Steel Tube Chimes for Kids




Introduction: Steel Tube Chimes for Kids

About: Car buff, longboard builder and shop teacher. not enough time to build stuff.

I've been building chimes with my Grade 6 students for a few years now and they really are an excellent metal-working project. What i've found with metalwork is that its tough to come up with cool projects that young kids can actually make and have real success with. Most of the typical metal projects are not of interest to many kids or they are really tough to make...  The chimes really appeal to the kids and many are motivated to build them as gifts for mom or dad.

This instructable is setup for a teacher so in the steps i'll talk about the sections as they would appear from class to class with your students. I'll throw in lots of tips and tricks that i've learned (the hard way) so that your kids will have success!

Learning Objectives:
-The students will learn and apply measuring using the fractional scale.
-Once measuring is mastered the students will use it to construct a project.
-The student shall learn to safely use files, hacksaw and the drill press.
-The student will learn than use the method required to safely hammer shape sheet aluminum.
-The student shall demonstrate the safe use of aviation snips with sheet aluminum.

Materials: (per student)
-About 3 feet of 1/2" ID 1/16" wall steel pipe.
-A 5" square piece of thin aluminum...about 20 Guage
-A piece of 3" by 5" piece of thin aluminum.
-A 1" square piece of wood... hard wood is best.
-6' of strong string.
-2 small beads.

-Files... smooth flat and smooth small round.
-Centerpunch and hammer.
-Drill press with 1/8" drill bit.
-Aviation snips.
-Hammers with concave form made of wood. (details later)

-wave length

Submitted by HD Stafford Middle School  for the Instructables Sponsorship Program

Step 1: Cutting Out the Tube

Pull out your basic steel tube. I use the cheap stuff with a 1/2" I.D. and a 1/16" wall. Clamp it in the vice. I show the kids how important it is to clamp the spot you'll do the cutting at close to the vice so it doesn't screech and howl. Demonstrate how this sounds. They like horrible noises.

Refer to the table i've included with the notes, cutting lengths and drill points. Explain to the kids that the chimes sound best with different length tubes. I always have a kid or two who is a musician so i ask which 3 notes sound good together and write them on the board... even better, ask the student to write the notes on the board. ENABLE the kiddies I say... :-)

The hacksaw is the next tool you need.  Make sure you teach the kids about hacksawing... I find that they tend to do a couple of things that make it tough...
-They CRAM the saw in. Tell them to almost lift the saw so the teeth just float over the surface.
-They use just a tiny bit of the blade... teach them to use the whole blade from end to end. This will help with the next common problem...
-Kids have a tough time keeping the saw straight. They need to make sure that they hold the handle in the hand they write with and not stand to the side of the saw... Keeping the blade straight up and down perpendicular to the workpiece.

Once you've cut out one piece show the kids how to measure the hanging point. Now is a really good time to demonstrate how important the hanging point is... Just hold the pipe exactly on the hanging mark you made and tap it with a piece of steel. It should resonate and sound really good. Now move your fingers down about 1/2" and tap again. It should sound really flat and terrible. The kids love this!

Get the kids to cut out 3 pipes and mark the hanging point with a sharpie.

Demonstrate using the flat smooth file to remove all the burrs. Use a smooth rat-tail file to smooth the insides. 

Step 2: Drill the Holes

I have 2 drill presses set up with a 1/8" bit in each. I made a simple tool to hold the pipes while the kids drill. It works really well... just cut out a piece of 6" by 8" 1" thick wood. Use the table saw with the blade at a 40 deg angle to cut a groove for the pipe to rest in. Use a c-clamp to hold it down.

Demonstrate centerpunching the pipe where the kids made the mark for the hanging point. I'd suggest using a vice that is closed enough (about 3/8") so that the pipe rests on it and is cradled rather than clamping it down. This way the kids can get a nice deep centerpunch. Encourage the kids to work in pairs... one holds the pipe while the other punches.

Set up the pipe in the holder i mentioned above. Emphasize the importance of clamping materials down well. I had a kid once who didn't clamp a piece of steel well. As the drill just poked through the bottom it grabbed the steel and turned it into a lethal spinning piece of death. (i usually exaggerate at this point to make it clear... nothing like hyperbole to make a kid cautious) I also insert the drill bit as far as i can... breaks less that way. Don't buy cheap ones either.. they like to shatter and fly around.

Get the kids to drill all three holes than file all the burrs off. If they don't do it well the hanging string will cut through in no time.

Step 3: The Topcap

18-20 G Sheet aluminum works well here. I give the kids a 6" square piece to work from. This project is good if you want the kids to figure out the 6 evenly spaced holes using a compass. I tape a Sharpie to a cheap compass, make 10 more than add them to the toolboard. Kids can't leave for the break until the compasses are back, pens attached and lids on. I'm such a meanie.

The way to lay it out with a compass is to first draw 2 lines... corner to corner. Centerpunch where they intersect. Open the compass to 2.5" and draw a circle that is about 5" in diameter.

The other option is to do the circle yourself with the holes marked and ready to go.  I photocopy the circle 4 times , cut them out, arrange them on a sheet of paper than copy the 4 at once at about 10 pages... lots for 2-3 classes if they re-use them.

I demonstrate cutting out the circle, tracing it onto the aluminum than center punching the holes. Make sure the kids understand to do this carefully... Especially the center hole... If it is out to much the chimes won't balance.

Once the holes are centerpunched I set up the kids on a 1/8" hole punch... A Whitney punch works well. You can use a drill press but the kids need to know how important it is to clamp the circle  down... Drill bits grab at the end of the cut and can spin pieces.

I teach the kids to draw file next. I make sure they clamp the piece close to the vice so it doesn't screech. Demonstrate the horrible noise for the class... they LOVE it. Make sure the edges are flat and not sharpened... sometimes they end up with this while filing enthusiastically...

The next step is not a "must do" but it is really a good thing to do. Use a chisel and rough sandpaper to cut a small concave into a block of wood.  I use woodblocks that I spun in the wood lathe... The concave is about 1/2" deep with a 3" diameter. Check out the photo. Put on some big ear muffs and unleash the kids on the forms with their pieces of round aluminum. Encourage them to hold the piece firmly and do lots of small gentle taps. Some kids will wail at the form with both hands on the hammer... this will ruin the form... a smooth surface will mean a smooth curve. I tell the kids about the '62 Aston Martin which were hand beaten and lovely cars. Some kids will turn out some really beautiful pieces. If they have the patience. :-)

Step 4: The Sail

Use another piece of 6" square 18-20 G aluminum sheet to make the sail. I get the kids to work out a few ideas on paper first. Encourage simple designs without sharp corners... its tough for them to cut it out otherwise. Popular designs are hearts, lightning bolts, circles and wavy free-form things. I demonstrate how to make a 3D sail by using 2 pieces with slots cut halfway through so they can fit together snugly. A small dab of epoxy holds it together.

Now really is a good time to teach the kids about design... For example, part of the challenge is to design something that will capture the wind the best so thin small sails won't work... What can the kids do to make the design they like work? Another thing kids do is come up with really complicated designs. They have a rough idea of what they can cut so what changes can they make to the design to keep it the same essentially but something they are capable of.  You can talk about symmetry.. having a design that is not symmetrical is fine but it has to be obvious or the project will just look like a mistake... uneven!

Encourage ideas... drawing lots of different ideas on the board... taking suggestions and trying them out... have kids come up and draw on the board to illustrate what they are trying to say... have kids swap pages and make suggestions or ask questions to clarify ideas...nothing is "wrong"!

Have the kids decide on a design, check with you than cut and trace the design onto aluminum using a sharpie. Aviation snips are great to use for the cutting.

Make sure the kids punch a hole for the sail to hang from. You can use a drill press but it can be sketchy with kids... make sure they clamp the piece down really well.

Step 5: The Striker

The striker is a small piece of wood that is drilled through the middle. I machine out a piece of hardwood to 1" square by a few feet... depending on what i have handy in the woodshop. The kids can cut off a 1" long piece, drill a hole in the middle, sand it well than seal it with beeswax or some other non-toxic finish.

Step 6: Stringing on the Pipes

This part really can mess kids up. Do it in small sections and make sure they follow along. I do lots of drawings on the board. First assemble the tubes. What works well is one string that feeds through the tubes and the topcap. Try to get the kids to evenly distribute the string so that the tubes all hang down the same amount... about 2-3" from the topcap. Once they get it all set up they can tie it off. Depending on the grade you might have to demo tying a knot. I have many grade 6 kids who don't know how to tie a knot... Velcro, you see. I will often go back and make sure the knots will work. Another option is to cut out 3 pieces of string... all about 12" long. One string for each pipe.

Mix up a batch of 5 minute epoxy in small amounts and apply small dabs to all of the hole/string contact points and the knots. I would suggest you do this for the kids... just get them to come up in groups with pipes attached and ready to go. I find I save tons of epoxy if I do this myself.

Step 7: Stringing on the Sail

Once the pipe are attached you have a reference for where the striker and sail will go. You will need a long piece of string... about 3feet... the sail and striker and 2 beads.

-Tie the string to the sail.
-Pull the string through the topcap and note where the string meets the top cap with the sail about 5" below the longest pipe. Use a sharpie to mark this spot. Without moving this position also mark the approximate middle of the pipes. This will be the striker spot so be sure it will touch all of the pipes.
-Now pull the string out from the topcap and the striker. Thread on a bead. Tie this bead on where you made the second mark with the sharpie. I only do one loop for the knot... This way it can be adjusted later.
-Thread on the striker... it will stop at the bead you just tied on.
-Thread on the second bead. Tie it where you made the first mark with a sharpie.
-Thread the string through the topcap and make a loop with the extra string.

Once you've got everything together you can loosen the knots and move the beads around so the sail will hang 3-5" below the longest pipe and the striker hits all 3 pipes. Once its perfect you can dab 5 minute epoxy on all the knots.

Step 8: Wrapping It All Up

By now the kids should be  walking around proudly with their chimes in hand. Ask them what they will do with them now. What I've noticed with this project is that NONE are left behind.
This is my gauge for project success... if lots of projects are left behind i know that it is not working and the kids don't like it. Simple!

An instructables reader suggested this link...

Here is a marking rubric for the project. If you want to get all fancy its an example of criterion referenced assessment. Nice to know all the years in university are not going completely to waste... :-)
In our district we cannot mark in a subjective way. Projects have to be marked objectively which is really tough in our area. This marking sheet make it easier, hopefully. I also always give students the chance to fix or improve things and re-submit for a better mark.  This marking sheet gives the student a clear picture of what the grade looks like. A mark really should NOT be a surprise for a kid.

Chimes Marking Sheet






Tube Measuring

Tubes not cut to 3 different lengths. Holes not cut to spot determined by tube length. No resonance

Tubes cut to 3 lengths within 10% of specified sizes. Holes drilled all within 10% of specified

Tubes cut 3 sizes perfectly with 3 noteslisted on board. Holes drilled exactly as specified by tube length.

Top Cap and Sail

Cut roughly, topcap not round, holes missing or uneven, unfiled.

Holes evenly spaced on topcap, edges smooth but not perfect. Sail is smoothly cut and filed.

Holes perfectly spaced and smooth, edges filed. Topcap round and perfect. Sail exactly like drawing.


Pipes all over, sail touching pipes or more than 6” below. Striker missing a pipe.

Pipes even at top edge but not perfect.

Sail within spec. knots tied off but rough.

Pipes exactly the same distance from topcap. Striker positioned in average middle of pipes. Sail exactly 3-5” Knots tied off and trimmed perfectly.

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    7 years ago on Introduction

    HI to anyone who has asked questions about this project. Sorry for the long reply but i am teaching for the year in Rwanda, East Africa and web access is a bit slow. I will try to answer some questions...

    i have used steel and copper but have seen PVC pipes used

    The windway is created by the gap caused by the slot in the inside tube being sandwiched between the outside sleeve and inside plug.

    the notes were suggested to me from a guitar teacher who uses the notes in chord ( I think)

    The pipe and node positions are fond using math. i found them online at one point and have been using them since.

    Have fun!



    I also meant to ask: How did you figure out what length of pipes gave you each specific note?


    You mention asking the kids about what notes go nicely together. But assuming I know nothing about that... What notes DO go together and what is a good way to know this?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very impressive! IMHO, the best example in the Teacher Contest!

    In addition to the objectives you lay out, it opens all kinds of inquiries for the students as to what is going on, from the type of metal, steel vrs. aluminum, what difference varying the diameters of tubing will make, tube wall thickness, even some physics (why the hanging point is important), why certain combinations of musical notes are pleasing, etc.

    In my experience, some of the kids will invariably want to go way beyond the scope of this project on their own. If so, they may find the yahoo windchime group interesting:


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    THANKS! i really appreciate the great feedback! i'll add the yahoo group to the instructable if thats okay...

    Dream Dragon
    Dream Dragon

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent looking project, thanks for sharing it.

    Do you use anything OTHER than steel?

    Brass, Copper, Aluminium etc might sound different, but may not work at all, what do you think?


    10 years ago on Introduction

    stumitch, glad to see you are suspending the pipes at a node point. It is also a good idea to suspend the pipes in a way that the suspension strings cannot touch the upper ends of the pipes above the support hole. If the string touches, it will damp the sound. You also get a more pure and longlasting tone if you suspend the pipes such that each will be struck by the clapper at its lengthwise midpoint. That will mean that the tops of the pipes will be at different heights. The pipe vibrates microscopically into the shape of a parenthesis, back and forth, and hitting in the middle maximizes the transfer of energy to the pipe.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent points! I'll use the idea of how it vibrates and change it so the kids will need to organize the pipes so they all hit in the middle!
    thanks for the comments!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is music to my ears :-) I have been using one that I made for several years now. I hung mine off a CD and hung an old shiny hard disk platter in the middle to catch the wind (the sail). The pipes I got from the roof from an old broken TV antenna.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The old CD idea is great! i think i've seen some instructables that show good methods for cutting CD's... that would make an excellent addition to shape the sail, recycle and have the color of the CD. good idea! thanks!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    WOW! This is a great project for Grade 6. The more advanced students could be taken to the next level and construct a Westminister Door Chime set controlled via Arduino chipset.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    YA! i still need to get into Arduino (picaxe guy) but that would be really cool.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I just got into Arduino myself with no prior knowledge and very little help. It took me 9 months off and on to get a handle on it. They are very interesting controllers that can control anything and I mean anything.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very well documented. As usual :) . It is nice to see your 100% featured rating.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    thanks! its a perfect project for grade 6 metalworking kids.