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Cleaning brass reeds?

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Not horolene levels of shine, but vinegar has done a decent enough job, with just a slight rub with very fine steel wool for a good measure after the bath.


- 1/2 White vinegar diluted 1:1 or 1:2 with water.

- Teaspoon or two of baking soda

- Teaspoon of salt

- Some flak from the Mrs for using her kitchen.


Light tarnish gone within 2 hrs. Heavier stuff needs an overnight soak I think.



Edited by mChavez
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By the way, don't use this mix on steel reeds, they just seem to come out black... But the steel rivets seem to be fine.


Here's a problem: I'm missing a couple reeds; there's about half a dozen broken ones and a few reeds that were broken in the past and replaced with steel tongues.

I don't think having steel alongside brass is a problem, but the replacement ones are so poorly fitted, that I might as well take them out and do a much better job riveting new ones myself, without 0.5mm gap between reed and shoe 🤢. Half a dozen new reeds to be made.


The rivets are 1.5mm in diameter, and I can only work with 2.5mm or 3mm (don't have a punch that would work with anything smaller). I'm thinking of drilling the bottom rivet out to 2.5mm, but there's not enough room in the shoe to enlarge the top rivet, so I'll have to use 1.5mm-1.6mm.

Does anyone know a good source for 1.5mm or 1.6mm rivets?

Also, can brass or copper rivets be used for this job? (I've only used steel so far).

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1/16" (1.58mm) rivets are commonly available in the UK in brass, or steel. You'll probably need to shorten them.




By punch, do you mean one that forms a head on the rivet? I once made one from a cheap nail punch by grinding a small hollow into the tip using a diamond-coated ball bit in a rotary tool.

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Thank you.


Good idea about the modified nail punch for the head punch.


I use a slightly modified (to fit my tooling) method that was explained & demonstrated to me by a Russian harmonika maker, which comes down to:

1) Make the slot in the plate if making a new plate.

2) Cut a strip of spring steel (or any other valid material) and fit the tongue to the slot as tightly as possible. 

3) Use a deep throat punch to make the precisely placed rivet hole in the tongue's base. Usually the reedmakers build their own punches, as it needs to have enough space in the jaws for you to be able to place the tongue into the slot, and then, while holding them together, place the plate's rivet end into the punch & make the hole. This makes things a lot easier compared to making a hole first and then having to fit the tongue to the slot and the hole at the same time.

4) Profile the tongue, then rivet in any way you like (domed or flat).


Rather than trying to make my own with little relevant tools & skill, I bought a hand punch. Not the perfect solution, as the punching action is upside-down compared to what the Russians use (in their case the male part of the die is fixed and the female is moving, making life a lot easier), but it works.


Something like this works for thin plates (3mm max I think), but the smallest die is 3/32".



This one will work for thicker plates but the smallest die is 1/82":



If I need to do 2 small rivets, I can drill out the bottom, fit, punch, single- rivet the tongue, then just use a pillar drill to drill the second hole & rivet that one too.

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I see, I didn't realise you were talking about punching the rivet holes in the reed tongue. I assumed you were planning to make brass tongues to match the originals, so drilling holes in them wouldn't be difficult. I agree that drilling tempered spring steel may be a problem. If making brass tongues I would be inclined to look for some way to temporarily clamp or glue the tongue in position over the slot while you drill the holes, then remove and fit the rivets.

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Phosphor bronze, most likely, as I've got plenty of it. 

But it's the hole placement rather than the hole making that's hard. If you've fitted the tongue and then mis-align the hole, you're making a new tongue. slight mis-alignment can be fixed while riveting (that's the beauty of it) but not significant mis-alignment. With the punch method the hole is going to be exactly where it needs to be.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Reed cleaning went reasonably well until the last batch, where one soaking was not enough and I had to take the reeds out, give them a scrub mechanically and then stick them back into the vinegar and then clean again.

Also, using steel wool might not have been a very good idea, as a few steel strands got wedged between the reeds and the shoes. Might be a pain to pick them out of the slots.


A related question. Apologies for a non-concertina stuff, but the construction of this box is probably closer to a 'tina than a melodeon.

I've started cleaning up the reed blocks, but after 150 odd years, the reed beds are not perfectly flat. The more uneven the beds, to more air will leak out, right?

Any tips on making flattening these a bit easier than picking out high spots with a chisel?


Thank you.


On the treble-side reed block, running a dremel on a flat plunge-base might be an option?



Edited by mChavez
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Thinking out loud, I don't really care if the reed shoes are flat on their beds, as long as:

- there's a perfectly tight contact between the sides of the shoes and the sides of the slots;

- There's no gap between the bottom of the reed shoe and the lid gasket. But the reed shoes don't always seem to be perfectly matched to the length of the slots.


Any ideas on how to make this as airtight as possible are very welcome.

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No suggestions about making single reed shoes airtight in their slots? Come on, I thought that's what you concertina restorers do all day long ;)


I am leaning towards some sort of filler/putty...It may "ruin" the woodwork (epoxy most certainly will not be reversible. Wood filler - not so sure about that one), but if the whole block is leaking, one may argue that it's already ruined...

I really don't fancy making new ones from scratch at this point.

So, put a thin bead of wood filler into the slots, wax the brass shoe and slide it in, let it dry, then slide it out - something along these lines?


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Where would you glue it to? Bottom of the shoes? Slot sides?

I was thinking along the same lines to use olovisc - the stuff is tougher, but does not compress as well as suede.

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