A tin-pipe maker's story ...
Originally, pipe making was one of the tasks of an organbuilder. But the increasing specialisation within the profession during the 19th century drew out the skill of the pipemakers.
There is a great variety in the different pipes. Lipped, or flue pipes account for some 85% of the pipes in an organ. Most are of metal, principally a tin/lead alloy, otherwise they are of wood.
Short pipes create a high note, long pipes a deep note. Whether the shape of the pipe is cylindrical or conical, whether the pipes are open or stopped, the form and size of a pipe-mouth: all these differences influence the pitch and tonal character of a pipe.
Reed or flue pipes create their own varied and special tones: also, whether a pipe's diameter is larger or smaller, and whether the body of the pipe is cylindrical or funnel shaped are essential differences to be mentioned.
During the planning of an organ, the organbuilder keeps fixed the size, shape and special characteristics of the pipes. The tin-pipe maker then makes the pipes according exactly to the wishes and requirements of the organbuilder. He must base his most important calculations on the manner of operation of the pipes, knowing exactly how they respond according to their length, form and arrangement.
The majority of pipes are made from a tin/lead alloy. Occasionally, zinc and copper are also used. The required alloy of tin and lead is mixed in the smelting furnace, together with traces of antimony, copper and other substances according to the secret expertise of the pipemakers.
The molten metal is poured out over a special workbench, where the metal can harden, largely free of tension, and is made into sheets of raw metal. These can then be planed by machine to the required thickness. The geometrical shape of the pipe under construction can then be drawn on to an appropriate sheet of metal, and then cut out. This piece of metal is then rolled up, soldered and rounded out. A clean solder joint is an important skill of a pipemaker, and requires a sure and steady hand.
The different sizes, the varied forms and arrangement of the pipes as needed for each different organ - not forgetting the occasional, richly decorated pipe for a facade: all these give cause for an ever changing variety within the work.