One note -- it'd be really hard to give exact dimensions for bore diameters, bore lengths chanter-hole size and spacing etc. etc., so the following info is set up to have at hand a "real" set of pipes, for constant reference as to these dimensions. In lieu of owning a set of "real" pipes, one could visit a piper friend with a set of rulers in hand!
Bye Dennis Havlena - W8UR email@example.com
A while back I built up a few sets of full-sized Highland bagpipes (fully operational and actually quite nice sounding) out of PVC plumbing pipe, clear flexible plastic tubing, and naugahyde upholstery vinyl --- for total cost of about $5 (less reeds). I have had several inquiries about these simple pipes lately and thought I'd put some basic info on their construction on the network here:
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 and CPVC not available in those diameters. The second main component is this 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.
Most of the lengths of the CPVC drones requires "sleeving" with the clear plastic tubing. By careful shopping around, 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 along the length, or even ends, of the clear stuff) then a gooey coating of PVC cement applied all over the clear tube and it solidly (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 and filed some then wound round and round with layers of waxed dental-floss. The floss is adjusted to make a nice tuning-slide action when the two parts are inserted/slid together.
Yes it is a bit hard to explain exactly -- hope you're still with me!
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 3/4" long section of the next larger diameter pipe to 1/2" pipe near the end (adjacent 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 bass or tenor drone). A groove is filed around the circumference 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 paraffin 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 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.
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 but does take an hour or so. When done, I apply bunch of paraffin 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 and wind on layers of 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 chanter 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 and 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 and wind in place a 3/32" wide by 1" long strip of light tin or brass.
This anchors what I call a reverse-flapper valve, which is made of thinner vinyl upholstery. Just a circle of vinyl with a 1/2" long (by 1/16 wide or so) "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 and then fashion the flapper out of this material once dry. Works flawlessly.
One last note -- vinyl bag is thinner than 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 dulled 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!! Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.
These certainly aren't an award-winning set of pipes but they're pretty easy to build and a tremendous amount of fun!
Bye for now
Wait! Don't Miss Part 2 of this article!!