Tag Archives | Pipe Maintenance

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



How to Look After Northumbrian Smallpipes

‘Rules’ for looking after Northumbrian Smallpipes

A well maintained set of Northumbrian Pipes will last a lifetime. If they are played, handled and stored correctly you will protect them from damage and they should only ever need minor maintenance to keep them in top condition.  However, it’s important to inspect them regularly and carry out a few checks to head off any problems.  There are also a few ‘rules’ it’s wise to follow to help avoid accidents.  Do remember that your pipes are very fragile so look after them well.


Northumbrian Smallpipes are safest when stored in a case. The delicate drones and chanter can be protected wrapped in clean cloths and inserted into plastic tubes. I recommend you use these whenever your pipes are not being played. Protect your pipes from excessive cold and heat, avoid storing them in direct sunlight or extremes of humidity.  Never put them down where they might be damaged.  People have put them on chairs where they have been sat on, or on beer tables in pubs where they have been spilt on.

If you are moving from one environment to another, the change might affect the reeds and they might need a short amount of time to settle down and play in tune.


Support the Pipes and the Stocks

Always handle with care. Handle your pipes by the two main stocks (the Chanter and Drone Stock) near the bag, and always support the chanter.  Do not let it dangle freely as it may fall from its stock and break. Do not lift the set just by the bag, the drones or the chanter.

Regular Checks

The joints holding the drones and chanter into their stocks should be tight enough so nothing moves but not so tight that they jam. Check them often.  The drone slides should slide easily to tune them, but should be tight enough to be air tight. The end caps are all held on with bindings and are not usually glued (unless you have a Burleigh set). With any set, some compression of the bindings is may occur and they may work loose. As the joints are made from wood and wood changes size with humidity, over time the bindings might loosen too. If they do you can wind a length of cotton thread (usually waxed lightly with bees wax) to make them hold again.


Following these simple ‘rules’ will prolong the life of your pipes and hopefully avoid any damage.  For more information about Northumbrian Smallpipes contact Kim@northumbrianpipes.co.uk

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