebuilding for my daughter, and I have 4 flutes and two piccolos disassemble for repair. I'm going to modify the key work on one of them to fit my hands better. Flute inventory is up to about six that have been rebuilt to like new or better and piccolo is up to five like new. got about 20 more in various states of dis repair.

I enjoy doing custom key work on instruments. I modified a clarinet once for a person who had two fingers cut off in an accident at a school, and I also did one for a lady who had arthritis so bad she couldn't cover the holes any more. I converted it to a fully closed system. Saw a tuba once that was converted from right hand to left hand for a pro player that had a finger cut off in an industrial accident. The repairman unbent and rebent the tubing from RH to LH. Yes, some of the parts are the same either way, but not the valve sections or most of the other tubing. It was amazing.

Oh yea, this post is supose to be about metal working. The trombone I mentioned is all brass and nickel. I had to manufacture a new knuckle and silver solder it in place. I'm also in the process of designing a counter balance on the CNC mill for it that is customized with my daughter's name in it.

Regards, Matt

05-04-2005, 01:31 AM
There are a few different reamer styles you could try for blackwood wodwind bores: The previously mentioned "D" bit is one very traditional way, but you could also try milling approximately 1/4 of the steel rod away, raising a burr on one edge, and go to town. Some makers also have good success milling a channel down the center of the rod using an endmill approximately 1/3 to 1/2 the diameter of the rod, then proceding as above.
I know one oboe maker who does not harden his reamers, because of the warping problem. He just sharpens them before (and sometimes during) each use.
Good luck, and have fun!

05-04-2005, 12:48 PM
Rutland Airgas carries decimal sized reamers, and the .430" is the same size as I need for reaming Gatling gun bolts.

Norman Atkinson
05-04-2005, 02:09 PM
Hello, again.

I was delighted to see the interest taken to help Matt. There is, as I have explained earlier, an earthy simplicity in taking a squared block of timber, putting it between centres, putting it into the round and then boring a hole through it. Then comes the simple task of using a jig to put the tone holes in. The hard job is to, as the old Northumbrian pipe makers said, make it
"sing like a bird". Matt and John will endorse the concept.That goes beyond history with dates on it- but whether one uses CNC or the knitting needle, nothing has changed. Hopefully, I tried to approach the idea that it was the skill of the craftsman that was fundamental.

Sadly, the topic has drifted off to things like " gunbarrel" reamers and stuff far beyond where I came in, initially.

I welcome the expertise expressed as all knowledge is wonderful. I picked up an old Albert system clarinet which had been made in the 1920's and which I restored. The cost was £6 or 10 Euros. I picked up a contra bass clarinet costing £16000 or 24000Euros and I picked up a B Flat which is marginally better than some of those on Britain's concert stage and made by CNC milling.

The quality of the workmanship was virtually undetectable between all three instruments.

So, Matt, I hope that you will continue to enjoy both making and playing something which is yours and yours alone.


05-04-2005, 07:36 PM
Matt and others

I have what my family calls a flute. It is wood, looks like rose wood or something close. It is 3 pieces, each about 8.5 inches long including the tenon for the joint. I know it is pre 20th century---family rumor places it at 1860s. As my grandfather came from Denmark at that time it could be European/Danish.
I have been told the joints should be wound with linen thread and waxed. Does this sound reasonable?
Any comments/ideas will be appreciated.


05-05-2005, 02:07 AM
Stepside, do you have pictures? From your description it could be a flute or a recorder. Hard to put a date on it unless it has a maker's mark somewhere, but sometimes the style of the turning helps. You are right, the tenons probably were wrapped with thread and waxed. These things were turned out in great numbers, so unless it was made by an important maker, its value is more sentimental than monetary.

05-05-2005, 02:14 AM
Norman, your point is well taken that many makers produced high quality instruments with only rudimentary equipment. That is not the whole story, though. Even back in the 18th century makers like Richters in Amsterdam were using rose engine lathes so produce exquisite oboes with ornamental turning. Richters used mostly blackwood and ivory, and the ornamental turning was mostly confined to the ivory parts.

Norman Atkinson
05-05-2005, 03:18 AM
Again, thanks to everyone for their input.
I would not be surprised if the readership includes more than one Ornamental Turner in addition to us musical ones.

Initially, I was not surprised to learn that some oboes were decorated with OT. They are one of the oldest instruments. We have one but it needs great skill to learn how to breathe through one's navel. Circular breathing, I think it is called.

As to woodwind instruments using waxed thread, this is quite common in Northumbrian bagpipes as well. A probable reason is that it was a simple system for home produced instruments to be sealed.
However, despite that I have seen the most expensive sets in collections made in ivory and silver still with the linen threads.
Today, gold plating is common but the traditional bindings are retained.

Rather like German clarinets where the reed is similarly fastened.

Moving into a new century seems somewhat difficult.

Thanks once more


05-05-2005, 10:06 PM
Had to laugh when I saw your comment about learning to breath through your naval. I recently picked up an old Conn Wood Oboe in trade for some repair work. Thought i would start practing again as the fingerings are quite similar to flute. Forgot how damn hard you had to blow to play one of those things compared to flute. Saw a gentlman play about a 15 minute long alto sax solo using circular breathing techniques, it was amazing.Don't know how they do it.

Stepside, the "flute" could be a transverse flute played horizontally or a Record also known as a flute in many parts of the world. In either case, you want to keep it in a climate where there are not extreemes in temperature or humidity. It did probably have tenon joints wrapped in thread and wax. This method of connecting the joints together also helps to reinforce the tenons as well as seal the connections. A very traditional method of construction. I too would love to see pictures if you have them.

I am a fan of Boehm system (mid1800's) flutes and know a bit about them, I don't know near as much about older pre 19th century instruments. If you ever get to New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an instrument collection on the second floor that is wonderful to look at. Quite a variety of instruments from around the world.

By the way I ordered the reamers through MSC and they arrived today. Hopefully I will try them out this weekend. I bought imports, one was marked made in Bosnia and the other was stamped USA. Since I live in NY state, is the Bosnian one or the US one the import?
Keep Playing, Matt

Norman Atkinson
05-06-2005, 06:30 AM
This circular breathing thing should have the Forum in kinks. Maybe it is Yoga for musicians.

Respectfully, you are of your trolley buying reamers- but heigh ho!

At this point, I am in the midst of packing my spade and pail for a holiday in the Spanish sun, Somewhere among these Moonbeams in a Lesser Lunacy is a set of drawings for Northumbrian Pipes, plus a set of construction notes.

I might not be able to do the E-mailing but perhaps my son could have a go.
They should give you a few hints and ideas.

Be patient.