Music In The Air…

I have long enjoyed the sound of wind-chimes, but when I started shopping for a set, I couldn’t afford any that were worth taking home, and any that I could afford weren’t worth taking home. Whether it was junky materials, poor design, or poor construction, there were a lot of wind-chimes that shouldn’t even have seen the light of day, let alone be out for sale. There was only one real solution, build my own.

First set…
My wife got me a pattern from her dad, who had built a set a few years before. They were time-consuming to build, but the results were definitely worth the effort. Those were good-sounding chimes. Unfortunately, when my wife “split-the-sheets” with me(filed for divorce), she took the sheets and the wind-chimes, and everything else of value that I didn’t already have before we got married.

More chimes…
A couple of years ago, I got the hankering for another set of wind-chimes. I have a sheltered place to hang them where there is often a nice breeze. After doing some research on the internet, I settled on building an eight-chime set in A-mixolidian. If you aren’t familiar with A-mixolidian, it is A-major with a flattened seventh. It is also the scale that the Great Highland Bagpipe plays, and since I use to be a piper, I have a particular affinity to that scale. My wind-chimes are pitched with A-440 as the lowest note and A-880 as the highest note.

I have always enjoyed the beauty of Oak, particularly Red Oak, so that was my choice for all the wood parts, the top, clapper and sail. For the chime tubes, steel tubing is the least expensive material that can still produce a nice sound. EMT, electrical-conduit, is the least expensive and most readily-available of the steel tubing, as it is available at most any home center, including Lowes and Home Depot. When I get ready to build a set, I have to shop both Lowes and Home Depot to see which has the best quality tubing on hand because they change suppliers frequently. I look for the thinnest-wall tubing with the smoothest interior, because tubing with a thick wall and rough interior produces a very dull sound, while tubing with a thin wall and smooth interior produces a pleasing and resonant sound. Wheatland tubing produces a nice, ringing sound, while Silverline tubing produces a dull, almost-lifeless sound. I have made one set with 1″ tubing and three sets with 3/4″ tubing.

I wish I had access to a wood-shop but I don’t, so everything is hand-cut and hand-finished. I do have a belt-sander and an orbital-sander which help speed-up the finishing-process. The top is made from 1″ X 8″ stock, cut into an octagon (eight-sided) shape. The clapper and sail are made from 1/4″ X 4″ stock. The clapper is round and the sail is a rounded-corner diamond-shape.

I cut the chime-tubes with a tubing-cutter. I bought a Greenlee conduit-cutter, but it doesn’t work as well as my 50+ year-old Ridgid tubing-cutter. I was pleasantly-surprised that I can still get cutter-wheels for the old Ridgid. The Ridgid belonged to my dad, who was a plumber when I was growing up, so it has had a LOT of hard use in its day.

I started with the dimensions for the chime-tubes that I got from the internet, but those dimensions produced a slightly-lower pitch than I wanted, so I had to do some experimenting. If I wasn’t picky about the pitches, which I am, the “stock” dimensions would have just made for a slightly off-pitch set of chimes. Fortunately Audacity is a free utility that will analyze the sound from anything and display the sound-spectrum, so I just cut each tube and checked the pitch until I was happy with the pitches. While the pitches aren’t exact, they are about as close as I can get with available materials and tools. When I got the dimensions to my liking, I made a chart to work from for subsequent sets. The longest tube is about 22″ long, and the shortest tubes is about 15″ long, when made using 3/4″ tubing.

Another important factor in how wind-chimes sound is how and where the tubes are hung. Good-sounding wind-chimes always have the tubes hung one-fifth of the length of the tube from the top. As a practical illustration, if a tube is 20″ long, the hang-point will be 4″ down from the top of the tube. I use a “through-the-tube” hanging system with the hang-string passing through a small tube inserted through each tube. That tube, made from a Bic pen ink-cartridge, isolates the string from any sharp edges in the chime-tube. It is slightly-longer that the width of the chime-tube and Super-glued in place.

After all the materials have been cut, drilled and sanded or deburred, they have to be finished. The wood parts are stained with a dark-red stain and finished with Minwax Helmsman Spar satin polyurethane. The chime-tubes are painted with whatever colors I have chosen for that set. Everything gets at least three coats of finish. All the sets I have made so-far have been red, white and blue.

A hand-full of parts is not a set of wind-chimes until everything is assembled. Thirteen screw-eyes screwed into the top piece provide places for the tube-suspension strings and the chime-suspension cables. I use a four-point harness to hang the whole wind-chime assembly, which is fabricated from 1/16″ steel cable, threaded through screw-eyes on the bottom and a key-ring on the top. The small loops at each end of the hang-cables are secured with aluminum crimp-ferrules.

The chime-tubes, clapper and sail are hung using 45-pound test Meatmaster braided Dacron fishing line. It is both strong and durable, and is easy to tie. The chime-tubes are hung so that the mid-point of each tube is the same distance from the top, and the clapper is hung so that it strikes each chime-tube slightly-below that mid-point. The sail is hung about six to eight inches below the bottom of the longest tube.

Yes, all these steps take time, but I have plenty of that. Finishing the parts is the most time-consuming step because each part has to dry adequately between coats of finish. If I really stayed after it, AND the weather cooperated, I could make a set of wind-chimes in a week. My last set, which I finished just a few days ago, was started several months ago.

Where do they go?
I gave my first set to my mom and they are on her front deck. I have the second set (1″), and I sold the third set. I sent the last set to a special friend to help him celebrate his retirement and his 65th birthday. I have another set to build, a set to give to the nursing-home where my dad spent the last three years of his life…a memorial.

Parting thoughts…
I hope you have enjoyed this peak inside my other hobby – building windchimes. As image-bearers of God our Creator, we are called to be creative also. While I can’t speak wind-chimes into existence, I can use existing materials to fabricate and assemble them, thus building sets of wind-chimes which are uniquely my own. God has provided the air (wind) and I give music to it.

God bless!


One thought on “Music In The Air…

  1. Printed this out and read it to me wife, so she’ll know what you put into this when it arrives. We really are so thankful to have this. We’re already thinking about where we want to hang it. I also told Dale from the retreat about it, and for him to check out your blog articles some time. Blessings, brother!


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