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The following is an excerpt from a short article of mine in the Irish Pipers' Club's newsletter, "The Piper's Review", May 1988 (concerning the construction of a very functional half-set of Irish union-pipes built for a total of $12.12, less chanter) is submitted here in response to several recent inquiries on the subject:

"The material used is heavy-gauge upholstery naugahyde (vinyl).

Two types are sold at fabric stores -- the desired type has white woven nylon cloth backing. The other type which has loose, random nylon fibers as a backing, is unsuited for bag making. $3 to $5 per (52") yard is a typical price [in 1988 at least].

The glue required is 100% silicone rubber sealant -- the clear un-paintable variety which smells like vinegar and does not contain any fungicides. This glue is available at any hardware store.

  • Draw a line 5/8" from edge (3/8" in neck area) all around bag perimeter
  • Just outside of the marked 5/8" area and just up to the line carefully rub in paraffin wax (an inch or so wide). This keeps any squished glue from sticking the bag together where it's not wanted.
  • In the marked 5/8" area, THOROUGHLY but quickly work the silicone glue into the fabric backing, all the way around the perimeter(both halves of bag).
  • Fold in half along centerline and weight heavily between two plywood pieces, using waxed-paper sheets to keep bag from sticking to plywood. I use many cement blocks for weight. Let cure at least 24 hours.
  • Stock for blowpipe hole is cut as per conventional method, ditto tie-in.
  • If neck tends to pinch off chanter air, a length of clear plastic tubing affixed in the neck will remedy.

I've used bags like this regularly for 4 years [11 years now!] on both bellows-blown and mouth blown pipes and have never had a single failure or airleak. [despite northern Michigan's humid climate, have had very little problem with such a "non-breathing" bag when using for mouth-blown pipes !]. I used to stitch the bag perimeter in addition to using silicone glue, but have found this unnecessary.

The key to a good bag is to work the glue thoroughly into the 5/8" area and to use heavy weights during curing."

           _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _    
          /  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  \      apply glue all around
        /  /   1" band of        \  \ <-- perimeter 5/8" strip *
       |  | <- paraffin wax        \  \                 
       |  |    rubbed in all around  \  - - - - - -| <-- ( * 3/8" in neck)
       |  |    up to this line.        - - - - - - |        
       |  |                                        |
 5/8"->|  |<-                         / - - - - - -|
       |  |                         /   /- - - - - | 
        \  \ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  /   /      
          \  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  /        

Here's a Nice Little Device for Practicing Fingering...

Often, when first learning a tune and getting the fingering down, I'd find myself "playing" the tune on a pencil. Came up with this very simple and very quiet "whisper-chanter" that's one-up on the pencil in that it has sound - a rather important aspect of music. Two "modes" or levels of sound in fact:

  1. By placing the mouthpiece (fipple) end not between the lips, but rather against the lower (pursed) lip thereby blowing at the whistle-hole opening, a quiet but distinct, airy musical note is heard. Certainly loud/good enough for practicing fingerings etc. (Excellent by the way for late night noodling).
  2. If a bit more volume is desired, simply toot into the device like you'd blow into a normal tin-whistle. Stay in the low range and although the tone isn't spectacular, it does work as intended. I prefer "whisper-mode" (mode a) because here all the graces, even a grip from high "A", sound true.

What it is is a modified cheap tin-whistle. The $3 or $4 model made by Cooperman and sold widely is perfect for this conversion. Other brands are just as easily converted, but may require some tinkering to properly pitch.

Here's how to modify the Cooperman tin-whistle:

  • To the far end of the tin-whistle, solder (or glue) a 1 and 3/4" long piece of tubing (of a diameter that just telescopes over the end of the tinwhistle) (telescope it 1/4", so you've effectively added 1 and 1/2" to the length of the tin-whistle). Plastic tubing (felt-tip pen barrel etc.) (glued on) will even work nicely. The idea is to lengthen the instrument to create the low (little-finger) note. Hobby-store brass tubing is ideal, but you should be able to scrounge up something around the house --- I use 45/70 Trap-door Springfield rifle cartridges (these are demonstrated at the fort where I work) with the primer end sawn off.
  • Drill the 1/8" diameter little-finger hole (in-line with the other holes) 1 and 1/16" from the center of the lowest existing tin-whistle hole.
  • The thumb hole on the back side (also 1/8" in diameter) is located 1/2" "upwhistle" (towards the mouthpiece) from the centerline of the highest existing tin-whistle hole. Where the hole is drilled through the whistle's "soldering line/ridge" be careful to remove any stray bits of metal on the inside caused by your drilling.
  • Two of the existing tin-whistle's holes have to be enlarged to correct for pitch. Rather than just drilling a bigger round hole, I try to use the drillbit as a sort of crude metal router to elongate the holes "upwhistle" (alternately, a small rat-tail file does this nicely). The first hole to be enlarged is the 3rd top hole from the mouthpiece end. First enlarge this hole to 3/16" then bear sidewards with the drill in an "upwhistle and a bit to the left" direction (as viewed looking at whistle vertically, with mouthpiece up). Do this 'til the resultant ellipse is 1/4" long by 3/16" wide. (Bearing a bit to the left of center compensates some for the rotation of the drill and ends up drilling a more properly aligned ellipse). The last hole that needs enlarging is the 5th top hole from the mouthpiece end. In the same manner as above, enlarge this hole till the resultant ellipse measures 1/4" by just a hair over 1/4."
  • The 7th note of the resultant scale is way sharp for pipes. If this is a bother, you can flatten with a piece of tape positioned over the upwhistle part of the hole.

Please let me know if you make one of these. A bunch of us up here use these silly little things on a daily basis for learning tunes, practicing ornaments etc. Needless to say their use is in a very informal and "non-performing" manner -- whenever a real practice-chanter is either unavailable inappropriate or unhandy.

Cooperman "D" tinwhistles are available by mail from:

Jas Townsend and Son, Inc.      Amazon Drygoods
133 North First Street             2218 E. 11th Street
P.O. Box 415                             Davenport, Iowa 52803
Pierceton, Indiana 46562

Or from the "horses-mouth" --
Cooperman Fife and Drum Co.
P.O. Box 276
Centerbrook, Connecticut 06409

Dennis Havlena - W8UR
Piper and Fiddler (amongst many other duties) for the
Mackinac Island State Park Commission, Straits of Mackinac, northern Michigan
email: am854@freenet.carleton.ca
U.S. Mail: 3305 Tryban Rd., Cheboygan, Michigan 49721

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