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Some Notes
on the
Building of Bagpipes

Works in progress, Mainz,Germany


Note: This section is at an early stage of development - more material will be added soon.
For the moment, the purpose here is to give a very general overview of some of the things involved in the making of bagpipes. In the future, this section may contain specific information - plans, techniques, and so forth. This writer has been building bagpipes off and on for over thirty years and so has considerable information at hand, which will be shared here as time permits.

Many very early manufactured (as opposed to more or less used-as-found) wind instruments were of necessity made of naturally hollow or nearly hollow materials. Various plants, notably the grasses which include assorted canes and bamboos, have essentially hollow stems, obstructed only at the "nodes" (visible on the outside as annular ridges). A quick and popular method, probably employed for many centuries and in many places, for removing these obstructions was to burn them out - presumably with a hot bronze or iron rod of some sort. Fingerholes and, in flutes, mouthholes could also be created by the same method. Exterior work could be accomplished using scraping tools made of metal or flint.

The drill is an ancient instrument and is found in various early cultures. For example, drill-bits made of flint and attached with pitch to slender wooden shafts were used by Northern California natives to drill shell and bone. It would seem logical that any prehistoric culture using drills and playing wind instruments would put the two together, but this writer is unaware of any direct evidence on the matter.

Yet another ancient method of construction (as opposed to decoration), still employed in nooks and crannies of the world, is plain old whittling. The advantage of course is that the maker is not limited to material having any particular exterior shape or dimension - but to whittle the bore of an instrument requires that it be made in two parts, joined lengthwise after interior carving. Sometimes a bore will be drilled or burned, and the outside of the instrument then whittled.

So, there were, and are, a number of methods of creating a wind instrument with very few tools, but these techniques are slow and limited in many ways. The invention on which the entire art now turns, literally, is the lathe. The basic function of a lathe is to make odd shapes round, usually by spinning the work between two supports and applying a cutting or scraping tool to the rotating surface. The lathe is the most fundamental "machine" tool, and has been around, in many cultures, for a very long time. Early forms are hand-powered, using a bow-like device with a cord running from tip to tip; the cord is wrapped once or twice around the workpiece, and thus when the bow is moved back and forth with a sawing motion the workpiece rotates, back and forth rather than around and around, while a cutting tool is applied via the free hand. Foot-operated variations appeared, and at some point the crank was added to the system, eliminating the back-and-forth business. Refinements multiplied during the past several centuries and by the turn of the eighteenth century the lathe had become a highly sophisticated tool capable of handling much more complicated chores than presented during the making of a wind instrument.


To be continued...


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