Chanter bore profile data

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Chanter bore profile data

Post by paddler »

I'm embarking on a long term project to make my own set of Uilleann Pipes. This may end up being a very long term project that never totally comes to fruition, but thats ok. I plan to start by making a chanter or two so I can spend some time experimenting with reeding them and comparing them against existing chanters I have, just to sanity check my processes before going much further.

So, the first step I'm about to embark on is making some reamers. I'm a flute maker and have lots of experience making flute reamers, as well as extensive tools for the task ... metal lathe, milling machine, various grinders etc. I'm not too concerned about the technical side of actually making the reamers, but I would like your advice about the chanter bore profile data that is out there.

I've studied some of the plans and associated data available on the Na Piobairi Uilleann site and have some questions relating to where to start and how to approach this. I should point out that I do understand how to interpret the data that is there, since I've actually done a lot of bore profiling of antique flutes and have produced similar data sets in various formats with and without ovaling data etc. Oh, and I should also point out that at this stage I'm primarily interested in making chanters in the D to C range, either wide or narrow bore, but not initially the lower flat sets (B, Bb, etc).

So, first, I wonder if any of you would be willing to share your thoughts on which of the available plans and bore profile data sets are the most reliable, in terms of being likely to result in a good playing chanter with decent tuning at A=440 hz, if followed meticulously? The sets I've looked at so far include the following: Lyons Rowsome in C, McKeon Rowsome in D, McLeod Garvin Kenna in C, O'Flynn Rowsome in D, Talty Rowsome in D, Mac Mathuna Coyne in C#, O'Mealy in C#, and the Harrington Rowsome in C#.

Are any of these are known to be particularly good, or particularly bad?

Are there other recommended plans and data sets available that I should know about? If so, where/how can they be obtained?

Second, I have noticed that some of the above sets have notes about rushes used in the original chanter. The dimensions of the rushes are sometimes listed along side the original chanter's bore data. This raises a question for me of whether to try to estimate the impact of the rush on the cross-sectional area of the bore and adjust the bore data (partially or fully) before making reamers for a new bore. The idea in doing this would be to try to produce a new acoustically equivalent bore that doesn't need rushes (or perhaps not such large ones). Alternatively, maybe I should try to faithfully reproduce the original bore profile and plan on using similar sized rushes in my new chanter?

I realize that there are probably good arguments for going either way here, and it may be both controversial, and perhaps just a question of personal philosophy/goals. But either way, I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on this.

I don't mind making several reamers and experimenting with several different prototype chanters, all of which may potentially end up being cast out. I'm a curious person and I enjoy learning by hands-on experience, and all of this is basically a retirement hobby. I just mention this to easy the concerns of those of you who may feel compelled to advise me to not waste my time, money, and labor on such a futile pursuit. I know that is probably good advice! :)
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Re: Chanter bore profile data

Post by nwhitmer »

Interesting that no one has replied to your message. I'll give it a shot.

I started making chanters in the 1980s. Not much available in the way of plans, & some of them were inadequate, some suspect.

For me the process began with learning to make reeds. I measured almost every chanter that came my way. But if I could not make a good reed for it, I did not try to copy it. I ended up modifying a design for which I could make good reeds.

I made a set of probes to measure bores. The probes also were used to check bores made with my reamers, and used to register depth of reaming. The probes were primitive compared to the standards of today. Conor Roche-Lancaster of NPU's Pipecraft Centre has done good work in describing what a good set of probes might look like.

One self-imposed limit for me was that I wanted a chanter design which worked with a reed with an extruded-tubing staple. Rolling staples seemed like too much work. As far as I could tell, this eliminated Rowsome-type designs from consideration.

After some years experience I made reamers from plans for a well thought of Kenna chanter in C. I could not make satisfactory reeds for the chanters I made. Very frustrating.

My guess is that most of the plans made available in the past 20 years are reasonably accurate. An accurate copy may still be a real challenge to your reedmaking skills. Making accurate reamers will take a lot of work. With these challenges, pick a plan or plans for the chanters which appeal the most to you musically. Or make your own plan, taken from a chanter you like.

All the best,

Nick Whitmer
Ithaca NY
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Re: Chanter bore profile data

Post by paddler »

Nick, thank you for your detailed reply. That information is very helpful.

I have already started trying to make reeds for a couple of chanters that I own, but I am still really a total beginner on that front. I was also hoping to be able to use cylindrical brass tubing for staples, and have a few different sizes to experiment with, but I had not realized that Rowsome chanters could not be reeded this way. So you've helped me avoid a first frustrating mistake right away. Thanks! Have you tried modifying cylindrical brass tubing to introduce a taper, for example via spin-swaging on the lathe using a custom made flaring mandrel? It is an idea I plan to experiment with (I've done it on larger tubing already for other purposes). It is quick and easy, but I'm not sure how easy it is to duplicate stable dimensions with high enough accuracy.

Regarding your failed attempts to reed the Kenna C chanters you made, was this because you used cylindrical stable tubing rather that the appropriate taper, or was it because the bore produced by your reamers did not match the data in the plans accurately enough. Or was it because the plans did not represent the original chanter accurately enough? Or maybe the original chanter was difficult to reed too?

Was it possible to take a reed that worked well in the original and try it in your own chanter? I think part of the trouble here is the difficulty in laying ones hands on a fine playing original set of uilleann pipes so you can spend enough time duplicating it part by part and interchanging the parts until the copied parts are as good or better that the original. This is basically the approach I have had good success with in my flute making, where I'm fortunate enough to have a large collection of very fine original antique flutes. By profiling their bores, making reamers and duplicate parts and swapping original and duplicate parts, one by one, I've been able to quickly narrow down on the problems and solve them, resulting in some very fine playing flutes. I have the feeling that a similar approach would be even more helpful in pipe making, where the variables seem to be even more sensitive and more multi-dimensional. The interaction between minute variations in reed dimensions and bore dimensions does seen quite daunting without having a way to isolate some of the variables (which is the motivation behind my original post, of course).

Back to staple dimensions. Are there uilleann pipe bore designs that are known to work better with cylindrical staples. For example, if wide bore Rowsome designs don't work well with cylindrical staple tubing, do narrower bore designs generally work better? I was initially thinking of trying to make a Leo Rowsome chanter, and maybe I'll stick with that and just start out by trying to make tapered staples accurately and reproducibly. But it would be nice to know of any chanter profiles that are known to be easier to reed.

Oh, and one more question. I'm located in Oregon, which generally has quite moderate humidity, but I am just east of the Cascade mountain range at the edge of the high desert country, so it is often quite dry here. Today it is very hot (110 F / 43 C) and very low humidity (under 30% in my workshop), but that is extreme even for here. Should I be looking at different reed materials other than cane? I think I read somewhere about pipers in Colorado using spruce for reeds in their climate (which is drier than mine) because of better stability in dry conditions.
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Re: Chanter bore profile data

Post by paddler »

I tried using the spin-swaging technique to make tapered staples from slightly undersized cylindrical brass tubing and it seemed to work quite well. I'll do a separate post to show how it works (probably in a day or two).
Once a suitable mandrel / swaging bit has been made, it is quite fast to produce tapered staples and they come out with very consistent size and shape based on the mandrel dimensions (slightly undersized compared to the mandrel, actually).

The mandrel and staples I made this afternoon were based on the Donnacha Dwyer dimensions and shape (part cylindrical, part tapered), from the NPU videos. Tomorrow I'll make another mandrel so I can make some based on the dimensions and shape specified by Benedict Kohler in his NPU video series. I am curious to see which approach will work better for the spin-swaging ... and of course ultimately for trying to reed my chanters.
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Re: Chanter bore profile data

Post by nwhitmer »

Good for you to have success with spin-swaging. I've never tried that. I have rolled staples from the flat. It's accurate and in some cases makes a big difference in how a reed behaves in a particular chanter. For example, following Benedict Koehler's advice I made a decent reed for Taylor chanter with a rolled staple.

As far as Rowsome chanters go, it may be possible to use tube staples. Perhaps by now someone has figured it out. I am recollecting conclusions I made 25+ years ago.
Regarding your failed attempts to reed the Kenna C chanters you made, was this because you used cylindrical stable tubing rather that the appropriate taper, or was it because the bore produced by your reamers did not match the data in the plans accurately enough. Or was it because the plans did not represent the original chanter accurately enough? Or maybe the original chanter was difficult to reed too?
I recall trying both tubing & rolled staples. For all the work I did making the reamers, I was expecting a home run in chanter quality. It was merely meh. Any or all of the factors you mention (flawed reamers, flawed plans, tough to reed) could have contributed. How could I tell? Thinking about it now, the best if not only way to tell would be to have the original chanter in hand for comparison. Not an option.

There are chanter designs that are intended for tube staples. The only makers I can think of at the moment are Tim Britton, from whom I learned a great deal, and myself. I am sure there are/were others. If a maker uses tube staples for their reeds, then I'd assume using this sort of staple was a factor in their design, although the maker might not acknowledge it.

Usually a chanter reed made from scratch in the same climate as it is intended to be played has a fighting chance. It's when it's taken to a very different climate that problems often arise. Denver to Atlanta, or vice versa. There are many tales of pipes arriving from Ireland to the states and the reeds not surviving the change. Part of the definition of a good reed is that it be stable over temperature and humidity changes. The very best reeds are exceptional & two aspects of exceptional are long life (years, decades, even) and stability in varying climate conditions.

I've made spruce reeds for regulators. They are more stable than cane reeds. I've heard spruce reeds in flat chanters that sounded fine. I've never made but have heard of concert pitch chanters with spruce reeds. I think I've heard of reeds of mahogany, but am not sure.

Nick
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