How to make a set of highland pipes from PVC pipe.
NOTE: 16 additional photos and a sound sample of this instrument are available. Click here for information.
Click here for an illustration dealing with drone construction
(PLEASE NOTE --- the following instructions assume that you have, or can borrow, a full sized set of highland pipes for the sole purpose of using them to obtain proper bore, length and other measurements. This is BY FAR the best way to go. Realizing that many folks cannot thus obtain or borrow a set of real pipes, I have included measurements of my Hardie pipes. Click here to access these measurements.
A while back I built up a few sets of full-sized highland bagpipes (fully operational & actually quite nice sounding) out of pvc plumbing pipe, clear flexible plastic tubing, & naugahyde upholstery vinyl --- for total cost of about $5 (less reeds). I have had several inquiries about these simple pipes lately & thought I'd put some basic info on their construction on my webpage.
Click here for an illustration dealing with chanter and check-valve construction
Describing the construction of these pvc pipes may prove to be much like describing on paper just how to tie a shoe-lace! Will give 'er a go nonetheless. They're actually made from 1/2" light tan-colored CPVC not technically PVC but a "hot-water" version of pvc which is sold here at any hardware store in ten foot lengths. Some PVC tubing is used though, when larger diameters are called for & is CPVC not available in those diameters. The second main component is clear, flexible plastic tubing that is used in the medical profession (have also seen it in fish-aquarium applications). I buy this at the local hardware store. The bag itself is made of thick upholstery vinyl (naugahyde) -- the type with WOVEN nylon backing (the sort that has a nylon "fluff" backing is useless). My idea was to as closely as possible use the cpvc and clear tubing to duplicate the lengths and INNER BORE specifications of my set of Hardie (real) bagpipes. Exact duplication is nearly impossible but drones in particular are quite forgiving -- they'll work nicely over a fairly broad range of dimensions. Most of the lengths of the cpvc drones requires "sleeving" with the clear plastic tubing. By careful shopping around at different stores, I was able to find the clear stuff in varying INNER-diameters that closely approximated the real pipe's inner diameter. Once such clear tubing is cut to appropriate length, it is made to fit snugly inside the cpvc drone (using electricians tape wrapped at intervals along the length and at the ends of the clear stuff) then a gooey coating of pvc cement applied all over the clear tube and it quickly (if nervously) slid into the cpvc drone, creating a liner of sorts. This produced a very stable product. Once all sections of the three drones are thus constructed, the tuning slides need to be built. This is done simply by telescoping the last inch or so of a 5" long piece of the next larger diameter of cpvc pipe onto the appropriate part of each 1/2" drone-pipes section and pvc cementing in place. An inch or so of the proper end of the matching 1/2" drone-pipe section is roughened-up, coated with bees-wax then wound round and round with layers of waxed dental-floss. Enough floss is wound on to make a nice tuning-slide action when the two parts are inserted/slid together. In any event, at the bottom of each drone, an inch or so is roughened up with a file and a good multiple layer of waxed dental-floss is wound round and round. This is where drone plugs into bag. Before winding, I cement a sawn off piece of a coupling near the end (next to the floss windings) This piece acts as a stop so the drone-pipe cannot be inserted too far into the bag stock. The bagstock is simply a larger diameter cpvc (or pvc) section (5 or 6 inches long -- depending on whether it is a base or tenor drone). A groove is filed around the circumferance near the "in-the-bag" end to make a place for tie-in. That about does it for the drones -- except I leave a 1/2" or thereabouts length of the clear tubing hanging out at the bag end of each drone. This is where the drone reed plugs into. Bag is made of vinyl. Draw pattern on reverse side, Cut out -- Draw a line 1/2" from edge all around bag inside (this is "glue-limit-line"). Carefully rub in parafin wax to shade all areas NOT WITHIN this 1/2" margin that might get glued inadvertantly together when bag is folded over and weighted down. Then knead/work-in a copious amount of silicone rubber sealer (the type that smells like vinegar) into the entire 1/2" margin -- quickly but carefully fold over and weight with cement blocks, encyclopedias etc etc HEAVILY. Put ("sandwich") the pipe-bag between two layers of waxed paper first -- then put a big flat plywood piece atop it before applying the weights. Takes several days to properly set but produces a very nice pipe bag! I have used a vinyl bag like this for nearly ten years now (much later note: many many years later now!)on a demonstration set of smallpipes, that I used to play daily for the public at Fort Michilimackinac , all summer long -- with no ill effects! No sign of leaks and (surprisingly) NO problem with excessive moisture in the bag! When bag is done, put in pvc stocks as per normal.Click here for 6k jpg image of bag dimensions and proportions.
"Pre Note" (at a later date): Although a cylindrical, un-tapered piece of PVC (as described below) will work nicely, I have had better luck making pvc chanters by heating and then slightly tapering the pvc tubing itself, before the bondo etc is inserted. This somewhat corresponds to the outer taper of the "real" chanter. The illustration above shows how to do this tapering. The degree of tapering is not critical -- make it just enough to accomodate the size of the inside, conical taper. Chanter is made of 5/8" cpvc (or pvc) I first take a dowel-rod and carefully shape/taper it to match the exact inner bore of my Hardie chanter This is not hard to do. When done, I apply a good coating of parafin wax to this tapered rod --the wax keeps things from sticking. I fill the tube up with what we call "Bondo" here (primarily used to fill in auto dents etc. - you mix together two substances and within ten minutes the resultant mixture is rock hard.) Anyhow -- once thoroughly mixed, I PACK the goo into the full length of the 5/8" "chanter-pipe" then quickly but carefully jab the waxed dowel-rod the entire length of the pipe -- taking care that everything is centered in the 5/8" pipe. Once cured (overnight) the dowel is removed then the fingerholes are drilled using my "real" chanter as pattern) I always drill holes way undersize -- this allows for a lot of note pitch correction. Roughen up 1/2" or so of the end -- coat with bees-wax and wind on layers of waxed dental-floss (not before making a 3/4" long or so "stopping-collar" of the next larger diameter of pvc tubing -- as described in drone section above) Choose a pipe stock diameter that fits the flossed chanter-end nicely. It's a bit of a job making holes the right size (pitch) and the first chanater I attempted was thrown away in disgust! But it surely is possible, and satisfying when you get it right! I make the blowpipe by heating a length of 1/2" cpvc over a stove-flame and then stretching one end, rather like taffy, 'til one end is roughly 1/4" (or a bit larger) in diameter. Plunge in cold water and you have a nice permanent taper. A bit of clear tubing on the end gives one something to sink ones teeth into! Check-valve is made by jamming & gluing a wooden plug into end of blowpipe -- then drilling a 1/4" hole in plug. As I am winding on the dental-floss (for the blowpipe's "plug-in") I insert & wind in place a 3/32" wide strip of light tin or brass. This anchors what I call a reverse-flappervalve, which is made of thinner vinyl upholstery. Just a circle of vinyl with a "tail". This tail is tied onto the tin strip with several windings of dental floss and makes a very fine valve! I have taken to using this type of flapper valve in my Hardies too. A recent refinement is to roll-out with a rolling pin and waxed-paper, a gob of the same silicone sealer used to glue the bag & then fashion the flapper out of this material once dry. Works flawlessly.Click here for more info on making this check-valve
One last note -- vinyl bag is thinner than a real bag and tends to pinch-off air supply near chanter stock. I solve this in a rather crude, but effective, manner -- secure an 8" length of 1/4" or so screen door spring (!) (ends carefully tucked to avoid puncture) inside the chanter stock end of the bag. Allows ample air to pass by not allowing the bag to pinch. There you have it Far more than you wanted to know about pvc pipes eh!! These certainly aren't an award-winning set of pipes but they're pretty easy to build & a tremendous amount of fun -- not to mention being a heck of a conversation piece!Click here for more information on naugahyde/vinyl pipe-bag construction.
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Bye for now Dennis Havlena - W8MI web page http://dennishavlena.com/