Bamboo Digeridoo

bamboo-didgeridoo

The didgeridoo is a musical wind instrument from Australia. The aborigines there made these from limbs that had been hollowed out by an insect. The sound is very unique and immediately brings images of Australia to mind. Bamboo may have been used by some people in areas where it grew. It’s easy to make a didgeridoo from bamboo – here’s how!

What you will need –
A lenght of bamboo cane, about 2? in diameter and 5 to 6 feet long.
A piece of steel rebar or threaded rod, 3 feet long.
A small piece of bee’s wax

Optional –
Propane torch
Fine sandpaper
Black shoe polish
I used a piece of Moso cane because it has a unique look with a base that flares out in diameter but any bamboo cane about 2 inches in diameter will do. I also blackened the bamboo which I will cover after the basic building instructions. Cut your cane to about 5 feet long. I have better luck with something about 6 inches shorter than that but start with 5′. You change the key of the didgeridoo by changing the length. I have no musical sense so I can’t tune mine, perhaps you can! When first obtaining the bamboo, cut just above a node on the smaller end where the mouthpiece will be. Then measure down toward the base and cut it to length at that end.

Construction
Use a hammer and something like a small bolt to break out the first couple of membranes in the cane. Then use the rebar or threaded rod to knock out all the nodes. You can ram the rod back and forth and go about half way in from each end. Once the rod will go in and out easily use it to smooth and clean the inside of the cane, removing most all the membrane material. The rough edges of the rebar or threaded rod act like a wood rasp and clean the membrane or node material. Once you get it fairly clean it’s time to try out the sound.

digeridoo  didgeridoo inside
The best way I can describe it is to put your lips on the small end, sort of like a trumpet. I sort of make a “bronx cheer” sound that when done right makes the didgeridoo resonate with a nice sound. If you can’t get a good sound, or even if you can, you need to install the mouth piece. This makes it easier to play and sounds better.

Beeswax mouthpiece
Melt a little beeswax in a small pan or metal cup. Dip the mouth end of the didgeridoo into the hot wax, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Let it cool and dip again. Do this several times until you have a ring of wax built up. Let it cool a bit and then use your fingers to shape it into a nice rounded shape. When you play the wax makes a good seal. Once the wax warms up it will mold itself to your lips and makes it much easier to play. It also forms a better seal in general.

beeswax mouthpiece

Painting or varnishing
You can paint the didgeridoo or varnish it. Bamboo has a natural waxy finish so you should sand with very fine sandpaper before painting or varnishing. Clean thoroughly and dry well. Of course I’m assuming you have a dry piece of bamboo. If not you will need to dry the cane by standing it on it’s end indoors for several weeks to a few months. It will turn a nice tan or camel color when dry.

Blackening the bamboo
As you can see in the pictures, this didgeridoo is black. I used a torch to blacken the bamboo and it’s fairly easy to do. You should start with bamboo that is still green or somewhat green. Dry bamboo will scorch. You MUST remove the interior membranes at all the nodes. Heating bamboo that does not have these removed can explode. Once the membranes have all been punctured you can heat the bamboo. Use the torch to heat an area about 2 to 3 inches square. It will first turn tan, move the torch around the area and then start re-heating. The bamboo will darken more. Hold the heat until it is very dark brown, that is about as dark as you can get, almost black. Heating too long, especially after it is dark brown, may burn the bamboo. As you do each section and move on to another area, wipe the hot cane with a rag. The heat brings waxes and oils to the surface and removing them helps cure the bamboo. It took me about an hour to do the entire didgeridoo. When finished I wiped it down with black shoe polish. This darkened it just a little more and gave it just a little shine and nice feel.
Complete heating and coloring the entire bamboo before adding the mouthpiece.