Introduction: Grow Your Own Musical Instrument - an Environmentally-sustainable Conch-substitute.
I have some friends living in a tank in my lab - Giant African Land Snails. Although ownership of GALs is illegal in the US, they make popular pets in the UK. Easy to care for, quite long-lived (an average of five years) and easy to breed they are also popular in schools.
Every so often, one dies. It's no big deal, they're only snails after all, and they lay hundreds of eggs a year if they're reasonably-well looked after. The only problem is what to do with the corpse.
I have found that the easiest way to deal with the body is to bury it for a few weeks and let minibeasts do their work. After that, it's only a matter of washing the shell out with plenty of hot water and a peg on your nose.
But what do you do with a slowly-growing pile of large shells?
Inspiration came in the form of CanDo's Conch Shell Horn Instructable.
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Step 1: What You Will Need
As well as your donor shell, you will need something to cut and polish the shell. I used a rotary tool with a cutting disc and grinding bit.
You will also need eye-protection and preferably a dust-mask.
Step 2: Making the Horn
Goggles on, mask on - this is dusty, and there is a risk of flying splinters or shattered cutting discs (well, if you will buy cheap Dremel copies...).
Based on the size of your shell, and of your mouth, saw the pointed end of the shell off. You are aiming for a hole around 1.5cm across (about half an inch).
Take it easy, and start in one of the grooves in the spiral of the shell (it's thinner there), but be careful not to follow the spiral round - you need to cut across the shell to make a circular end. If you are not sure how big to make the hole, start small and enlarge it later (it's kind of hard to do it the other way round!).
Switch to the grinding bit and round off the edges so that you do not cut your lips.
You will also need to grind away part of the central spiral revealed by the cut. You need to grind it off smoothly, and lower down than the edge of the shell, or you will not be able to blow it properly.
Wash off the dust, and rinse out the shell, because ground snail-shell tastes exactly like the stuff the dentist grinds off your teeth when you go for a filling.
Step 3: Playing the Horn
Purse your lips as if you are about to give your maiden aunt a peck on the cheek. Squeeze it tight so you look like you sucked a very strong lemon. This is called your embouchure.
If you blow now, you should make a noise like a very high-pitched raspberry.
Press your embouchure against the polished hole of the shell, and blow hard. You should be able, after a few moments' practice, to make enough noise to stir racial memories in foxes half a county away.
I'm no musician, but I was able to get a blast out of mine at the first attempt - have a look at the video for an example.
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