Archive | Northumbrian Pipemakers Blog

Refurbishing a set of Northumbrian Pipes made by Errington Thompson

Northumbrian pipesHere’s an interesting set which I have on my workbench at the moment. The chanter stock and bellows stock are marked GG Armstrong. The set has been repaired at times.  For example some of the ivory drone ends have been replaced (with bone I think), and the large D drone is a different wood to the others.  Perhaps this drone is a copy using the original mounts..

The drones themselves are a different wood to the Armstrong marked stocks. They have rolled and tapered ferrules. The chanter is a very dark wood but I don’t think is Blackwood.

Northumbrian Pipes

Errington Thompson Chanter

The current owner knows some of its history. He says the original set was made by Errington Thompson of Sewingshields in about 1870, who also made Joe Huttons ivory and silver set. He says Armstrong carried out repairs to them and also taught his mother to play.

The protective cardboard tubes are marked ‘JM Hepple Cragside.’ John Hepple has recordings on the Northumbrian Smallpipes CD playing with his father George, and it was George who taught the existing owner to play.

Three of the four drone reeds are cane and were made by George and after cleaning the set up they played in tune straight away.

The existing chanter reed plays very brightly at about F#.

Colin Ross seems to have worked on the set at some point and fitted a split chanter stock. Interestingly, rather than a sponge insert it has a removable wooden washer with just a small hole through it.

Northumbrian Pipes

Joe Huttons Set

The only other set that is attributed to Errington Thompson is the ivory and silver set played by Joe Hutton.  I’ve learned from Julia Say that Joe’s set was a three way collaboration between Baty of Wark, James Reid and Errington Thompson. It has been stated – incorrectly – that this is impossible on chronological grounds, although Reid would have been an old man at the time, and possibly his part was limited to supplying plans and/or a set to copy. Baty was much nearer Errington Thompson, but used to travelling: His own sets are characterised (usually) by 3 part drones, something not followed (mostly, I’m aware there are a few) by other makers. Baty was also influential in that he gave plans to the Hall family and got them started. (And he also had the Vickers MS, of course). Cocks, in 1933, credited Baty with about 10 sets, not all of which have survived.

 

For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Reverse Tongue Drone Reed Adjustment

Setting up Drone Reeds

If your drones reeds have been made for  your pipes, they should stay in tune and play at an appropriate pressure indefinitely. However, environmental factors or knocks may lead to the need to make small adjustments from time to time.

If you have bought new reeds and need to set them up in your own pipes you might need to make some small adjustments to make them play at their best in your set.

The main reason you might wish to adjust your drone reeds is that they aren’t playing at a comfortable playing pressure.  You will know this because they either shut off and fall silent after you start them up but before you reach normal playing pressure, or that they don’t sound or start up at all.  The next most common reason to adjust them is because they don’t play at the correct pitch.  It is possible that the problem you’re having with them might be temporary so do give them a chance to settle to your playing environment for a couple of days before making any adjustments.

Before you make any changes it’s wise to check a few things-

  • Is the drone airtight – make sure there are no leaks where the drone meets the stock, where the slide meets the standing part or around the tuning beads or piston.
  • Is there any damage to the drone – check for cracks and breaks.
  • Is the reed seated firmly in the drone?

The reed design I make allows you to adjust either or both of the playing pressure of the reed and its pitch. All adjustments should be made in very small increments (less than 1mm at a time) as small changes can have big results. You might like to mark the position of the reed tongue and bridle on the body of the reed before making any changes. This allows you to put everything back as close to its original position as possible if necessary. If the reed doesn’t play, it might just need a little encouragement so try gently pulling up on the tongue a few times, and suck through the open end to get it going.

If you need to adjust pressure and pitch, always adjust pressure first

Drone Reed

Adjusting Playing Pressure.

The reed is set to play at a comfortable pressure (approximately 12” Water Pressure).  If the reed starts to play but then shuts off before playing pressure is reached, the tongue needs to be opened slightly.  If the pressure needed for the reed to play is too great the tongue needs to be closed slightly.

Hold the reed horizontally in front of you, with the reed tongue on top as in the picture.  You will see that on the left the reed tongue is loose and there is a small gap between it and the body of the reed.  The size of the gap is set by the position of the bridle (the thread wrapping) which dictates where the reed tongue meets the body of the reed.  The thread can be moved enough by gently pushing the left hand few threads with your thumb nail.  To close the tongue slightly, move the bridle to the left.  To open it slightly, move the bridle to the right.

Although this adjustment is done to manage playing pressure, you may notice a resulting change in pitch.  If this can’t be managed by adjusting the drone sliders, then you may need to move on and adjust the pitch.

Adjusting Pitch

This is controlled by the length of the tongue from its bridle to its loose tip.  If you wish to lower the pitch of the reed, the simple way is to gently stick a small piece of blue-tac near the tip of the tongue.  Alternatively, mark the position of the bridle then unwrap it.  Make the tongue longer by moving it to the left before re-wrapping the bridle.

If you wish to raise the pitch, you need to shorten the tongue by moving it to the right under its bridle.

Be patient
You may find you have to repeat or combine these operations over a few days until things stabilise, but with care you’ll soon have the reed set up how you like it.

For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Drone Reeds Made Simple

Rain or shine, if you are lucky, your drone reeds will sit happily in your pipes and sing beautifully whenever you play.  More likely, your reeds might sometimes seem temperamental and need an occasional tweak to keep them working in all conditions.  This is where having an understanding of how they work is useful.  Once we know this it’s easier for us to make simple adjustments to keep them playing at their best.  In this article we’ll look at the most common drone reed designs and how they work.

Types of Drone Reed

There are three common reed designs and these are shown here.

northumbrian pipes

The top reed is made from cane.  Similar reeds might be made from elder or other hedgerow plants.  David Burleigh probably made more of these reeds than anyone else and many of his sets still have them.      

The second reed has a brass body with a cane tongue bound on top.  If your pipes were made by Colin Ross you will probably have these reeds.

The third reed is a square section of drilled brass with a plastic tongue held in place by rubber bands.  Richard Evans and Mike Nelson have done much to develop this style and if you have their pipes you could well have this type of reed.

While these three reeds look very different, many parts are interchangeable.  For example, the tongues of the bottom two reeds can be made from other materials, so both types could easily be made with tongues made from cane, plastic, metal or carbon fibre – or any other suitable material.  What all three types have in common is how they work, and if we understand that we are well on the way to being able to maintain and adjust them when necessary.

The Parts of a Drone Reed

Drone reeds have three main parts – the reed body, the reed tongue and the bridle.  In the photo below you can see the body on the left.  The reed body is a hollow tube through which the air must flow as it passes from the bag to the main part of the drone and it forms the narrowest gap on this route. The air flows in through the slot on the top of the body and out of the tubular end of the reed body.  All reed types are designed to do this even though they may look different.

northumbrian pipes

The tongue is attached to the reed body at one end.  In this picture it is held in place with a rubber band.  Ross style reed tongues are tied on with thread and in all cane reeds the tongues are part of the body, where the tongue is split away from the body but remains attached at one end.  The other, free end of the tongue lies just above the inlet hole.  The tongue is slightly flexible.

 

The bridle is a rubber band or wraps of cotton around the reed body and tongue and forms the hinge point where the two are in contact with each other.  The bridle can be moved along the reed when adjustments are necessary.

 

 

How Drone Reeds Work

This is simple.  When we inflate our bag the air tries to escape.  One route out is through the hollow tubes which form the drones.  To escape, the air must pass through the reed body. Just like putting your thumb partially over the end of a hose to form a water jet, the air has to accelerate as it passes through the narrow drone body.  As it does so, Bernoulli’s Principle comes into play.  This says that as the air speeds up it’s pressure drops.  This means that the air pressure is higher just before it gets to the reed but lower inside the reed body.  Because the tongue is flexible, the higher air pressure on top of it and the lower pressure below it pushes it down and it blocks the inlet hole in the body.  As the flow is blocked the air pressure equalises and the elasticity of the tongue causes it to spring open again.  Once it is open the whole process is repeated, opening and shutting the tongue against the reed body – very quickly!

Northumbrian pipesI like to think that the tongue operates a bit like a school rule overhanging the edge of a desk.  Press down and release the free end and the rule vibrates and makes a sound.  You can change the pitch of the sound quite easily.  By lengthening the overhanging part you increase the mass of the rule and the pitch drops.  You can achieve the same thing by keeping the length as you first had it but add sticky tack on the end.  In the reed, it’s the air pressure changing which causes the tongue to vibrate and make the sound.

Managing the Variables

For the reed to work properly a few variables need to be managed.  Firstly, in order to sound a note at all the tongue needs to be flexible enough to be bent by the air pressure changes so it can shut off the air flow through the body.  However, it also needs to be elastic enough to spring back open afterwards.  This means that if the tongue is too stiff the air pressure won’t be able to bend it to close the reed.  If it’s too flexible it won’t be strong enough to spring back open.  The reed maker must select the material and dimensions of the tongue to allow this vibration, and set the gap between the drone body and the tongue to match the degree of swing of the tongue.  The gap is usually set by bending the tongue if it is made from cane or by leaving the tongue straight but shaping a bend in the body as in the picture below.

 

Once made and sounding, the maker will aim to make the reed as stable as possible.  By stability, we mean that it will play at the bag pressure we like and it will play at the same pitch even if we make small changes to the bag pressure as we play.  This can be achieved by adjusting a bridle.

Northumbrian pipes

In this photo you can see two rubber bands.  The one on the right is simply to secure the tongue to the body.  The band on the left is the bridle and this is used to make the reed more stable.  When playing, if the reed note goes up unacceptably as bag pressure increases you can make it more stable by moving the bridle to the left and shortening the tongue.  If the pitch drops as pressure increases then move it to the right and lengthen the tongue.

You can do this with all types of reeds.  For cane reeds you will see a thread bridle which you can slide up or down the reed.  Cane reeds don’t need the second elastic band shown in the photo above as the tongue and body are physically joined and not separated when the reed is made.  The Colin Ross style reeds don’t have separate rubber bands but instead have thread wrapping which both joins the tongue to the body and acts as a bridle.  There’s usually enough spare thread to add a few more wraps if you need to shorten the tongue or you can unwrap some thread to lengthen the tongue.

Once the reed is stable you might need to adjust the pitch slightly for the drone to play in tune.  As we saw above, this can be done by adding mass to the tongue to lower the pitch.  For all three reed types you can add a small piece of soft wax or putty to the end of the tongue, like we did to the school rule earlier.  Pitch can be increased by a small amount by reducing mass at the tip of the tongue perhaps using sandpaper.  For the Evans style brass/plastic reed, the tongue mass can be changed by moving the tongue itself along the drone body while making sure that the bands don’t move.

Hopefully, your reeds will be trouble free, but if you do end up with reeds which don’t work often the first thing to do is give them a clean.  If they still dont work then I’d encourage you to experiment with some of these variables we’ve looked at here.  The sequence I would follow is-

  1. Can I get it to sound? Experiment with the tongue stiffness and gap between the tongue and body.
  2. Is it stable?  Adjust the bridle.
  3. Is it at the right pitch? Adjust the tongue mass.

You have nothing to lose by having a go, and as your skills develop you can even start making your own reeds and become more self-sufficient as a piper.

For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Another Set of Northumbrian Smallpipes Leaves the Workshop

I’ve just finished another keyless set .  It’s a lovely set with three drones in blackwood, imitation ivory and silver plated metal work.  Composite reeds were requested which are nice and punchy and the chanter sounds great with them.  Here’s a video-

For more information about Northumbrian Pipes contact me on Kim@northumbrianpipes.co.uk

How to Make Northumbrian Smallpipe Chanter Reeds

Northumbrian Pipes chanter reeds have been in demand a lot recently.  Quite a few people have ordered them and I’m also making them for sets I’m fettling and the sets I’m making too.  I usually make them up by doing each step in batches as it’s quicker than making them individually.

Gouging the Cane

Thinning the centre and Shaping the Ends

With the cane split the first step is to gouge the cane to the required thickness.  Then I need to thin the centre part as this will be form the lips of the finished reed.  Once this is done the reed slip is folders in half.  At the same time I’ll shape the ends as this is where the cane will be fixed to the staple.

The staple is a piece of metal tube which plugs the reed into the chanter.  The staple is inserted in between the shaped reed ends and then whipped on with thread.  Once this is done I’ll leave the reed to rest for 24 hours.

The next step is the thin the lips of the blades through a combination of sanding and scraping.  This takes some time and every reed is different so there is no set thickness or measurement to work to.  Instead, I test the reed by sucking through it until it sounds right.

Finally, the reed is finished off by testing it in a good chanter and any final sanding is done until it plays well.

If you’d like more information about how this is done, then you can watch some videos showing these steps here.

Contact Kim@northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Folded Cane Slip and Staple

Northumbrian Pipes Chanter Reed

Repairing a Broken Chanter

I received a phone call last week from a piper who had had an accident with their pipes.  The pipes were safely on a table but somehow a book fell off the shelf above and landed on the chanter, snapping it into several pieces.

Broken Chanter

Northumbrian Smallpipes are very delicate, and if they do break it’s often across a weak spot near the top of the chanter.  The walls of the chanter are only a couple of millimeters thick here and the break often crosses through two tone holes where the chanter is weakest.

The Chanter is Broken in Three Places

In addition to the break across the neck of the chanter, one of the key blocks had broken away.  There were also several chip fragments which the owner had collected up and posted to me too.

After evaluating the damage, I checked to see if I had all of the parts.  It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle working out where all the smaller parts fit.  The breaks were quite jagged.  This is a good thing as it provides a large surface area which gives a better chance of the adhesive taking and should result in a stronger repair.

A question the back of my mind was the longevity of any repair I could do.  As well as being perhaps the weakest point on the chanter, this is perhaps the area where most force is applied when taking the chanter in and out of the chanter stock too.  It would be no good if I completed the repair only to have it fail when the chanter was used.

I considered several options.  The simplest was to use an adhesive and then use a combination of wood dust and glue and gentle sanding to get as near to an invisible repair as possible.  More complicated repairs might involve making and inserting a new piece into the break after cutting back some of the broken area.  The chanter would then be re-bored and finished externally.  This involves much more work but could give a stronger repair in some circumstances.  As a last resort, the keys could be saved and re-used and a new wooden part made.

After much thought I decided to go ahead with an adhesive repair.  The break was quite jagged and ran along the chanter rather than straight across.  This presented a relatively large surface area for the adhesive to bond which would be relatively strong.  When I fitted the pieces together without glue, they actually held together very well and supported their own weight, so I was confident that an adhesive repair would do the job.

I spent some time practicing putting the pieces together without any glue.  It was like putting together a three dimensional jigsaw, and there was a definite order which had to be followed to get all the pieces to fit together properly.  I then decided a CA Glue would be the best to use.  A very thin layer is used on close fitting surfaces.  It does not fill spaces like an epoxy does, but dries quickly and results in a very strong bond.  This is where practicing assembling the repair comes in, as once the glue is applied I would only have one chance to put each piece in place accurately.

Initial Bonding Complete

This part of the repair went well.  All the parts fitted together well and the time spent practicing assembling the chanter had paid off.  After gluing it back together I left the chanter for a couple of hours to give the adhesive a chance to bond fully.

After the Repair had Stabilized

Now that the repair was stable I needed to finish it cosmetically.  Some hair lines were visible where the break had been repaired and there were some imperfections in the surface.

These were addressed through a combination of adding material and sanding material away.  Material can be added by applying a thin layer of CA glue to area which needs building up and adding Blackwood dust while the glue is still wet.  The finer the dust the better, and layers can be built up until enough material has been added.  The area is left to dry and then sanded with very fine sand paper.  I use 600 grit but change to 1200 grit to get a really smooth finish.

With care, this produces an almost invisible repair.  Once this has been done I can complete the cosmetic finish by polishing the area with a small buffing wheel.  The end result was really good and I was very pleased, but my work wasn’t finished yet.

The next step was to check the bore.  I probed it very gently checking for micro-steps in it’s smooth surface, and very gently reamed any out.  The final part of the repair was to refit the keyswhich I had removed from the wooden parts before carrying out the repair.  Finally, it was the moment of truth – I fitted a reed and tested it out.

I was delighted – it played beautifully and had a lovely tone.  The tuning was fine and the repair was complete.  And now for the best part – I could ring the owner and let them know that the repair had been successful.  They were overjoyed!  They had bought the chanter new from the well respected Pipemaker Bill Hedworth in the late 1960’s.  They had then taken it to Colin Ross for tuning and finishing so it had a good pedigree and they had been playing it ever since.

The Repaired Chanter – Front

The Repaired Chanter – Back

For more information on Northumbrian Pipe Repairs contact Kim@northumbrianpipes.co.uk.

Composite Drone Reed Adjustment

Composite reeds often have brass or wooden bodies and either plastic or cane tongues.  Wood and metal tongues have also been used and recently, people have experimented with carbon fibre.  The quest is on the find the material combination which gives the best drone reed!  The design I use is very stable and here I will describe how to make any adjustments you might need.  Reeds of other designs can be adjusted by following the same principles.

If your drones reeds have been made for  your pipes, they should stay in tune and play at an appropriate pressure indefinitely. However, environmental factors or knocks may lead to the need to make small adjustments from time to time.

If you have bought new reeds and need to set them up in your own pipes you might need to make some small adjustments to make them play at their best in your set.

The main reason you might wish to adjust your drone reeds is that they aren’t playing at a comfortable playing pressure.  You will know this because they either shut off and fall silent after you start them up but before you reach normal playing pressure, or that they don’t sound or start up at all.  The next most common reason to adjust them is because they don’t play at the correct pitch.  It is possible that the problem you’re having with them might be temporary so do give them a chance to settle to your playing environment for a couple of days before making any adjustments.

Before you make any changes it’s wise to check a few things-

  • Is the drone airtight – make sure there are no leaks where the drone meets the stock, where the slide meets the standing part or around the tuning beads or piston.
  • Is there any damage to the drone – check for cracks and breaks.
  • Is the reed seated firmly in the drone?

The reed design I make allows you to adjust either or both of the playing pressure of the reed and its pitch. All adjustments should be made in very small increments (less than 1mm at a time) as small changes can have big results. You might like to mark the position of the reed tongue and bridle on the body of the reed before making any changes. This allows you to put everything back as close to its original position as possible if necessary. If the reed doesn’t play, it might just need a little encouragement so try gently pulling up on the tongue a few times, and suck through the open end to get it going.

If you need to adjust pressure and pitch, always adjust pressure first.

Adjusting Playing Pressure.

The reed is set to play at a comfortable pressure (approximately 12” Water Pressure). If the reed starts to play but then shuts off before playing pressure is reached, the tongue needs to be opened slightly. If the pressure needed for the reed to play is too great the tongue needs to be closed slightly.

Hold the reed horizontally in front of you, with the reed tongue on top as in the picture. You will see that on the left the reed tongue is loose and there is a small gap between it and the body of the reed. The size of the gap is set by the position of the bridle ring which dictates where the reed tongue meets the body of the reed. To close the tongue slightly, move the bridle to the left. To open it slightly, move the bridle to the right.

Although this adjustment is done to manage playing pressure, you may notice a resulting change in pitch. If this can’t be managed by adjusting the drone sliders, then you may need to move on and adjust the pitch.

Adjusting Pitch

This is controlled by the length of the tongue from its bridle to its loose tip. If you wish to lower the pitch of the reed, make the tongue longer by pushing it to the left from its fixed end so that it moves under the bridle. Make sure the bridle doesn’t move when doing this or the playing pressure may change.

If you wish to raise the pitch, you need to shorten the tongue by sliding it under its bridle to the right. You can do this by holding the bridle in place and pushing the flat surface of the tongue with your thumb. Do not push the loose end of the tongue and it may bend out of shape.

Be patient
You may find you have to repeat or combine these operations over a few days until things stabilise, but with care you’ll soon have the reed set up how you like it.

For more information about the Northumbrian Pipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

 

 

Making a Set Of Northumbrian Pipes

Making the Drones

There is no single ‘right way’ to make a set of pipes.  When I started making Pipes, I gained valuable advice, tips and guidance from many of our leading pipe makers. Problems were encountered and solutions worked out and it can take some time to reach the stage where you have practiced methods and processes for making sets. Processes continue to develop, and the methods and designs I work from change and evolve with almost every set, but it seems appropriate to share these to help anyone interested in pipe making either now or in the future.

Once the specification of a set has been agreed, the first step for me is to prepare all the wood. This is bought in various sizes so I cut pieces to slightly larger than I will need and label each piece so I know where it will fit in the set. I like to make sets from the bottom up, so I then start on the stocks.

For the stocks, I start with the sections of wood and the brass tubing to make the ferrules. The drone stock is the most complicated, but the steps to make it are straightforward.

Using the lathe, I roughly shape the stock and drill the sockets for the drones. The brass ferrule is tested for fit.

The outside of the stock is shaped.

The inside of the stock is hollowed to shape

Sanding and polishing completes the stock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the Stocks are completed, I start work on the drones themselves. This is where personal taste in design really starts to come through and drone design can be very helpful when trying to identify the maker of a particular set. My own taste is fairly simple and delicate, and I make two specifications of drone and the difference is purely in the amount of decoration. The drone in the next picture is a simple shaped piece of Blackwood, whereas my fully mounted sets have the addition of metal ferrules and imitation ivory mounts.

The standing part is bored and then shaped on the lathe

The sliding part of the drone can then be made. Again, a fully mounted set will have more decoration and I make these with wood lined ferrules, whereas the standard sets have a simple brass tube ferrule and less decoration.

Brass for the drone ferrules is shaped on the lathe

The drone sliding pieces have been bored and shaped. The cork lining for the tuning beads has been attached and wrapped with thread to hold them in place while the glue dries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drone End Caps

The next task is to make the drone end caps and piston rods. These have some of the very smallest parts of the sets – the washers to hold the waxed cotton in place which seals the drone off when the piston in closed. These are made from brass rod, drilled with a 2mm hole and shaped to fit the bore of the drone.

Once all the parts for the drones are made, I loosely assemble them to check everything fits, but leave the thread wrapping and final attachments and fittings until the whole set is finished and fitted to the bag.

A completed Fully Mounted drone set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making The Chanter

Making the chanter for a set is very rewarding. One of the things I really enjoy about making pipes is the broad range of work to be completed. Wood needs to be bored and turned, key blocks formed, keys forged and fitted and the whole process requires high levels of concentration to ensure accuracy and a good end result.  Here, I’ll go through some methods you might employ to make a chanter.

Blanks for a 17 key set, two seven key sets, a four key set and two keyless sets

Previously, we looked at making the drones and the first stage of making the chanter is the same – I drill the bore through a wood blank and turn it to a cylinder on the lathe. For a keyed set, the next thing to do is narrow the blank down to the final diameter of the chanter, but leave the blocks on and in the right place for any keys to be added. Careful measurements are needed to ensure the key blocks are in the correct place, and this process can be started on the lathe.

 

Milling the excess block away, cutting key slots and tone holes.

I then refine the blocks, as they are not needed around the full circumference of the chanter, so I remove the excess using a router mounted on the lathe. This is also a good time to cut the key slots and drill the tone holes. Again, the utmost concentration is needed to make sure the right part of the block is cut away and the holes are accurately positioned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The slot inserts glued in and drying.

I like to line the key slots with a metal insert. I’m sure in the long term this prevents wear and keeps the key true within its track (although there are many very old and well used sets which are just fine without this), but I do like the look of the linings so there’s an aesthetic element too. Very thin sheet metal is shaped to fit and is then glued in place. A wooden former is used to ensure a tight fit while the glue dries.

 

Phew ! All being well the holes and key blocks are all in the right places around and along the chanter. Now’s the time to relax, have a slice of cake and do something else as concentration levels have been high!
Once the glue is dry, I remove the wood former from the slots and file and sand the chanter to bring it to its final shape and finish.

Filing and Sanding to shape

Polished and ready for keys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Chanter Keys

Key making is next. I really enjoy making keys as each one is individually shaped and sculptured, not only to fit and work well but to look good too. It’s time consuming and can’t be rushed, but is a major part of how a finished chanter will look so is worth taking the time over.

Brass bar is cut to length. The end is hammered and filed to form the outline shape

Each key is filed to shape and tested for fit and the key pad is soldered on. The keys should look good as a set, not just individually

Springs are made and riveted to the key body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s it! There’s still work to do – the pads need to be added, the reed fitted and the chanter voiced, but I like to do this when the set is assembled. For now, it’s time to put the chanter to one side and start work of the bellows and bag which will be covered in a future article.

7 Key Chanter

 

 

 

For more information about Northumbrian Pipes contact me on Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Leather Stitching Tool

Bellows Stitching Tool

I’ve just bought this ‘Automatic Awl’ and I’m testing it out making a set of bellows.  Until now, I’ve been stitching bellows using saddle stitch, using two needles.  This is quite time consuming as I have to mark and make the needle holes in the leather with an awl first, then stitch with the needles.  This new tool does both of these jobs in one go.

It took a bit of setting up to use the thickness of thread needed for bellows, and some practice to use it properly, but I’m very happy with it now.  It produces excellent results in less time than my old method.

For more information about Northumbrian Smallpipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

Interview in the Northumbrian Pipers Society Journal

Back in 2016 I was interviewed for an article for the Journal of the Northumbrian Pipers Society.  Here’s the interview which gives some history about how I got into piping and pipemaking and who helped me along the way.  I’m very grateful for all the help I’ve received – people have been so generous.
1) You first surfaced as an NPS member whilst living at Leaplish up at
Kielder. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to the pipes, where
you’re from, and so on.
I’d been playing for a year or so before then.  I moved up to the North East when I left university.  We used to live in Whickham and I married my wife Lynda, in 2000.  I’m not keen on wearing jewellery and didn’t want a wedding ring, so I asked for a set of pipes instead!  I’d seen David Burleigh featuring on a local TV programme so we went to visit him and placed an order.

2) Did you play other instruments before, or have other musical interests?
I’d played the usual crop of instruments and even sang in the Church choir as a child.  I learned to play the piano and recorder when I was young and the guitar as a student and wanted to learn something new.  I’d always been aware of the pipes but didn’t know a great deal about them.  I think there are a lot of benefits to starting early in life.  I find I can now find my way around most instruments fairly quickly, and bash out a simple tune or two!

2a) (whoops) – who taught you the pipes? How have you found your
interaction with the piping / competition world in terms helpfulness,
progress  etc
When we picked up my set from David he asked if I had a teacher.  He offered to teach me himself, but thought  perhaps it was too far to travel.  Instead, he gave me Roland Lofthouse’s number.  I rang Roland who kindly agreed to take me under his wing and I went to him every fortnight for a year or so.  I really appreciated his tuition.  Nearly all the tunes were new to me and he gave me a really good technical grounding and established a good traditional repertoire.
We then moved up to Kielder.  I was managing an outdoor centre there and I wasn’t able to visit Roland anymore.  We started a family and with two young girls and a busy job I stopped playing too.  One day, my eldest daughter asked me about my set and why I didn’t play them any more, and she said I should start playing again.  So, after a gap of several years I started to play at home and then saw the Whitley Bay course advertised.  I thought this would offer a good route back into playing and might help me make some connections, so I went along and had a great week.
Andy May and Chris Ormston were tutoring and both offered different but appealing approaches, so I went along to see each of them for lessons occasionally.
As with most pipers, when people find out you can play they ask to hear.  I’d really only been playing at home until this point, but wanted to be a confident enough player to play in public and thought the competitions would be a great way to do this.  With this in mind I entered the intermediate and a couple of open class events in 2015 with some success!

3) Tell us a bit about pipers who kayak, or kayakers who pipe! Are you
the only one? You seem to be playing the fiddle as well now, and fit
that in on Shetland courses!
mmm..  I think I’m the only one who plays the Northumbrian pipes although I know of a couple who play the Scottish pipes.  But there are plenty of musical kayakers.  I’ve been on sea kayak or canoe trips to lots of places and we’ve had memorable campfire sessions in Alaska, Norway and throughout Europe.  The pipes aren’t very portable though, so it’s usually been a whistle which can be easily packed away.  I’ve made a lot of good friends in Shetland and many of the sea kayakers play the fiddle.  I started to play the fiddle a couple of years ago to help my daughter learn.  It’s always had the reputation as a difficult instrument, but I found it relatively easy probably as a result of learning to play the pipes!

4) What made you decide to start making pipes. Obviously kayaking must
be a seasonal thing: do the two mesh together well?
I started maintaining my own pipes almost straight away.  After playing for a month or so, one of the cane drone reeds started playing up.  I diligently followed the written instructions which came with my set and passed the reed through the flame of a candle.  After I’d stamped out the flaming piece of carbonised cane and run my fingers under the cold tap I decided it would be useful to learn how to make my own.  I started by copying what I had and soon got the hang of it.
One day, Andy May asked if I was interested in making pipes and I dismissed the idea but I think a seed was planted.  By the time Julia organised a bag making workshop with Jackie Boyce I had already started to make chanter reeds.  I’d reached the stage where I could make the bags and I could make the reeds, so I only needed to fill in the gap between them and I’d have a full set!  It seemed like a logical step to make.

5) What skills did you have beforehand – and what have you had to do a
crash course in?
The main asset I have is a believe that we can all more or less learn how to do whatever we want to if we get on with it.  I’d already learnt how to use lathes and other workshop machinery at school, and my Father had taught me a lot of practical skills too.  I visited Julia, Barry and Andy for start up advice and a shopping list and set up a workshop in my garage.  Luckily, I enjoy problem solving.  For my first set I used the information on Mike Nelsons website and spent 95% of my time head scratching and 5% actually making.

6)  Pipe design and style – what are you hoping to go for? How do you
view the functionality v. aesthetic debate?
My first set was definitely functionality – could I make something that works?  When I knew could I started to think about the aesthetics.  My own taste is for something fairly traditional looking but without being too ornate.  I like a more delicate look too.  The look of my sets is still evolving as I think through new ideas or am inspired by something I’ve seen.  Now, the functionality is paramount, but much of my motivation comes from the pleasure of making something which looks good.

7) Have other pipemakers been helpful – who did you talk to / get
lessons from?
Yes, very helpful.  I was able to see David Burleigh and Colin Ross at work before I started making, and Julia and Barry Say and Andy May have all been really helpful.  Richard Evans and Francis Wood have offered remote advice too which is very much appreciated.  I think most have gone through the same problem solving process as I have, and we’ve often come up with out own pragmatic solutions and preferences.

8) How easy was it to assemble the necessary equipment and materials?
It was very easy.  The main purchase was a lathe.  Once I knew what to look for I went to look at several second hand ones.  Most were deathtraps and best avoided.  I decided not to buy a cheap one offered to me when I counted the number of fingers the owner had and noticed that I had more.  But Andy pointed me to a dealer in South Shields.  They had a few in stock and I was able to buy one there and then.  I bought some materials from the NSP pipe making stock for two sets but now source all materials directly.  Most of the materials  are readily available and many of the tools are standard.  There are some specialist tools needed, but these are often adapted from existing ones or made from scratch, and not too complicated.

9) What are your plans for the future?
I’ve just moved to Byrness and have set my workshop there.  Kayaking is seasonal, and often means working weekends so I do have plenty of time for pipe making.  I have orders for sets ready to go and people are coming to me for fettling too, so I’m just going to carry on doing what I’m doing, but aim to do it better.
Things have moved on a lot since this interview, so for more information about the Northumbrian Smallpipes contact Kim@Northumbrianpipes.co.uk

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