Scrap Pipe Wind Chimes



About: Physics professor, keyboard player, pizza chef, coffee enthusiast

Feel a need for more random sounds in your life? Want to hang some junk off your house? This project is for you! I had some leftover water pipe and steel conduit from fixing a leak and rewiring the garage, respectively, and out of a desire to repurpose/not discard anything marginally useful I decided to make wind chimes. If you have any kind of clangy metal tubes lying around, plus a few other bits of scrap, this instructable will give you enough guidance to do the same - allowing for your own personal artistic/"musical" tastes.

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Step 1: Necessary Parts/Scraps

This list describes the sort of things you'll need, with links to a few examples:

  • Clangy metal tubes such as water pipe, or metal electrical conduit. Tubes with bends in them or connectors on the end can make the final result more visually interesting.
  • Stiff but bendable wire to make hangers for the tubes. You can find stuff called multi-purpose wire at many stores, or copper wire works fine too.
  • Some light chain for hanging the tubes so they can swing freely.
  • Something to hang the chimes from, such as the conduit box in the pictures above.
  • Something small and heavy to act as a ringer/clapper, like the threaded connector above.
  • Something big and flat to catch the breeze and swing the clapper into the chimes, like the conduit cover above.

Some useful tools:

  • Hacksaw, to cut tubes to the lengths you want
  • Needle-nose pliers and tongue and groove pliers, to help with bending wire and chain links
  • Some kind of snips or wire cutters
  • Drill, and table vise for holding tubes steady while you drill

Step 2: Determining Anchor Points for Chimes

This step includes some science-y explanations, because I like that sort of thing. If you're not interested, the punchline is that to get the best tone out of your chimes, you want each tube to hang from a point roughly one quarter of its total length from the top end. Just to be sure, you can test each length of pipe by holding it lightly at different points along its length and striking with something until you get the most pleasing sound. If you have an unusually shaped length of pipe, or one with odd connectors attached to it you will have to experiment more. If you want to skip the physics lesson, you can jump ahead to Step 3 from this point.

The reason for this is resonance. When you whack a metal tube to make it ring, it jiggles back and forth like a piece of rubbery, underdone spaghetti. Of course, the amplitude (amount of back-and-forth travel) of the jiggles is tiny, but if we could magnify them they would look like the sine curves in the pictures above. If you imagine the tubes in the pictures vibrating as shown, you can see that the points that lie on the center line in the pictures will not move. This is because the bits of tube on either side of them are always moving in opposite directions, holding the fixed points - the nodes - in balance. Similarly, the ends of the tubes will move back and forth the most (i.e. will be antinodes) because they are being pulled back and forth by the piece of pipe next to them and have no bit of pipe on the other side to balance or slow them down.

The shape of the vibrations on the pipe can be described by their amplitude and wavelength. Wavelength is the length of the smallest piece of a wave containing its complete shape. This is the distance between three consecutive nodes or consecutive antinodes in the pictures above. When you strike a pipe, it can vibrate with many different wavelengths and amplitudes at once. As discussed, those wavelengths have to be such that there are antinodes at each end of the pipe. This is the idea of resonance - only vibrations of certain wavelengths can be easily sustained on the pipe. The longest wavelength that can be sustained on the pipe is called the fundamental.

Frequency is how many times per second a wave vibrates - how often the antinodes return to their initial position. The frequencies at which the pipe vibrates determine how often it smacks into nearby air molecules, creating the sound waves that travel to our ears. Longer wavelength means lower frequency and vice versa. The frequencies that can be sustained on the pipe will be whole-number multiples of the lowest frequency - the one corresponding to the fundamental wavelength. Fortunately, combining a bunch of frequencies that are whole number multiples of a base frequency sounds good to us - harmonious. The larger number of harmonious frequencies there are at once, the fuller, richer the tone is. So, we want to get the lowest frequency, longest wavelength possible out of our pipes to get really rich tones.

If you stick a pin through the pipe at some point to hang it from a chain, the waves that do not have nodes at that point will try to wiggle against the pin and be damped out. So, the waves that can be sustained on the pipe have to have an antinode at the end and a node wherever you drive the pin through. If we put the pin in the middle the pipe won't hang very straight, but if we put it a quarter of the way from the top it will hang just fine and we can get wavelengths equal to the length of the pipe.

Step 3: Hanging Chimes

You want each pipe to hang loosely and prevent it banging against the chain or hangar while it rings, so there is less damping of the vibration. To do this, you will attach the chain to a short length of wire that runs down the middle of the pipe and is attached to a pin driven through the hang point.

After finding and marking the best hang point for each pipe as explained in the previous step, clamp each one in a vise and drill a hole straight through. Make the hole large enough for your wire to easily slide through.

Cut a piece of wire and bend a loop into each end so that one loop sticks above the end of the tube when the other end of the loop is lined up with the hole you drilled. Cut a second piece of wire a bit longer than the diameter of the tube and put a 90 degree bend in one end. Put a gentle curve or kink in the wire. This should allow repeated taps on the pipe to generally cause the looped wire to nestle in the center of the tube.

Hold up the tube and look through the hole you drilled. Stick the wire with the loops in from the top and line it up with the hole. Hold the tube and looped wire in place with one hand. If you stick the bent wire in the hole from the far side you should be able to see well enough to aim it through the looped end of the wire and out the near side of the pipe. Bend the other end of the wire up with pliers, but don't clamp it hard against the pipe. You don't want the pin to slide out but you want the pipe to hang loosely. Attach lengths of chain to each chime by bending open the end links, threading them through the looped ends of wire poking out of the ends of the chimes, then crimping the links shut again.

If you use any bent sections of pipe for flair, they won't hang vertical. You can drill a hole through at the hang point you found by experimentation, bend a small piece of wire into a vee with hooks on the end as in the picture, then squeeze it into the holes with pliers.

Step 4: Final Assembly

Drill some holes in your hanger plate (I ended up using a light switch cover) to hang the chimes from. To attach chains, bend the end links open, stick them through the holes, then crimp them shut so they won't fall back through. Adjust the lengths of the chains so that the midpoints of all the chimes are all roughly on the same level. You may have to play with the arrangement of the chimes or the location of the holes to get the hanger plate to be roughly level - you could also affix nuts or heavy washers or nuts to some of the chains with wire to accomplish this.

Drill a hole in the center of the hanger plate and attach a long chain that hangs below the chimes. Attach the clapper to the chain so that it hangs at the midline of all the chimes. For a clapper, I used a short (~1") chunk of pipe with a heavy threaded connector soldered to it - that way I could attach it to the chain in a similar manner as the chimes, by drilling a hole through the pipe and running a bent piece of wire through the holes and chain. Attach your windcatcher (the conduit cover in the picture) to the end of the chain.

Attach a short length of chain to the top link of the center chain to hang the entire thing from some bit of your home. Now, wait for the breezes to play you some beautiful, semi-musical clanks and clangs.

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