Introduction: WAR HORN - the Sound of Ancient Battle… FOR JUST $19.95!
I’ve wanted a war horn for a while. It is one of the humanity’s oldest instruments and I find the sound both haunting and exhilarating.
I pictured using it to call my sons in from outside, annoy my neighbors, summon troops from Gondor… its uses are practically endless.
My lovely wife who, as always, acknowledges my odd requests with a smile got me a traditional Viking horn for Christmas and I soon found out just how difficult they can be to play. Dying moose might be offended by my imitation of them. She of course blew it and sounded like a Valkyrie descending from the heavens… but she played trumpet for years, or perhaps as she claimed, she is simply more Viking than I.
And thus, I began my mission to improve the ancient war horn’s playability, on the cheap. In this Instructable you will learn two ways to make a war horn. 1.) the “official way” and 2.) my easier/more reliable way. My wife, a purist, thinks I’m copping out with my easier method but I believe there is enough historical evidence to at least suggest it is possibly somewhat accurate. Regardless, INTO THE FRAY!
You will need.
1.) Cow horn – HIGHLY suggest you get a precleaned one. In fact, I would say don’t even try it without one, unless you make $1 and hour and you like interesting smells your time cannot be worth what is required. Mine was $12.50. I got it online and it is as long as advertised but i wish it was a bit wider
2.) Trumpet/French horn mouthpiece – cheapo is fine. You're not going to be a professional war horn player. And if you are, there's probably someone who will sell you a $1000 war horn (mine is for sale cheap, ONLY $950) That giant website virtual monopoly that is running local business bankrupt has cheap mouthpieces. I see them for about $7 DISCLAIMER - I’ll openly admit to knowing nothing about brass instrument mouth pieces, one may be better than the other but I had a trumpet one on-hand since my wife played it in high school.
3.) Drill bit (you will need one of either of these) – either 1.) ¼’’ or 2.) same size as trumpet mouthpiece (13/32 or thereabouts)
4.) Bleach – cause even cleaned horns be nasty
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Step 1: Buy a Horn - It’s the Size That Counts
You need a big horn to get that deep noise you’re looking for. Face it, nobody knows about the war whistle or war kazoo.
I’m pretty sure tone is a function of volume but it might be diameter. Regardless get an 18-22’’ horn instead of an 8-10’’ horn.
I say it again, buy a pre-cleaned horn.
Step 2: Kill Off the Anthrax
If you bought a horn in the raw I pity you… and I told you not to. Be prepared for the stink of boiled rancid meat product and blood vessels. Google it, its fugly. Essentially you boil the horn, run a corkscrew into the meaty bit inside and try and pop it out like the worlds nastiest wine cork.
If you listened, then good on you. Take the cow horn and wash it with warm soapy water. Scrub the inside out, rinse it and then fill it up with a mild bleach solution.
Perhaps I am over thinking this but this is gonna go against your mouth and it’s off a dead animal. Better safe than sorry.
Step 3: Measuring Your Horn and Snipping the Tip
Use a wire to measure the inside of your horn. Poke it in there until it bottoms out and
measure that distance. While most of the horn is hollow, the tip is solid and that’s what you will be drilling into so you need to know approx how long it is. You want to cut the tip of the horn off flat (or be prepared to curse everything while trying to get a drill started on the tip of a horn) But you don’t want to cut off too much.
You want to leave enough length that there is enough support for the trumpet mouthpiece insert or wide enough to allow you to carve your own (so typically 1’’ wide or so).
Step 4: OG Method Vs “Perhaps Historically Accurate But I’m Not Into Making Blanket Statements” Method
This is where the two methods i'm going over fork.
Center your drill bit on the newly flattened end of the horn and drill. You end with a 3/16'' - 1/4’’ if you are going for method 1 and a trumpet mouthpiece sized (roughly 13/32’’ but the mouthpiece is tapered ) if you are going with method 2.
Be aware that horn is fragile and can easily splinter if you aren’t careful. After one close call I ended up using progressively larger drill bits by hand instead of the drill press. Think, tapping a piece of metal for threads, a little bit in…a little bit out, slowly…
Also, I hope you like the smell you get when you reach across a grill and burn the hair off your arm. Because drilling horn smells just like it.
Step 5: So Far You Just Have a Horn Funnel, This Is Where the Magic Happens
1.) OG method – carve a half sphere mouthpiece into the horn itself making sure that it is symmetrical and as smooth as you can make it. I can imagine a round ball burr tool would work well. Otherwise a steady hand and knife or a succession of increasingly larger drill bits...then rounding that all out with sandpaper…. You can see why I decided to go another route. With this method, you can really goober it up if the mouthpiece isn’t carved right. I figure stuff like this was historically done during winter crowded around a hearth fire trying not to die when…what else were you gonna do?
2.) Easier, perhaps supported by some historical evidence method – stick the trumpet mouthpiece into the hole you drilled in step 3. Depending on the size of the horn and how much remains around the trumpet mouthpiece you may want to reinforce it. I used a section of ¾’’ copper pipe. At this point if you got a cleaned but unpolished horn you can clean it up now with steel wool and very fine sandpaper. You know the deal, start rougher and end smoother. Bees wax makes a nice sealer both inside and outside. If you’re feeling artsy carve some stuff into it.
Step 6: Attempt the Call to Arms and Prepare to Be Mocked
Last Christmas morning my family could not contain their laughter when I stood up tall, bellowed my chest full of air and first blew the war horn.
It takes practice.
There’s an art to getting your lips just right and not sounding like Babe the Blue Ox with flatulence. As I am clearly still in training my lovely wife offered to demonstrate the two calls to battle (videos linked)
If you ever played a horned instrument this should be a piece of cake. If you didn’t, well… you’ll have to practice. Youtube has a ton of videos and… you might want to practice alone. Once you get a good tone you can make different notes by adjusting your lips or placing your hand in/over the end of the horn. There are some really good musicians out there and your mileage will vary.
I will say that the base tone is quite different just between the two I have. The traditional I have measures 19’’ long and 11’’ in circumference at the end, the $19.95 horn is 18’’ and 9’’ respectively. Its either the larger volume or larger bell at the end that makes a deeper note but the traditional is definitely deeper, which sucks cause I’m better with the cheapo one.
Step 7: Send This to Others So My View Count Goes Up
This is for an instrument contest… while I know view count doesn’t really come into play in judging, and while a bluetooth speaker would be cool I really just want another Instructables coffee cup, my 4yr old has laid claim to my first mug from the concrete contest. 😊
If you've made it post a video. and remember,
One does not simply blow the Horn of Gondor and have it sound good the first time.
but its gonna be either awesome or hilarious.
Runner Up in the