Hemp: is the fine twine traditionally used by pipers to attach the drones, chanter and blowpipe to the stocks with an airtight seal, and to connect the slide section of the drones with an airtight but movable fit. It is also used to secure the flapper valve to the blowpipe. If hemping is not done correctly your pipe will suffer from air loss, spinning hemp joints, unraveling hemp, and quite possibly cracked stocks.
Supplies - Waxed hemp yellow or black , and double sided sticky tape, OR; unwaxed hemp , beeswax and cobbler's wax and a small (4" X 4") piece of leather. You may choose to use the traditional method with unwaxed hemp, cobbler's wax and beeswax, or the modern way, with waxed hemp, and double sided sticky tape. Both approaches work well, if done properly.
If you choose the traditional route, you must first prepare the unwaxed hemp to make it adhere to the raw wood (using cobbler's wax) and to be moisture resistant (using beeswax). Place the cobbler's wax in the middle of a strip of leather; then hold a match or lighter to the wax for a short time in order to soften the wax. Unravel a two foot length of hemp from the roll and tie one end to a door handle or place it under your foot. Pull the length of hemp till it is taut then rub the cobbler's wax back and forth on the hemp till it has a good coating of the cobbler's wax. Now unravel another eight to ten feet from the roll and apply the beeswax by rubbing it back and forth on the stretched hemp till the hemp is well coated with beeswax. Caution on the cobbler's wax! Do not apply cobbler's wax to more than the first two feet of hemp. If the cobbler's wax bleeds through to the outer layer of the wrapping you can end up with joints stuck together. Always keep the cobbler's wax in a sealed plastic bag when it is in your pipe case, as on a warm day the cobbler's wax can melt and make a mess of anything near it.
The next step is to fasten the hemp to the bare wood - The cobbler's wax is used to stick the hemp to the wood, or you can wrap a layer of double sided sticky tape around the wooden joint to be hemped. Both methods will adhere the hemp to the wood. If you neglect this first step you will end up with a spinning hemped joint, which is when all the hemp on a joint spins as one solid piece and makes removal or adjustment of the part very difficult.
For the first wrap, lay a tail of the hemp across (perpendicular to) the groves of the joint to be hemped. Place your thumb on the tail, then with pressure, start to wind the hemp around the joint covering the tail as you go. It is important to keep the hemp tight and in the groves of the joint, follow the groves all the way down the joint.
After the first layer of hemp is wrapped, retrace your way back filling in the groves made by the first layer. Continue this process and check the fit of the joint against the part you are mating it to. When you have a snug fit, add one last layer of hemp, but this time as you wrap, leave a space between each wrap, like the threads on a screw. Once a good fit has been achieved, finish the hemping by tying the end with a half hitch. After a few days, no matter how good a job you do, the hemp will compress and the joint will be a little loose, so repeat the final wrap to reachieve the proper tightness.
Tightness - The hemp on the tuning slides should be tight enough to prevent the top section from slipping, but loose enough that you can adjust the slides with one hand. The stocks should be airtight but care must be taken not to over-hemp them, as this will result in cracked stocks. If you are using the pre-waxed hemps, the black-waxed hemp is slightly thicker than the yellow-waxed hemp and works best for the first and layering wraps. For a tighter fit, the final wrap should be done with the yellow-waxed hemp. If you have been following along with these articles you should now have an airtight pipe bag, stocks without leaks, a blowpipe that is non-restrictive with a good one-way valve and properly hemped joints. You are well on the way to effortless bagpipe playing.
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