Make your own panpipes!

Constructing a Pentatonic PanPipe

1. Gather your supplies

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3 feet of PVC ½ inch piping (diameter is not essential, but this is easily found, standard width PVC tubing)

  • 5 PVC ½ inch end caps
  • Saw, Dremel cutting tool, etc.
  • PVC cement
  • Ruler/measuring tape


  • Spray paint/brush
  • Sandpaper
  • Chop sticks/dowels
  • Twine or ribbon

2. Measure 5 lengths of PVC tubing as follows:


Adapted from and thanks to:

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Cut the pieces a little long so you can tune them later as needed.

3. Attach the end caps using the cement.

  • Using a tuner, trim the tubes until the tone is at the right pitch.
  • If planning to paint when finished, now is the time to lightly sand so the paint will adhere.
  • Use the PVC cement to glue the pipes together, lining up the open ends of the pipes.
  • Use your cutting tool to trim the PVC end caps so the pipes sit flush against one another.

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4.  Optional

  • Spray paint the pipes, and embellish with the chopsticks and twine/ribbon to create a set of pipes that resemble traditional bamboo panpipes.

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Playing the PanPipes

 Blow across the top of the pipes as you would a pop bottle. This 5 note set has a pentatonic scale, but by using a standard set of calculations, you can create a set that plays a complete chromatic scale and in multiple octaves.


The Math

MathCaptureAdapted from and thanks to:

 A pan flute is a group of tubes with a closed end. Each tube has a different length but all share the same diameter. The length of the tube determines the pitch: longer tubes produce lower notes, shorter tubes produce higher notes. The inner diameter of the tube influences the air speed needed to make the sound audible: a smaller diameter requires a faster, more focused air stream, while a larger diameter requires a slower, larger air stream.

Using the formula above:

L is the length of the tube
v is the speed of sound
f is the frequency

Using the first formula shown in the previous step the list of lengths for a chromatic 13 note set of panpipes in cm:

31.69; 29.91; 28.23; 26.65; 25.15;  23.74; 22.41; 21.15; 19.96;18.84;  17.78; 16.79; 15.84. 




Pan flutes and the World Flute Society Convention

How exciting!  I’ve spent years of my life repairing flutes and really enjoying it.  But I’ve never really explored the world of “simple” flutes which have been around for thousands of years.  Paleolithic flutes represent the earliest musical instruments and evidence of prehistoric music.  For the  most part, I’ve only explored flutes with modern mechanisms (or their forbears – baroque era forward).

For my project I’ve decided to make a set of pan flutes.  I’ve been searching on line for dimensions, instructions, any help I can find – and there is quite a bit.  How lucky to find that the World Flute Society Convention was held today in Eau Claire Wisconsin.  I was able to see first hand many examples of Native American, South American and African flutes and speak with the makers and performers.  These are true makers, producing gorgeous flutes, and accomplished performers playing the music these instruments were designed for.  There is a tremendous variety in the instruments while at the same time common principles of construction and tuning. 


Tesla, patents, and makerspaces

Recently the high-end, electric car manufacturer Tesla announced that it was releasing all of its patents, or rather, it’s not going to enforce them. “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters,” Musk said in a statement. “That is no longer the case. They have been removed in the spirit of the open source movement for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

The idea is revolutionary in an intellectual property culture where corporations race to patent and protect their intellectual knowledge; and where patent “trolls” buy up patents with miniscule application and sue large and small corporations for infringement .  I recently attended a seminar on intellectual property in the US and the hot topic were these trolls.  Typically the cases lack merit but end with the trolls landing a large settlement because the cost of defending such suits are so high.   Then there is China who flagrantly violates secured intellectual property rights.

So what’s up with Tesla?  They certainly aren’t being purely altruistic.  They have an economic interest in other manufacturers to expand on their technology and use it.  Tesla needs a market for electric cars.  Right now the electric car market is a small fraction of worldwide sales.  By releasing their know-how they hope that other manufacturers will enter the market making it more main-stream.  In turn their own sales will increase and there is a hope that those entrepreneurs will (albeit unlikely) advance the electric car technology in a similarly free fashion.

I don’t think Tesla had makers in mind when it made this decision – but it’s certainly in the spirit of makerspaces.  As makers we don’t hoard our knowledge but rather have a spirit of helpfulness and collaboration.  Take the Hack Space’s cookout – just show up and ask around until someone can help.  Perhaps our culture of generous patenting has had it’s time.  Or at least Tesla is making some rethink the value of patent protection versus the value of collaboration, particularly in technology where a patent may have true value of a year or two, but can be litigated for the next twenty.



Who uses the libary the most?


Answer: 16-17 year olds, according to the Pew Research Center. Users age 30 to 49 were the second most likely and ages 65 and up the least likely.

Having just visited the Arlington Hills Branch of the St Paul Library, it’s easy to see why.  The makerspace provides a place to game, to create, and to socialize.  Anecdotally, the experiences of our guest speakers seem to confirm that makerspaces are big draws for the 18 and unders.  They provides technological resources that may otherwise be out of reach financially, but also a space and opportunity to collaborate that they may not find elsewhere.

I find it somewhat surprising though that the 65 and up crowd are not using the library.  This is a generation I would think grew up using the library frequently.  I wonder if they feel out of place in a space occupied by teenagers, are the makerspaces not appealing to them because of technology barriers?  Or is this a generation that has acquired enough wealth (both monetary and social) that libraries, while appreciated, are not necessarily needed?

Making or Playing?

I spent a good portion of today constructing the United Nations’ iconic headquarters in New York City out of LEGOs.  The set came complete – all the necessary pieces and the usual LEGO step-by-step instructions.  I took some time out to do the normal weekend chores – laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, etc.  But it really took my whole day to complete the project.  Even the designer of the set, Rok Zgalin Kobe, comments in the instruction book that the “Tower’s deceptively simple form is achieved in LEGO using fairly complex building techniques, such as an almost seamless transition from an  eight LEGO stud wide shaft to a nine-stud wide top of the building.”  Some of the pieces are used in an upside down fashion to accomplish the amazingly accurate recreation for a building made of LEGOs.

I’d been a little stymied as to what I could write about this week until I took a break and built the LEGO United Nations building which had been sitting on my coffee table since February.  In the hours it took to build I had time to think about whether I was just a grown-up playing with LEGOs or if I was a maker.  I don’t think there’s any bright line, but making definitely has a large element of playing.  As makers we are certainly entertained (or intrigued) by the process, otherwise we wouldn’t likely be taking time away from family, school, and work obligations to make things.  In the end making leaves you with something to share.  LEGOs surely fit that bill.  It may not change the world but I respect the work of Kobe who was able to design a scale  model of an iconic building out of LEGOs.  What a job to have!  And I now have a model UN  building (an organization for which I have the utmost respect) to display on my desk at work .

I took pictures of my UN building in progress on my phone.  Finding those photos on my computer via the BlueTooth connection has been a challenge – maybe that will be another post.

For now I’ll leave you with some harmonious words from Dolly (vaguely related to the UN):




Poetry – Who Needs it?

This is the intriguing title of an article in the New York Times by William Logan.  You can find it here:

It got me to thinking of the written (maybe spoken?) word as making.  After all, we’re studying makers spaces and as part of the curriculum we’re writing and blogging.  Logan doesn’t make the case for poetry as “making” but rather makes a compelling case for the importance of poetry in life and education.  We have a poetry month, and a poet laureate (Charles Wright) – who remembers any poet laureate after Maya Angelou?  I’m pretty up with news but Wright’s appointment in early June didn’t make any headline that I ran across.

Back to making, the written word seems intertwined with making.  Whether chiseling in tablets, papyrus scrolls, illuminated texts, and the printing press.  But the words themselves as “making” intrigues me.  Ideas, thoughts, inspiration came first.  Then finding a means of memorializing followed, whether by written word, other symbols or an oral tradition.    Recording creative, scientific, or spiritual thoughts seems to me as much as making as creating  a device – perhaps like the toaster we talked about earlier!  We read a lot for class and maybe overlook this as we focus on objects: things that move or do or change.  Objects that impact our lives in a physical manner.  The written and spoken word can have an equal effect, and I would argue are just as much about “making” as the projects we’re taking on.

Science Hack Day

Driving to work this morning, listening to NPR as I almost always do, MarketPlace Morning Report had an interesting piece about “citizen science” or “indie science.”  The idea is that folks with no formal background in science, but who tinker or create (i.e. are makers), get a chance to collaborate with highly educated scientists.  The most direct means is through Science HackDays.  See

These makers aren’t necessarily trying to influence science, but their creations can have a great influence.  There is a perception that science has some great economic barriers.  Although true as far as specialized tools like deep space telescopes and such, the founder of Science Hack Day points out that we now have a lot of information that is available to all.  These expensive tools in fact gather so much information that it will take scientists years to parse through it all to create theories, and in the meanwhile, we’re collecting double, triple that information yearly.  Science hacks are great tools to parse this information into more meaningful information.

A great example from the most recent Science Hack Day is the guy who developed a “beard detector.”  It would alert him when it was time to shave.  A scientist by education at the fair realized that the beard detector could be used to detect cosmic rays.  This forum provided the opportunity for users to experiment, play, and collide with others from different backgrounds to create amazing new tools – whether for beards or detecting cosmic rays.

The tech field seems to be adept, or at least open, to collaboration.  The science field is a little more closed, but as the Science Hack Day example shows, is increasingly open to outside ideas.

While makers might take on tasks for their own education or enjoyment, their creations can have a much larger application.  Who knows what might come from the automated VCR cat feeder?  Sharing between communities, not working in isolation, adds so much value to the makers’ art.