Even though I already had tons of fun in Chicago, Austin, and at the sharpening party, it was finally time to do what I initially intended to do on this trip – and that is to go to the International Double Reed Society’s (IDRS) annual conference, which was held at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. (I know it’s a geographic mess – but it’s a real place!)
Due to the 4th of July holiday right before the show, there was no rush to drive to Ohio, so I scheduled a couple of stops along the way. The first stop was at knife maker Gary Nicholas Sass’s place in Sharpsville, PA. Yes, I said Sharpsville. It does exist! Interestingly enough, there are still remains of the locks that were once part of the Erie canal system in Western Pennsylvania.
Upon arriving, I immediately got inducted into Gary’s knife shop – I hit my head on the low door even though he warned me it was low :) A couple of days earlier, we had discussed him making a custom Reed knife for me, and he had a prototype for me that was ground down from an existing knife to take a look at. With a minor adjustment or 2, the knife was ready to go. There was a traditional samurai sword wrap on the handle that consisted of Ray skin wrapped in a synthetic silk, and this traditional approach was one of the things that drew me towards Gary’s knives a few weeks earlier at the Blade show in Atlanta.
Gary Nicholas Sass
We also discussed the different customizing of the handle options, which included different colored wraps and wood. Here are some of his handles which included the ray skin wrap, dyed giraffe bone, and several types of wood. The far right is a boar tusk. I doubt it would ever be chosen for a reed knife, but it did fit in the hand quite comfortably…(BTW, the second from the left was the reed knife prototype).
Gary Sass’s Reed Knife handle options
Unfortunately, the prototype reed knife sold at the show the first day, and all I have are some quick photos I took so we can tweak the knife even more to suite oboists and bassoonists. With the slight curvature, the bassoonists LOVED the knife for getting into the channels, but the oboists were not as thrilled about it since their reeds are just so much smaller. FWIW, I asked Gary to put that slight curve on it for the bassoonists, and it was interesting that the oboists responded like they did! It was a bassoonist who bought the knife.
Gary Nicholas Sass Reed Knife 1
Gary Nicholas Sass Reed Knife 2
After some other business discussion (which will be posted soon!) Gary took us to Quaker Steak for some of their famous wings. The pepper parmesan sauce was just too good!
After a wonderful lunch at Quaker Steak, we headed out toward Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I was supposed to meet up with one of the super mods over at the knife forums, whose username is “Nasty”, but due to the storms that blew through OH, PA and West VA the previous weekend, our meeting was cancelled due to some cleaning up that needed to be done. There was mostly downed trees, but it was severe enough to cancel the local 4th of July celebrations. This setback would be remedied on the weekend, when Nasty and his wife came out to the university. But more on that in a little bit :)
We got to the beautiful Miami University campus, and started our normal setup routine, running into the usual suspects, including Ann Hodge of Hodge Products, Inc., who is one of my biggest retailers of the Jende Reed Knife and surrounding products. Her new display was amazing!
We bumped into Hanna Selznick, the “Oboe Fairy“, Robert Morgan of the Chicago Reed Company and inventor of the W.R.I.S.T, and Shawna Lake of Oboe Chicago.
I also ran into 2 new exhibitors – the first was Lisa Allen of Lisa’s oboe reedery, who also happened to be a fellow classmate and alumnus of The Boston Conservatory. She is now making oboe reeds full time. I couldn’t believe a fellow alum didn’t have my knife, so I lent her my 15K Jende Reed Knife for a couple of days. She was happy :)
Lisa Allen of Lisa’s Oboe Reedery
I also ran into Robert Huffman, a long time “disciple” of mine who has sat at my table over the years observing, and absorbing the whole reed knife sharpening process. He’s a recently retired oboist of the US Army Band, and while he completely understands the sharpening process, his results were driving him to the point of no longer playing the oboe. Then he found the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener (WEPS), which is an excellent guided sharpening system. Robert and I spoke about using the WEPS for reed knives several months ago, but when I saw him at the IDRS as an exhibitor FOR Wicked Edge, I was taken totally by surprise!
Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener for Reed Knives!
This was incredible news because I love my Wicked Edge, and Robert and I immediately went into the pros of using this system for reed knives – the most obvious is that it holds the angles for you. This is beneficial for repeatability, and for those players who might not have the dexterity needed for freehand sharpening on full sized stones, (which is the method I generally promote). For you double-reeders out there, I also happen to be somewhat of an *ahem* expert on the Wicked Edge, although most of my you tube videos and blogging with the WEPS have been kitchen knife and shaving related. In fact, a few of us, including Robert, sat around watching some of my favorite shaving videos on one of the nights :) Shave 1, Shave 2, Shave 3 (#3 is not for the faint of heart!)
Back on track here – the good news is that you can use the same Shapton stones that I use, or their major competitor, the Chosera stones which are custom cut to fit the WEPS. The bad news was that Robert didn’t have them at this show…. We’ll soon remedy that, though!
Back at my table, Things were moving along as usual – lots of people dropping off knives for sharpening. This year was a little different because I brought an extra sharpening station for people to sharpen by themselves. In the past, there is just not enough time for me to “let” people sharpen on their own. I’ve seen more and more knives coming back for their yearly service in much better condition, which tells me people are getting results – no doubt a result of the help from my Reed Knife Sharpening Book. :D It is also clear that more and more bassoonists are starting to get into sharp knives.
One of my self-sharpening visitors was oboist Aybegüm Şekercioğlu, from Turkey. She was very good at sharpening, and we had fun modifying my usual nickel and dime method of sharpening to using Turkish currency, which would help her students get good results when she returned home.
Turkish Oboist Aybegüm Şekercioğlu
In the middle of all the fun and noise, Nasty (the supermod from knife forums) and his wife paid us a visit at the exhibition hall. I was very excited that the meeting was actually taking place after all! With a little help from some friends and a small fortune in hush money, we got them in for a few minutes to show them what the IDRS was all about.
I showed Nasty my sharpening setup, and a few of the knives I was working on. We posed for the obligatory picture (otherwise it didn’t happen!) :
Nasty and Tom Blodgett
But then the real treat came when Nasty offered to give me a few pointers on my sharpening – it was an offer that I eagerly accepted. I like to learn from everyone, and it is clear from the footage below that Nasty truly is a master at his craft, and I walked away a better sharpener! :-D
We then headed into town for some lunch at Mac and Joe’s, Oxford’s oldest tavern, where we were able to talk in a quieter setting. Since we know Nasty and I are both respectful, but unmovable as far as our sharpening preferences, the conversation easily shifted toward life things such as our work and places we’ve lived. I can’t tell you more without having to kill you, but if anyone from the knife forums is driving through Ohio, it’s well worth stopping by to meet Nasty, who really isn’t so nasty at all. The only regret in meeting him and his wife is that our time was limited to just a few minutes at the show, and a quick lunch. This meeting was yet another amazing feather in the cap of this trip, though!
That was pretty much the peak of the trip! The next couple of days was full of sharpening, and showing off another reed knife prototype, this time made out of Bombshell Steel by Maestro Wu. It’s a single bevel, with the back side hollow ground. This one is left-handed, but there will be right handed ones available soon.
Maestro Wu Single Bevel Reed Knife -1
Maestro Wu Single Bevel Reed Knife -2
Maestro Wu Single Bevel Reed Knife -3
- Maestro Wu Single Bevel Reed Knife -4
With a quick wrap up of the table, and a 12 hour drive back to NJ, We made it back just in time for me to get some laundry done, grab that last slice of pizza, and head out to the airport.
This trip was a whirlwind 3 weeks, with so many great things happening. It already seems like an eternity since the Northwestern Summer Camp that started this whole journey off, and I can’t wait until next year’s trip!