Tools of the Trade: Looming Pins and Cordwangler

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Looming Pins, close-up

Looming Pins, close-up

Over the years I have honoured several of my tools by giving them specific names. In a previous edition of Chanter I described the Goodacre’s Razor, an invaluable tuning tool, which I named in honour of Mr Occam, of Ockham (a small village in Surrey), who may- or may- not have actually even existed.

I seldom have an opportunity these days to use my Blandaderstiddle, now that all my drone reeds are all made from plastic. This is a nifty little device with a minor (piano key) ebony handle that I made to tweak cane drone reeds. I got the name from a wonderful E L Wisty monologue by Peter Cook (Google Tragically I was an Only Twin for the full story). According to E L Wisty, the wheel was simultaneously invented by two stone age inventors, Drodbar and Gorbly. And it was Drodbar who made the mistake of calling his invention a Bandaderstiddle. I still love my Blandaderstiddle and keep it with my tuning tools and if you ask me very nicely at the Blowout I might be tempted to show it to you.

Collection in natural habitat

Collection in natural habitat

It is only in the last month that I have found the names of two more of my tools that have been nameless for nearly 35 years.

All my smallpipes have very small diameter finger holes. I drill each one slightly undersize and enlarge it if I need to raise its pitch when I am doing the fine tuning on the chanter. Some of these finger holes are very small; 7/64 inch (or, for you metric fans, 2.75mm). That is small; you can’t poke a match stick down a hole this size; so it is a challenge when I need to enlarge one.

The Goodacre’s Razor is excellent for undercutting these holes, but using it does not maintain a circular hole. Twist drill bits will do the job, but if you use them by hand they tend to grab and leave ragged edges. You can use one in a drill at high speed, but there is the fear that it will damage the back side of the bore or, in the worst case, that it will drill right through the other side of the chanter. And we don’t want that, do we? The hitherto nameless set of tools that I have been using for enlarging small finger holes for nearly 35 years will now be called Looming Pins.

To make these I modified a set of clockmaker’s broaches that I bought at school when I used to mend clocks. A broach is a hand-operated tapered reamer that clockmakers use instead of a drill bit to increase the size of bearing holes in brass clock plates. Each one of mine was about 5 inches long, gently tapered and pentagonal in section (unlike an Allen Key which is hexagonal). The five edges are ground so that the edges are sharp enough to scrape minute amounts of brass when used to enlarge a hole. I cut some of these broaches into much shorter lengths and glued a mini handle on each one and have been using them ever since. Each one is a different section of taper and will remove a minute amount from the side of the finger hole. A great advantage is that they keep it circular and central to the original hole position. I love my Looming Pins!

Cordwangler

Cordwangler

All pipemakers will have at least one Cordwangler, though it is doubtful if they know it by this name. Whenever you are tying-in stocks into a bag you need a firm anchor to attach the other end of the tying-in cord. A traditional Highland trick is to tie one end of the cord to the centre of a short length of broom handle and then put it between the legs and sit down. And each pipemaker is likely to have their own version. I remember that Jim Tweedie of Inveran Bagpipes in Edinburgh had a splendid small steel bollard screwed to his work bench. For many years I used to use the arm rest of my grandfather’s fine captain’s chair that I sat on while tying-in bags. Eventually the glue on the chair started to give way and I now use an unprepossessing screw-eye with a loop of nylon cord that I have on my workshop bench. I wonder what other pipemakers use as a cordwangler? I think we should be told!

“So where did these two new names come from?” I hear you gasp. On December 29th during an impromptu session of carol singing at our annual ‘Footloose’ Hogmanay event in Scotland, long-term Bagpipe Society member Roly Scales unexpectedly (and possibly misguidedly) launched into a solo rendition of Rambling Syd Rumpo’s song “Green Grow Me Nadgers Oh!” This was a brave venture as it is a challenging song at the best of times. It was not long before his memory started to waver and he lost his grip on some of the technical words and ended up having to extemporise from the original. (“M’lud; in my defence of the accused it is only fair to point out that he believes that he may have consumed several alcoholic beverages before the alleged event took place.”)

It may not have been a singing triumph for Roly, but I will always remain deeply indebted him as he has unwittingly provided me with names for these two hitherto nameless tools.

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