Bagpipe Maintenance

Pipe Kit
A Basic Kit for most daily usage and emergencies:
  • Waxed Hemp
  • Black hemp thread
  • Cobbler's Wax
  • Bee's Wax
  • Teflon (optional)
  • Sharp Knife
  • Small, sharp Scissors
  • First Aid or Auto striping Tape
  • Stoppers for all Stocks and Drones
  • Ear-protectors. Those cheap foam ones make excellent internal drone stops.
  • Brushes- for oiling and cleaning
  • Cloth pull-throughs for drying
  • Sandpaper (very fine) or emery boards
  • Extra Reeds - Chanter and Drone
  • Extra Valve or flapper
  • Reed Protector
  • Jar opener/plastic gripper (For those stuck Chanters)

    For extreme pipe bag emergencies:
  • Synthetic sinew, Tie-In Cord and Dowel Rod
  • "Marine Goop" or "Shoe Goop" Adhesive Sealant

Pipe Maintenance

Check your Stocks:
Check that the stocks do not move in the bag or rotate . If any movement, then you need to re-tie.

Check your Joints:
Tuning slides should have a solid feel when you turn them and not shoot up and down like a slide trombone. Neither should they be so tight as to require both hands to tune. Leaking joints require hemping or plumber's fitting tape (teflon) if you're of that persuasion. Every joint of your pipe needs to be checked: blowpipe, chanter, bass drone, inboard tenor drone, outboard tenor drone and all tuning slides need to be checked. The drone, blowpipe, chanter tubes should fit snugly into the stocks. If you can turn a drone tube in the stock with two fingers on one hand it is much too loose and hemp or teflon is required.

Chanters should not pull out easily - imagine that delrin chanter hitting the ground and shattering. Don't make it too tight that it cannot be removed or so loose that it easily pops out. That's why you keep one of those rubber jar openers in your pipe kit - for those too tight chanters!

Alasdair Gillies recommends wrapping the hemp at an angle on the tuning slides, to form a screw like wrap to facilitate tuning. Bob Worral recommends using yellow or red sewing thread when the joint won't take another turn of hemp. There's always Teflon if you like. Both Teflon and hemp will compress, Teflon tends to shred as well, so don't be surprised 2 days later if they feel loose again and need a bit of re-hemping. Personally- that's why I'll hemp a bit towards tight and remove a bit later if it doesn't compress. It works for me.

When adding hemp - used waxed always. Secure it's starting point with a knot so it won't slide around later. If you're adding new hemp from the bottom up, knot it,use cobbler's wax on the first 2 layers then switch to beeswax.

Cracks can usually be detected visually by looking down at the top of the stock and while your checking joints, look for these. If you see any cracks which go all the way from the inside to the outside of the wood, they are likely leaking air. Some cracks can be hidden by the mounts or fittings and will be detected by sound or by using the "Ivory Liquid"/"Mr Bubble" test.

For elusive , suspected leaks, "Mr. Bubble" or Ivory liquid will help, if poured over stocks and fittings. I've also located leaks on three pipes using cigar smoke. (Note: Don't do this one inside the house unless you really love the smell of seasoning and cigars.)

Do not attempt to repair major cracks yourself! These repairs are best done by the shop that made the pipes or by replacement of the part from the artisan who made it. A temporary fix for small cracks is to fill the crack with black cobblers wax and bees wax.

We have loaner pipes available for Band members if you do need to ship off your pipes or portions of your pipes for repair.

Dry Your pipes:
Run a cloth on string through each bore to remove moisture from them after any prolonged playing.

Oil your pipes:
Disassemble each section and run an oiled swab through them. This can be done with a string tied around a cloth and woodwind bore oil, available at music stores or games vendors (store the oil in a dark place). Dip the cloth in the oil, squeeze out the excess and run it carefully inside the drone section several times to coat the bore. Don't go too heavy on the oil.

If the cloth is tied in the middle of a long line, you can pull it back and forth to coat the bore. Dont forget those great moisture collectors: blowpipe stock and chanter stock.

Bag Tightness:
Place corks in drone and chanter stocks. Blowpipe and mouthpiece should have at minimum a 3/8" bore or more and flapper valve should not restrict passage of air or be curled in any way. Blowpipe should be tight in stock but not too tight as it will expand as the hemp takes on moisture. Blow into bag and fully inflate, get the bag as tight as you can, find a quiet spot and listen very carefully for any escaping air.

If the bag deflates or if it doesn't stay tight for at least 20 minutes then season the bag with airtight seasoning. Pour 1/2 tin of warmed (not hot) seasoning into the bag and work it into the edges and seams of the bag. Pay particular attention to the tie-in area on around the stocks. Inflate the bag. Seasoning may escape from stitches or around stocks, especially on a new bag. If seasoning is leaking from the sides of the bag (sides - not the seams), your bag needs to be replaced.

The purpose of the seasoning is to seal these gaps and prevent from air escaping. Leave the bag fully inflated for about an hour then allow seasoning to settle overnight, Check bag tightness again, and if still leaking, tie-in a new bag. Before re-assembling, carefully clean all stocks of seasoning residue.

For elusive, suspected leaks, "Ivory Liquid"/"Mr. Bubble" test will help if poured over tie-in points or seams. (Note: Cigar works as well here.)
Double-check that your flapper valve is not loosing air as well. Backflow from a bad flapper is noticeable and will make you blow your brains out.

On Gortex and Ross bags you may need to adjust clamps or add electrical tape.

Thanks to Alan and Wayne for some additional material I added to the article. Evan Kohler-Camp