My first challenge in making a recorder? It was drilling the hole through the wood. Now if all you had to do was drill a hole, that would be relatively straight forward. But a recorder does not just have a straight cylindrical bore. Its bore is tapered, which means that it starts out large at the top and then gets smaller as you go down. Which is otherwise known as a “conical” bore, since it approximates the shape of [part of] a cone.
Now the problem is that you can’t really buy an off-the-shelf tool for reaming the right kind of conical bore shape that you want on a recorder. But … to the rescue came a fellow by the name of Trevor Robinson who wrote The Amateur Wind Instrument Maker. In his book he explains many things, one of which is how you can buy something called a Taper Pin Reamer, which is manufactured for making tapered holes for metalworking equipment, which just so happens to be somewhat close to the bore shape that you might want for a recorder, if you get the right size. Here is one of the taper pin reamers that I bought on ebay for this purpose.
Well I have since concluded that many of Trevor’s suggestions, when followed, are likely to give you what might best be described as an amateur recorder. Which is not a surprise given the title of the book. It so happens that I am not really interested in making amateur recorders (despite the fact that I have made plenty of them so far) … I’m really more interested in making a recorder that a professional musician might covet. Which I do not believe I have yet done, but maybe will do in the future.
So, back to the story. I went back to ebay and bought up a bunch of these taper pin reamers from old retired machinists. Let me show you my collection of reamers … here they are on my sawdust-covered garage floor. Suffice it to say that these could, hypothetically, be used to make the various pieces of a soprano, an alto, and a tenor recorder. According to Trevor. I put one of my soprano recorders (made with 3 of these reamers) there for perspective. The largest of the reamers was not cheap, despite being second-hand from ebay.
Now before I could use the above-mentioned reamers, I had to drill a straight hole through the wood. Since the reamer can only be used to enlarge the hole and get it the right shape, not to actually drill it. Did you ever try drilling a 8-12 inch hole, the long way, through long skinny piece of wood with a handheld drill? It doesn’t work so well.
Below you can see what does work. You basically use a wood lathe to drill the hole … but with the drill bit held steady and the wood mounted into the lathe chuck. That is a cheap 18″ drill bit that I got from Harbor Freight … where you can find a few real gems among the piles of flimsy power tools. (Ask me to tell you about the amazing shoe horn I got there sometime).
Drilling holes through the to-be-recorder pieces of wood worked pretty well this way, except for one slight issue. That is when you get the hole drilled all the way through, and you take a look at the other side, you usually find that the hole is off from center. The drill bit tends to wander as you drill. Well it turns out that this doesn’t really matter, because later you can re-mount the wood on the lathe using a conical center or mandrill to center it coincident with the axis of rotation, and then you just turn down the exterior and viola … you have your exterior cylinder perfectly inline with the bore.
Once I had my straight hole through the wood, I could use the taper pin reamer to enlarge it and end up with a very nice conical hole. Which, once I sanded the inside up to 800 grit sandpaper and completed all the rest of the steps in the Recorder Chapter in Trevor’s book, did in fact make a reasonable recorder.
Well, the first recorder wasn’t really that reasonable. The second was only a bit better. The third I was pretty damn proud of, and the fourth was a complete disaster (not in how it looked, but in how it sounded). Here you can see my first, second, third, and fourth recorders.
Let’s fast forward a bit. Here is my 9th recorder. It took until the 9th one until I had one that was really acceptable. And “acceptable” here means just that … I can stand to actually play it – it doesn’t mean that it is actually good. I was happy enough that I decided to imprint it with the number “01”. So that if I ever get to be a famous recorder maker, they will think this is the very first one that I ever made. Below the photos I also uploaded a sound sample of number 01 so you can hear for yourself. It does actually have a similar tone to my lovely rosewood Moeck Rottenburg that I modeled it after, although not quite as loud and clear.
Now … there was one glaring flaw to recorder number 01. The second octave was sharp! And that was after I spent hours painstakingly tuning the lower octave by carefully enlarging the holes with a file.
I’ll tell you in the next post what I did about that. So tune back in … maybe in a few days or a week I’ll find time to write it.
Until then, happy travails to you!