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If there is a word which you think should be in this glossary, please submit it below. It will not appear in the glossary until the word has been approved, and the definition written or edited. If you include its definition and we use the definition, we will give you credit if you submit your name too. If you have a suggestion but no word, you may enter that, of course.

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acetal (as-ee-tal) 

The generic name for the plastic called delrin (in the US) or polypenco (in the UK.) It is used for any turned plastic bagpipe part except art. ivory ones.

African blackwood


Botanical name Dalbergia melanoxylon. The best and most commonly used wood by far for making bagpipes and woodwind instruments. It grows in East Africa. It varies widely in color, from brown or purple to very dark brown, and can be heavily streaked or of uniform color.
Bakelite An early plastic resin, invented in 1907. It is a combination of carbolic acid and formaldehyde. See catalin. More information here and here.

bass (base)

Specifically, the larger drone that sits next to the piper's head. In general, any part that has to do with the bass, e.g. "a set of drone reeds is two tenors and a bass."


A narrow convex shape formed on a part. Beads are found on projecting mounts and often where ferrules and ring caps meet wood. They are also usually found between the combs on the wood, as in combing & beading.
beading See combing & beading


The shape in the bore at the top of the three top joints. It is shaped like an upside down bell, getting wider as it rises to the top. It ends with the bush.

black wax

A common term for cobbler's wax.
blackwood Short for African blackwood. This term has also been used misleadingly to imply African blackwood.

blowpipe or blow pipe

The part of the bagpipe that sticks out of the blow pipe stock, and to which the mouthpiece is attached. The piper blows through it to fill the bag.
blowstick Another name for the blowpipe.
bore The long hole through the center of each piece of the bagpipe.
bottom mount The mount, whether projecting or button, that is at the bottom of the blowpipe, tenor bottom, and bass bottom  joints. They butt up against the stock ferrules.
bulb The bulbous shape at the end of a thin length. There are bulbs at the top of  pipe and practice chanters, and at the bottom of mouthpieces.
bush A fitment at the top of the top joints that closes off the bell. Through the center of it is a hole that is close to the size of the top's bore.
button mount A small mount, as opposed to the larger projecting mounts, which flares out only to the diameter of the ferrule it is opposite.
cap Short for ring cap. Also, the most common name for the closed part of a ferrule (bass and tenor) on a half or full set of silver (i.e the part around the hole where the tuning pin is inserted.)
carnauba wax Carnauba is a vegetable fat obtained from the leaves of a Brazilian palm tree called the “Tree of Life” (Copernica cerifera). One of its most interesting properties is that it swells and closes its pores when exposed to water. Carnauba is the hardest natural wax and has lustrous composition.
catalin A trade name for Bakelite, or phenolic resin. Catalin is the term used in piping, and it was used extensively as an artificial ivory until the mid seventies or so. It smells very nasty when turned, and some kinds turned dark orange after time.

clack valve

An old-fashioned valve at the end of the blowpipe. It is made from leather, and is shaped like a round stingray.  Part of the blowpipe tenon is scraped away, and the tail of the valve is clamped against the tenon when it is wrapped by hemp.
cobbler's wax A gooey, sticky mixture of wax and tar. It is rubbed into the hemp. Then the hemp is wrapped around the tenon in neat rows. The wax helps the hemp stick to the tenon, and also protects the hemp against rotting by moisture.
cocuswood or cocus Cocus was the premier choice of woodwind makers (including bagpipe makers) for hundreds of years. Its cost now prohibits popular use. Initially yellowish green to brownish olive in color, it reddens and darkens with age and handling. It is found in Jamaica and Cuba. Its botanical name is Brya ebenus, and is also called Jamaican ebony.


One of the series of small grooves in each wood part of the bagpipe (except the pipe chanter.) It is usually bracketed by beads, but is almost always at each end of the series of combs and beads. The combing tool usually has between six and nine teeth, and thus cuts that many grooves. Different makers use different sized combing tools. Measuring the combs is one way to help identify the maker of an old set of pipes.

combing & beading

The series of combs and beads cut into a drone or stock section. It is one of the most distinctive things about the look of a Highland bagpipe. Examination of the combing & beading can yield clues to the skill and artistry of the maker.

cord holder

That part of the top joint which prevents the cords from moving. It is an integral part of the wood, and forms a canyon around and through which the two cords pass. The cords are fastened together at each side of the holders.

cords & tassels

The objects used to tie the three drones together, allowing them to stand up against the piper's shoulder.


1. n. The object used to plug the end of a bore. Usually this object is a rubber bung. An actual cork is not suitable for an airtight seal.  2. v. The action  taken to plug the end of a bore. This definition is much more common than #4, but is sometimes confused with that definition. 3. n. The material used as an alternative to hemp to seal the tenons when they are inserted into the bores. 4. v. The action taken to apply the cork to the tenons.


1. v. To put bungs into the empty stocks to test the bag for leaks. Four corks occupy the drone and pipe chanter stocks, and the blowpipe is used to fill the bag. 2. v. To put bungs into the bushes to prevent the drones from sounding. This is an imperfect method of making a bagpipe take less air, and is usually used for beginners. 3. v. To apply cork to the tenons as an alternative to hemp. 4. n. The state of the tenons after the application of cork, e.g. "The corking was too loose after my friend borrowed my pipe."
counterbore The tuning chamber.
Dalbergia melanoxylon The botanical name for African blackwood, also called mpingo.


A trade name for acetal.
ebony Specifically, Gaboon ebony was used primarily in the 19th century and early 20th century by bagpipe makers. African blackwood has taken its place as the premier choice of bagpipe makers. Its botanical name is Diospyros mespiliformis. It is jet black in color, and grows in west Africa. There are other cheaper and inferior ebonies.
e.m.c. (equilibrium moisture content) The point at which wood is stable and in equilibrium with the humidity of its surroundings (it is no longer gaining or losing moisture).

ferrule (fair-ool)

A fitment at the end of a bore to prevent splitting when a hemped tenon is inserted into the bore. The hemp on the tenon pushes outward in all directions, and the ferrule counteracts the pressure.
figure The pattern produced on a board surface by prominent rays or deviation from regular grain. The figure is often, though incorrectly, referred to as grain.
fitment Any accessory such as a mount or ferrule fitted to a wood part of the pipe.
flapper valve See clack valve.
full mounted


A style of mounting a bagpipe. The same material is used on the ferrules, projecting mounts, and ring caps. For example, full silver is a very high-end full mounted pipe, and art. ivory a cheap one.
fully combed & beaded

The condition of a bagpipe when every wood part except the pipe chanter has an uninterrupted series of combs and beads along most of its length. Those sections of each part that are long sweeps are combed and beaded. Ferrules, mounts, tenons, and cord holders are never combed & beaded, nor are the tuning pins
half mounted A style of mounting a bagpipe. Two different materials are used, and on half mounted pipes the ferrules and projecting mounts are always different materials. For example, silver and ivory is a very high-end half mounted pipe, and nickel or stainless and art. ivory a cheap one.

A group of symbols stamped on precious metals in Britain. The hallmark indicates that the object has been assayed, i.e. tested to verify purity not less than the legal standard indicated by the particular mark. For example, sterling silver is 92.5% silver. A hallmark usually consists of the sponsor's mark (usually the smith), the standard mark (denoting the metal content e.g. sterling), the assay office mark (or "town mark" - where the metal was assayed), and the date letter (what year the metal was assayed.)
hardwood A botanical group of trees with broad leaves. This word does not refer to the hardness of the wood.
headstock That part of a lathe that transfers the power to spin the work.
heartwood The dead inner core of a tree. In most species, darker and denser than the sapwood. Heartwood is very desirable, and considered the best portion of the tree.


1 n. The thread used to join two parts together. It is wrapped around the tenons to make a pressure fit. Good hemp is made of linen. 2 v. The act of applying hemp.
hemp stop A piece of ivory or plastic that is fitted onto the end of the tuning pin. It is used when a tuning slide is installed, and is a prerequisite for contemporary quality making. The reason it is needed is that the pin must be turned to a smaller diameter than normal (i.e. than it would be without the slide), and so more hemp than usual is required. This means the small diameter at the top of the pin, without the stop, would allow hemp to come cascading off when the top or middle joint was pulled off the pin. Also, the small diameter means a thin wall thickness at the top of the pin. The hemp stop strengthens the top, and acts as a ferrule. This double duty makes hemp stops essential on quality pipes. They must be threaded, of course.
ivory The opaque, creamy white, hard, fine-grained, modified dentine that composes the upper incisor teeth (tusks) of an elephant, walrus, mammoth, or mastodon. Ivory is composed of curved layers of dentine alternating in shade, and intersecting one another. The resulting lozenge-shaped structure is elastic and finely grained. It is one of the most beautiful and expensive materials for mounting bagpipes.
lathe Basically, a machine that fashions work by making the work turn on an axis. The cutting is done by a tool that is not rotating. On wood lathes the wood usually turns between the headstock and the tailstock. The turner holds the tool by hand and moves it to cut various shapes on the wood. On metal lathes the work (whatever material is being fashioned) turns and the tool is held rigid whilst the operator moves the tool using hand wheels. Lathes are very versatile, come in a myriad of styles, and some contradict the above definitions. Wood can be cut in any metal lathe and soft metals can usually be cut on wood lathes.


The part on the top of the blowpipe that goes into the mouth. It is blown into, which channels air through the blowpipe, valve, stock, and into the bag. It is usually threaded at the bottom to screw onto the top of the blowpipe.

mouthpiece bulb

The part at the bottom of the mouthpiece that bulges out. On our fancy mouthpieces, it is the ivory or art. ivory part beneath the mouth tube.

mouthpiece tip

On our fancy mouthpieces, the part that goes in the mouth. It screws into the top of the bulb, and clamps the mouth tube into position.

mouth tube

On our fancy mouthpieces, the silver tube that is sandwiched between the tip and the bulb. Fancy practice chanters can also have a mouth tube.
phenolic An old-fashioned synthetic resin used as a binder for various materials. When binding canvas, it is commonly called bakelite (after its inventor.) When made without filler, it is called catalin. Catalin was used by bagpipe makers as artificial ivory. It is the stuff that turns orange.
pink ivory A rare wood from Africa that ranges in color from dark orange to shocking pink. It produces a very rich and completely different tone from African blackwood. The botanical name is Berchemia zeyheri.

pipe chanter

The part of the bagpipe upon which the melody is played. It is the part that points down, and upon which the hands are placed. The piper holds it in front, and covers or uncovers various holes that are drilled in a straight line down the front (with one in back), thereby making different notes.

polypenco (pol-y-peng-coe)

A trade name for acetal.

practice (or practise) chanter

The pipe used for actually learning to play the bagpipe. It has no bag, but the hardest part of learning the bagpipes, the fingering, is identical on the two instruments. This means one can practice on the small, convenient practice chanter and improve one's playing without touching the cumbersome pipe. A teacher and pupil can demonstrate and show the fruits of practice quickly and efficiently. Then those fruits can be savored on the bagpipe.

projecting mount

The gracefully shaped pieces on the bottom joints, blowpipe, and bass middle joint. They are usually made of ivory or art. ivory (sometimes silver), and almost always show a marked contrast of color with the wood. They jut out radially from a ferrule (every ferrule, in fact, except the pipe chanter stock ferrule), then sweep back in toward the wood. Most of the length of the tuning pins separates the top projecting mounts from the ferrule above. The bottom projecting mounts should always touch the stock ferrules.
reed seat An acute taper cut into the bottom of the drone bottom joint bores and the top of the pipe and practice chanter bores. This allows the piper to insert a reed into the piece and get a snug fit. The acuteness of the taper prevents the properly seated reed from moving. Addition or removal of hemp on a reed determines how far up the bore the reed can go.

ring cap

The object at the very top of each drone. It is usually ivory , art. ivory, or silver. It contrasts in color with the wood. Its purpose is mostly decorative, but it does help to counteract any possible outward pressure by the bush. On a well made pipe, this is very unlikely. It is sometimes also called the crown.
sapwood The outer, younger portion of a tree, usually distinguishable from the heartwood by its lighter color. Years ago, it was quite common to see sapwood (incorrectly referred to as "bark") on the exterior profiles of bagpipes. In those days the makers cut and sorted the wood from logs. The sapwood is the result of a maker using all the wood that he could.
slide See tuning slide.


The plate like object at the bottom of a pipe or practice chanter. Soles used to be ubiquitous, but their use has fallen away. On pipe chanters they are generally about 2 7/8" in diameter, and 1/2" in thickness. The end is flush with the bottom of the chanter. They are made of ivory, art. ivory, or metal.

sound holes

The two holes drilled near the bottom on each side of the pipe chanter. Sound holes must be used when a conical bore ends with no bell. If no sound holes are present under those circumstances, the lowest note will always have an unacceptably different tone from the rest of the notes. This can be demonstrated by covering the sound holes on a pipe chanter and sounding low G. The note (ignore the ridiculously low pitch) will be a very disagreeable bray. 
sterling silver An alloy of fine silver and copper. It consists of 925 parts fine silver and 75 parts copper per thousand parts. Fine silver (unalloyed silver), is the whitest and has the greatest luster of all metals. With a melting point of 1761 degrees Fahrenheit, silver is one of the most ductile and malleable metals, making it ideal for jewelry making. Because fine silver is so soft the copper must be added to increase its durability. Other metals can be used, but copper has been found to give the silver the necessary durability without affecting its ductility and malleability. 


Each of the five pieces of the pipe that gets tied into the bag is a stock. 
tapered bore A bore that is larger at one end than at the other. The pipe chanter has a tapered bore.

tenon (ten-un)

That part of any piece which gets hemped. The hemped tenon has a pressure fit to the piece to which it should be attached. Except on the pipe chanter and practice chanter, the tenon always has a mount adjacent to it. The mount provides a "stop" past which the piece sliding over the tenon can't go.


Specifically, one of the smaller drones that extend away from the bass and the piper's head. More generally, any part that has to do with a tenor, e.g. "a set of drone reeds is a bass and two tenors ."
top joint or top The top piece of each drone. It has a tuning chamber at the bottom part of the bore and a bell at the top. The shape at the top is always considerably larger (about 2" dia.) than just below (about 7/8" dia.). The shape sweeps up to the top from the cord holders. The diameter is larger at the top in order to accommodate the bell.

tuning chamber

The bottom bore of the tops and the bass middle joint. It is a counter bore (i.e. a larger bore than the main bore), and starts at the ferrule. Generally it is 1/8" longer then the length of the tuning pin that is to be inserted into it. In any case, the two bass and two tenor tuning chambers should be the same respective lengths. The tuning pin is never inserted all the way so the mount meets the ferrule. It is inserted part way, and thanks to the hemp on the tenon portion of the pin, a snug but moveable fit is achieved. The top or middle joint is then moved up or down to tune the drone. Moving up (lengthening) flattens the pitch, moving down sharpens it.

tuning pin

The straight, slender part at the top of the bottoms and bass middle joint, extending up from the top mount.

tuning slide

1 n. A sleeve, usually silver and always metal, put over the tuning pin for the sake of decoration. It extends from the top mount up to the bottom part of the hemp. 2. n. A sleeve, usually brass or nickel silver, that is inserted into the tuning chamber as a permanent fixture. The more skillful makers held it in place with glue and a wedge. This practice was common over a century ago, but was abandoned almost universally.

venturi (ven-chu-ry)

A venturi is simply a device which provides a way to convert high-pressure, low velocity air to low-pressure, high velocity air. In the context of the chanter stock, the bag provides the high-pressure, low velocity air and the stock serves to increase the velocity of the air moving past the chanter reed. Since the reed's total flow area is much smaller than the stock's restriction, the effect of the venturi on an easy reed will be minimal since the easy reed requires little air to make it vibrate. The venturi chanter stock will have a measurable effect if the piper plays heavy reeds. Submitted by Mark Lee.

water trap

A device to prevent large amounts of breath moisture from getting into the bag. Our design combines efficiency with ease of use. On it, a reservoir at the bottom of the blow stock juts into the bag. This catches most of the moisture, and allows the piper to empty the trap by merely removing the blowpipe and upending the stock. Another design has a long tube that stretches from the blow stock to the back of the bag. These are very cumbersome, uncomfortable, and difficult to empty. The traditional design is a cork stuck into the bottom of the blow stock with a tube through it. The end of the tube is not flush with the end of the cork. the space between the tube and stock bore walls catches some moisture.
wood lathe See lathe.
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