How to make a set of highland pipes from PVC pipe.

NOTE: 16 additional photos and a sound sample of this instrument are available. Click here for information.

(PLEASE NOTE --- the following instructions assume that you have, or can borrow, a full sized set of highland pipes for the sole purpose of using them to obtain proper bore, length and other measurements. This is BY FAR the best way to go. Realizing that many folks cannot thus obtain or borrow a set of real pipes, I have included measurements of my Hardie pipes. Click here to access these measurements.

A while back I built up a few sets of full-sized highland bagpipes (fully operational & actually quite nice sounding) out of pvc plumbing pipe, clear flexible plastic tubing, & naugahyde upholstery vinyl --- for total cost of about $5 (less reeds). I have had several inquiries about these simple pipes lately & thought I'd put some basic info on their construction on my webpage.

Click here for an illustration dealing with drone construction

Click here for an illustration dealing with chanter and check-valve construction

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 & is CPVC not available in those diameters. 
The second main component is 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. Exact duplication is nearly impossible but drones in particular are
quite forgiving -- they'll work nicely over a fairly broad range of dimensions.

Most of the lengths of the cpvc drones requires "sleeving" with the clear 
plastic tubing. By careful shopping around at different stores, 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 at intervals along the length and at the ends of the clear 
stuff) then a gooey coating of pvc cement applied all over the clear tube and 
it quickly (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, 
coated with bees-wax then wound round and round with layers of waxed 
dental-floss. Enough floss is wound on to make a nice tuning-slide action when 
the two parts are inserted/slid together.

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 sawn off 
piece of a coupling near the end (next 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 base or tenor drone). A groove is filed around 
the circumferance 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 parafin 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 (much later note: many many years later 
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.

Click here for 6k jpg image of bag dimensions and proportions.

      "Pre Note" (at a later date): Although a cylindrical, 
      un-tapered piece of PVC (as described below) will work 
      nicely, I have had better luck making pvc chanters by 
      heating and then slightly tapering the pvc tubing itself, 
      before the bondo etc is inserted. This somewhat corresponds 
      to the outer taper of the "real" chanter. The illustration 
      above shows how to do this tapering. The degree of tapering 
      is not critical -- make it just enough to accomodate the size 
      of the inside, conical taper.
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. When done, I apply a good coating of parafin 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 -- coat with bees-wax and wind on layers of waxed 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 chanater 
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 & 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 & wind in place a 3/32" 
wide strip of light tin or brass. This anchors what I call a 
reverse-flappervalve, which is made of thinner vinyl upholstery. Just a circle 
of vinyl with a "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 & then fashion the flapper out of this material once dry. 
Works flawlessly.

Click here for more info on making this check-valve

One last note -- vinyl bag is thinner than a 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 tucked 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!!

These certainly aren't an award-winning set of pipes but they're pretty easy 
to build & a tremendous amount of fun -- not to mention being a heck of a 
conversation piece!

Click here for more information on naugahyde/vinyl pipe-bag construction.

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Bye for now
Dennis Havlena - W8MI
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