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MMD > Archives > February 1999 > 1999.02.25 > 11Prev  Next

Band Organ Pipe Construction
By Richard Vance

Mark Chester asked what power tool would be the best addition to one's
shop for making organ pipes.  I believe the best investment would be a
self-feeding planer, able to accept stock up to 8 to 12 inches width
(depending on the largest outside dimension of the pipes contemplated),
and with an adjustable throat height of the same dimension.  Makita and
others make such a thing, but we are talking $500, more or less.  By
following the steps that are involved in making wood pipes, one can see
where this tool would be very useful.

The diagram shows a cross-section of a standard wood pipe:

      ______________  ______
     |              |  C
     |__ ________ __| ___
     |  |        |  |
     |  |        |  |
     |  |        |  |  D   F
     |  |        |  |
     |__|________|__| ___
     |              |  C
     |______________| ______

     |  |(MOUTH) |  |
     |A |   B    |A |
     |              |
     |      E       |

1) The thickness of the side stock (dimensions A and C) is graduated
according to whatever scaling rule is used to 'ratio' all the other
pipe dimensions (except the length).  For example, for a rank whose
'scale' doubles every 16 notes: (An+1) = (An) x (16th root of 2).

The first step is to make enough stock of varying thickness to supply
the sides of all the pipes.  Dimension A and C are usually about 1/7th
of E for smaller ranks, and about 1/9th of E for big ranks.  With the
planer, this is easy to do, but it is not necessary to vary the
thickness microscopically for each note, only every 3 or 4 steps.
These stock strips are planed to dimension A and C, plus about 1/16"

I have never seen any pipes not made of poplar, and that is what the
modern suppliers use.  Theoretically it should be quarter-sawn to
minimize future warpage  of the sides, but this may be hard to get or
expensive.  Modern kiln-dried stock should be finished with most of its
bending by the time you plane it flat, to its preliminary thickness.

2) Now make stock for the 'blocks'.  Traditionally, these are
'end-grain', that is, with the grain parallel to the pipe sides, so
that they shrink or swell at the same rate as the sides.  These are
usually made by gluing together rectangular scraps, they don't have to
be one fat piece.  The segment of this laminated 'stick' that will end
up nearest the pipe mouth is often a 1/2" thick piece of maple, so the
thin bit which forms the 'languid' at the top of the block is stronger.

Plane the finished 'stick' to dimension E x (D+1/16") of a large pipe.
Saw off a hunk long enough to make the block (another story!), as well
as a 'slice' to be used as a guide in step (4), and another slice as
well if a stopper is to be made for a 1/2-length pipe.  Then plane the
stick to the dimensions of the next smaller pipe; cut off the blocks;
and so on...

3) Rip some of the side stock to make the two sides of the pipe,
dimension (D+1/8") wide, and a few inches longer than the total
finished length of the pipe.

4) After the block is made, glue it to one end of the side blank, and
glue the 'slice' the same way at the other end.  Then glue the other
side piece on this assembly.  One ends up with a sort of long hollow

5) Using the planer, trim the top and then the bottom of the open side
of this 'box', establishing the final dimension D.

6) Make strips for the back and front sides, dimension (E+1/8") wide.
Use one piece for the back, and make the cutback for the upper lip and
ears at one end of the other piece.  Inside-lip pipes are a lot easier
to make.

7) Now glue these over the open sides of the assembly.  No grooving or
other fancy work is used, just a flat, hot-glued joint.  Since the
entire pipe will be 'sized' or mopped internally with thin hot glue
after completion, you can work quickly, painting the entire inner face
of the boards.  The joint will stay hot until assembled without
worrying too much about where the excess glue inside the pipe will end

8) Using the planer yet again, plane both sides of the entire pipe, to
finally establish dimension E.  If you make the 'caps' a little wide,
ahead of time, they can be temporarily attached, and trimmed to width
in the same operation.

9) The only reinforcement usually used, especially at the top ends of
pipes with stoppers, are a few thin dowels.  Drill small holes through
the completed longitudinal joints, and insert these dowels from the

10) Take off the caps, and make two final passes through the planer,
finishing the front and back faces to the final dimension F, and at the
same time trimming the dowels neatly.

11) Now the bottom end of the pipe is sawn off square, thereby trimming
the block, all four sides, and the cap-block neatly and evenly.  Then
saw the top of the pipe off, so the pipe is now a little longer than
its theoretical length; ready for preliminary voicing.  This upper
scrap should be where the 'extra slice' of block ends up; it can now be
discarded after having served its purpose of keeping the interior
dimensions perfectly parallel during glue-up.

If you are clever with woodworking, you can think of a lot of other
labor saving uses of a planer in organ building.  The new models with
carbide mills and a good, micrometer-type gap adjuster, and using a
slow feed, will produce almost a mirror finish, requiring little or no
sanding.  By using it in steps throughout the assembly process, a
woeful amount of hand-joinery can be reduced to almost a
mass-production procedure.

Richard Vance

(Message sent Fri 26 Feb 1999, 00:26:14 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Band, Construction, Organ, Pipe

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