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MMD > Archives > January 2000 > 2000.01.11 > 11Prev  Next

Mitering Organ Pipes & Wood Pipe Construction
By Richard Schneider

Manda Clair Jost wrote about building the John Smith busker organ:

> On the advice from many prior builders, I am using traditional woods
> instead of the balsa wood which John suggested in order to produce
> a more affordable, lightweight, and easy-to-make organ.

Balsa wood doesn't strike me as a suitable material.  For one thing:
the air columns inside an organ pipe have vibrations that can cause
even denser woods to vibrate, and with balsa wood being so lightweight,
the tone that such a pipe would produce would be weak, at best.  Pipe
organ builders have the same problem when thin metals are used in the
construction of metal organ pipes.  It takes good thick walls and solid
stock to get a good tone out of the pipes.

> I have done some research on pipe woods, and have settled on
> white pine for the bodies, plus mahogany and oak for the fronts.

I question the wisdom of "mixing" woods like this for construction,
especially where glue joints are concerned.  The reason I'm concerned
has to do with the fact that there are different expansion/contraction
coefficients at work in the different species of wood involved. Conse-
quently, with the changes of season, the pipes can, quite literally,
"tear themselves apart" by the war waged between the different woods!

The same thing can be true with the mouth area.  If you don't build the
"block" with the grain running the same direction as the bodies of the
pipes (in other words: vertical!), the cross-graining will cause the
pipe to self-destruct with the changes in season.

> I would have preferred spruce, but couldn't lay my hands on any.

Sitka spruce has been long a favorite of organ builders.  There is a
builder in Oregon that uses the material almost exclusively. If you had
asked, we could have prol'ly found you some!

> The five lowest pipes need to be mitered ... Is there any acoustic
> or practical reason that the fronts of pipes are supposed to be made
> of hardwood?

Read above about the importance of the kind of wood selected.  The air
column doesn't care which side of the pipes it hits against.  In other
words, the front isn't in any way more important; it's the net effect
of hitting all four sides.  A rule of thumb is: the harder the wood,
the brighter the sound.  That's why wooden Violin pipes are frequently
made out of such species of wood as maple!

> Should I cut extra wood for the bass pipes so that the hardwood face
> will be continuous all the way around the pipe?

The concern is the joining of dissimilar woods, as I see it.

> Any advice would be appreciated.  By the way, so far, these little
> pipes are simply _gorgeous_ with their nice tight seams (we used
> a joiner), and the contrasting colors of wood.

Be sure you use a Biscuit joiner and "spline" the joints, and not just
butt-glue them, so they have enough strength.  If there's much of an
overhang, consider also adding support cleats and possibly battens over
the joints to render them air-tight.  Any amount of leaking here will
completely ruin the tone of the pipe!

Hope this helps!


Richard Schneider, Schneider Pipe Organs, Inc.
Kenney, IL  61749-0137

(Message sent Tue 11 Jan 2000, 20:27:13 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Construction, Mitering, Organ, Pipe, Pipes, Wood

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