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