Mini-Calliope Organ




Introduction: Mini-Calliope Organ

About: Thanks for viewing my Instructable! Click above link to see some of my tattoo work! I am a Tattoo Artist, 20 plus years and a hobbist Woodworker, 40 plus years


Hello Everyone,

First, I would like to thank you for viewing my instructable.
And, if you enjoyed it, please give me a vote!

Although the project seems complicated, many of the parts and components are identical,
so laying out and cutting the parts isn't as time-consuming as you might expect.

You probably will need  a couple of weekends to complete the project.
Guessing you will need about 40plus hours to build the calliope.

I've started this project about 30 years ago.
I was 21 at the time.
What I started I could not find (probably used for firewood),
so I started a new one from scratch this time.

I always had a subscription to Popular Mechanics.
I've had the December 1982 issue in my hands for over 30 years.
The plans and drawings can all be found in this issue.

If you don't have the issue (which I doubt you do)
Luckily I do have a link to the December 1982 issue, below.
Click here for the 1982 issue of Popular Mechanics
If you go to page 102 all the directions and plans are there.

So, in my instuctable I am not going to go in heavy detail about the making of this
calliope. I will probably direct you to the 1982 Popular Mechanics issue.

NOTE: I tried to use the hair blow dryers with no success!
They did not pull enough air.

So, as I am writing this, I am looking for a different motor.
UPDATE: I found a new blower motor with a speed control. Let's hope it works.
I will be installing it this weekend! Watch for a update and video!

Also, this instructable is a work in progress, I will be continually updating this instructable.

Now onto the instructable...

Step 1: Tools and Materials Needed

Materials needed:
(The entire list is in the Popular Mechanics link above or picture above)

White Pine wood for the cabinet.
Walnut and Aspen for the keys.
Hardwood Dowels
Fishing line
Anodized aluminum Tubing (organ pipes)
Cone Washers
Faucet Washers

Hair Dryers (which did not work)
Speed adjusting motor
Push Button Switch

and the list goes on....

Step 2: Building the Chest

To begin, cut the cabinet and wind-chest components - parts A through Q, T and U.
(see the materials list above.)
Bore pilot holes for all the screws connecting the cabinet parts with a No. 6 bit.
Counterbore all pilot holes with a 3/8" bit to receive the plugs. (V).
Then layout and bore the guide holes in the keyboard base (E) and the rocker support (I).

A drill press or drill guide is a must for accuracy.
Clamp together the tip and bottom pieces of the wind chest (parts L and N)
and bore them simultaneously so the holes will line up.
Use a depth stop to prevent from boring through the bottom board.
If you don't have a radial drill press or one with an adjustable table,
bore the angled holes in the rocker support by using shims under the workpiece
to establish the correct 5 degree angle.

Make a trial assembly of the chest.
Once everything fits properly, sand and finish the cabinet.

(step by step plans can be found from the link in the introduction page.)

Step 3: Making the Pipes

Ok, I believe the toughest part was making/forming the pipes.

Carefully follow the spec sheet above.
Particulary those concerning the sound-producing (D-shape) notches.

I used my CNC machine to cut the holes and notches. (see photos below)
If you don't own a cnc machine you can cut them with a hack-saw.
The bottom hole can be drilled out with a 5/16" bit.

Position a flue stopper of the correct size as noted in the chart and insert a cork in the bottom of each ppipe as
shown in the pipe-assembly detail.
Test each pipe by blowing gently through the 5/16" hole.
Each pipe should make a clear note.
Adjust the flue stoppers to achieve the best possible tone with the
least possible amount of air.

(step by step plans can be found from the link in the introduction page.)

Step 4: Making the Keys

Ok, next is the keys and keyboard.

Rip 7/8" strips from the type of wood of your choice.
I used a hardwood, as I did not paint my keys.
I just liked the color of the wood.
You can use the same wood as your cabinet.

Cut the white keys (parts X1, X2, X3, and X4).
Cut the black keys (Y) from 1/2" molding stock.
Bore a 1/4" holes on the undersides of the keys for the guide pins (Z).
Bore a 5/16" dimple at the back of each key.

Sand all the keys smooth, removing a total of about 1/32" from teh width of each key to ensure proper
clearance between them when they're in place.
Install the guide pins and apply several coats of spray paint to the keys.
If you are painting them, if not leave them the wood color.
As I did.

When the keys have dried, insert them through the keyboard back in order.
Insert the pivot rod (BB) through the holes in the side of the keys.
Between keys 12 and 13 (notes B and C), insert the center pivot support (CC).
Attach the two end supports (DD2) and secure the assembly with the pivot rod nuts.

Attach a lengh of foam weather-stripping (EE) to the keyboard base and install the keyboard.
Check that all keys move freely and make adjustments to the elongated guide holes where needed.


(step by step plans can be found from the link in the introduction page.)

Step 5: Making the Rocker Assembly

Next, we begin to work on the rockers.

Cut the rockers (S) from 1/2 x 7/8" molding.
It's faster to bore pivot -rod holes and dimples before you cut the individual pieces.
Sand the sides of the rockers smooth, then add the screw hooks (HH) and counterweights (II).
Insert the pivot rod (BB) through the rockers and attach the support brackets (DD1)

Cut the push rods (AA) and install the rocker support (I) in the cabinet, threading the air hoses through the 1 3/8" holes.
Attach the height adjuster assembly (R), then insert the push rods making sure they seat in the keys' dimples.

Mount the rocker assembly on the support (I).
Adjust the height of the keys individually by screws (FF) to level the keyboard in the "up" position.
You may have to alter the lengths of some of the push rods, as well.
When the keyboard is level, the rockers should rest at approximately 15 degrees from the horizontal plane.
Finally, install the angled guide pins (GG). Establish the proper clearance by screwing the hooks (HH) in or out as needed,
Check to see that the rockers are moving freely.

(step by step plans can be found from the link in the introduction page.)

Step 6: Air-Release Assemblies

Make the 25 air-release assemblies as shown in the detail in the photo above.
Glue felt pads (QQ) to the PVC discs (00) with contact cement or other glue for non-porous surfaces.
I used 5 minute epoxy.

Fasten the hinge leaves (SS) to the bottom of the dowel (NN) and to the bottom of the wind chest with brads that come in the
hinge package.
Form the springs (TT) by cutting the heads off 1 1/2" safety pins and bending 1/8" of each cut end with
needle-nose pliers to create "ears".

Reassemble the wind chest, leaving off the top, and chalk all the joints with silicone.

Tie an 18" of braided fishing line (KK) to the screw eye on top of each dowel and thread each through its matching
nylon tubing guide (MM).

Mount the top of the chest and chalk all the joints.

(step by step plans can be found from the link in the introduction page.)

Step 7: The Blower Motors

Now onto the motors.

I selected a pair of hair driers I had on hand.
I removed the heating elements.

I wired the hair dryer motors as in the diagram.

NOTE: I tried to use the hair blow dryers with no success!
They did not pull enough air.

So, as I am writing this, I am looking for a different motor.

Step 8: New Blower Motor (as the Hair Dryers Did Not Work!)

I found a new blower motor for the calliope.
Now, I have to figure out how to put it into the calliope.

It does have a speed adjuster on it, too!
Let's hope it works!

Out to the woodshop I go...

Step 9: Completing the Calliope

Insert the pipes through the holes in the top of the wind chest.
Manipulate the air-release assemblies by pulling on the lines until each pipe seats in the base and each felt pad seats over
the round air hole.
Glue felt strips to the back of the wind chest and install it in the cabinet.
Be sure to tighten the screws enough to compress the felt and seal the chest.

Attach the air hoses of the dryers to the copper pipe reducers (XX) mounted to the front of the wind chest.
Turn on the motor.
By pulling on the lines, you should be able to make each pipe sound  in turn.
If any pipe produces a weak tone, enlarge the air hole to 3/8" diameter.

Work in order, attaching the lines to the hooks on the rockers.
Take two turns of the line around the hook, adjusting the line so it's tight, but doesn't lift the air-release assembly enough to let air enter the pipe.
Crimp a split shot on the line to secure the adjustment.

Once all 25 lines are attached, test the action of the keyboard.
If you find a sticky key (and you probably will at this point), loop a small rubber band around the base of the counterweight (II) and the
rocker guide pin (GG).

Install the music rack (J), music stop (Q) and the rocker cover (K), then apply the screw hole buttons (Y).
Finally , tune the pipes to a piano or other instrument, using the flue plugs in each pipe; pushing it in raises it.

Step 10: Painting , Handles, and Side Decorations on the Calliope

Painting the cabinet.

I used a milk paint on the cabinet.
I want to give it that old time feel.

You can find milk paint online.

I did cut my own side decorations.
I used my cnc machine.

The handles are made from a 1" dowel and 2.5" wooden balls.

Step 11: Final Pictures of the Calliope

Here are finished pictures of the calliope.

I also designed the calliope it in Sketchup.
I hope you enjoyed my instructable!

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    Question 3 years ago

    Did you ever get the blowers working? I am planning on building something similar and I was planning on using a centrifugal fan(3d printed) with a 3:1 gear ratio to get it spinning quickly as mine has to be hand-powered. Should this be enough to generate the pressure needed? My fan would be on the outside with its end fitting into the windchest. What with the increase in volume the air should begin to have a lower velocity and have a greater increase in pressure. Thoughts?


    Answer 1 year ago

    Jeff I'd love to chat about your project. I'm building this and am looking for portable power sources and I'm curious how your hand powered build turned out?


    Reply 1 year ago

    Hey Jeff,
    Still sitting on my workbench..Have other projects I am working on..
    Still have not gotten a power/blower yet.
    Mine is not hand powered...
    Any questions, just shoot me a email.


    Answer 3 years ago

    Actually I have not...It is sitting on my workbench, the mice got at it...But, very fixable.
    It is on my list of things to do! Boy, I have no idea on the 3d printed fan...Give it a whirl! Please let me know if it works! I would love to see a photo!


    2 years ago

    My dad built this for me when the issue first came out. He was able to get those bag type hair dryers (mom had had one, and he was able to find the second), so we had the right source per the instructions. I'm glad you were able to find something that worked as well. Because mine has sat a few years, I have to go through and restore mine. I hope you had fun making this and playing it.


    Question 3 years ago

    Hi Greasetattoo,
    I just found your Calliope organ project that sounds great! I am actually looking for a convenient way to make a wood keyboard for a MIDI-like organ (2x or better 3x 61-key keyboards) featuring the Hauptwerk software. I have not specila facilities to work with wood and I am wondering whether it is possible to manufacture the keys by outsourcing it to any CNC-equipped lab. I would greatley appreciate your opinion and, possibly, advice. I live in Milano, Italy.
    Thanks a lot in advance for any tip.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I did make all my own keys. I do own a Cnc machine. But, I am sure you could use a bandsaw to cut them...Really depends on the type of wood, etc...


    Question 4 years ago on Introduction

    Could I possibly run this off steam power? I built a steam driven one once... worked wonderfully.


    Answer 4 years ago

    I bet it could!
    I would love to see it!


    4 years ago

    I used to own an 1888 Mason & Hamlin 2-keyboard/30-pedal reed organ that a friend of mine, who builds pipe organs for a living, electrified with a vacuum cleaner motor. Worked wonderfully. Maybe you should try using one of those?


    5 years ago

    Did you ever get it to run? The article said to use cap style hair dryers, maybe they had the power you needed that the hand-helds didn't. Did you use 0.050" tubing? Article didn't specify.


    Reply 5 years ago

    Yes, I did get different blowers, but it has been on the back burner for awhile..
    One of these days, I will get back to it!!
    For the tubing, I used vacuum cleaner hose...
    When I get it up and running, I will make sure and post a video!
    thanks for your interest!


    6 years ago

    I am trying to help a group of 12 year olds build a calliope. I think hey can manage this design but was wonder if you thought they could use pvc pipe instead of metal? They are limited on funds for this so I need to cut as many expenses as possible.


    Reply 6 years ago

    I think PVC could work! Give it a try!


    7 years ago

    I was wondering if, because you have the original copy, you would be willing to provide higher-quality scans of the materials list and diagram, as it is a bit difficult to make out the fractions.


    Reply 7 years ago

    Hey Jeff,
    Actually, I did this awhile ago, and don't remember where I put the magazine.
    But, I believe I had a link to the magazine in the instructable.
    I believe it was on google books.
    Hope this helps


    7 years ago on Step 11

    My goodness, I loved reading this. This is so beautiful. I have such a fondness for musical instruments of any kind. I will be bookmarking this, with hopes that I might one day get organized to do this. Surely this is a beautiful heirloom that will live on beyond our years. Thank you so much for sharing this! I was so hoping that you'd have a video of the instrument and we would get to hear it and live vicariously through you in hearing and seeing this final piece of art at work and in play.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 11

    Thank you so much for the kind comments..
    The calliope is sitting in my workshop...
    Still needs tuning..
    Kinda put it on the back burner, but it is on my list, to finish up and tune!


    Reply 7 years ago

    Do you know anyone who created a working unit that would like to give it a good home? Eyes are not what they use to be.

    Thank you.