Making Piccolo Pipes

by John Smith

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I recently swapped some technical info with Bernie Beeforth and received details for Piccolo pipes, thank you Bernie. Bob Minney had told me, years ago, that making Piccolos to the traditional drawings is anything but easy, for the amateur builder.  There are three pieces of wood, all with critical angles and grain directions, in the base; the chisel-shaped centrepiece being particularly difficult. It took me all morning to make just one base and it would have been impossible for me to make another 13 all the same, so I slept on the matter.  My modified design uses just two pieces of wood, eliminating the awkward part.

Painless Piccolo Pipes
Start with a block of nice wood, 2" x 1 7/8" x 15 /16" thick.  Drill the 5/8" hole with a Fostner bit (flat bottom).  Mark out the two parts, then with just four cuts, (starting with the small off-cuts) you will have made the two blocks, with their grains running in the correct directions.  Use these as patterns to mark out the blocks for the remaining pipes. The wood remaining at the bottom of the hole should be cut away. Make a simple jig to hold the bases upright then drill the air inlet holes. Use a sharp chisel to form the windway, but leave the 2mm at the end flat.  This is carefully sanded to the end with a small sand stick, (much easier than trying to chisel all the way). A piece of 1/ 32" ply is used to form the top of the air slit, and the same material is used for the mouth upper lip.  A cardboard shim sets the width and breadth of the air slit.

Tubes for piccolos are normally made from brass but I find, to my ear, that rolled paper or plastic ones give an identical sound. A big advantage with rolled paper is that you can make them with a gradual increase in their diameters, not just the three sizes normally found.  Finding a suitable paper can be a bit tricky, but I have had total success using shiny brochure type of paper.  Use watered-down PVA. glue, apply with a brush and work quickly, rolling about 5 turns around a suitable mandrel.  All the different sizes can be fitted to the same size base hole, just by wrapping an extra strip of paper around the tube bases.  The stoppers traditionally have threaded rods that allow the acorn to adjust the tuning, another unnecessary complication, so I chose to use simple stoppers with just a "decorative" acorn top.  A simple wooden plug with a strip of chamois leather wrapped around is suitable.  I always use a bamboo skewer for the shaft, the end should protrnde about half an inch above the top of the tube. With the tube and stopper assembly glued in place, the base parts can be held together and adjusted while you blow the pipe. When you have a good sound glue the base and windway parts on. Glue the upper lip on, preferably making the final adjustment to this on the organ wind supply.  These pipes were made for a small street organ and sound an octave above the melody pipes.

Click to see drawing
I will just give the dimensions for the top and bottom D:
Top D internal diameter=3/8".  Dimension 'A'=1 3/8", Dimension 'B'=2 1/2".
Intermediate sizes just graduate up to:
Bottom D internal diameter=9/16. Dimension 'A'=2 1/2", Dimension 'B'=4".

My first set of 13 gave a very nicely balanced sound without any problem, in fact these pipes just seemed to be waiting to burst into life. They seem to work on any pressure just getting louder with more air.  So if our old friend Bob Minney reads this, he could decide,. that he may, after all, make another set of Piccolos and I am sure he could give us all a few practical tips on organ building!

Click to see full-size drawing

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