This handmade didgeridoo (didge, for short) was made with a 4′ section of 1 1/2″ ABS plastic plumbing pipe, covered with paper mache and then painted. I finished mine in one day.
You buy the pipe at the hardware or plumbing store in standard 10′ lengths, so you will have enough material for two didgeridoos.
Since you have enough material for two instruments, you might want to check out this website, which gives you the math you need for another pitch. Who knows – maybe you could start your own didge band.
(Did you know that blowing a didge has been shown to help people who suffer from sleep apnea? Probably because you strengthen muscles inside your throat that you don’t normally use. )
A traditional didge has a mouthpiece made from bee’s wax. I didn’t want to bother with that – it sounded kind of messy. Instead, I used another item from the plumbing store, a rubber pipe connector. And this one item will give you enough material for two mouthpieces.
You can buy both the 10’Â piece of ABS pipe and the rubber connector for less than $10.00, and for this amount you get two didgeridoos. Pretty nice, eh?
So, let’s get down to it.
Cutting the pipe.
First, cut your ABS 1 1/2″ pipe 4′ long, using a saw.
Next, use some sandpaper to smooth the rough edges that the saw made on the ends. Use a mask when you sand – you don’t want plastic dust in your lungs.
Now you need to find a way to hold the pipe up off your table so you can add paper mache. I found that it worked really well to place the pipe over the end of my garden rake. Then the pipe will stand up without falling over.
The cardboard from inside a used-up roll of masking tape was placed over the rake handle first, to keep the plastic off the dirty rake. (You’ll need to use a bit of tape to hold it in place).
The paper mache.
Now make up some paper mache paste by mixing about a cup of white flour with enough water to make it the consistency of heavy cream. Then dip one side of a strip of newspaper into the bowl of paste, pull it against the side of the bowl to remove the excess, and paste it around your pipe.
Continue to paste strips onto the pipe until it is completely covered. I put only one layer on my didge, but you can add more if you want.
To be honest, you could make a perfectly nice painted didgeridoo without the paper mache, and just paint the plastic. However, I hate painting on plastic myself. And the paper mache adds just enough texture to make the finished instrument seem a little more life-like. Besides, this is a paper mache blog…
While your paper mache layer is drying you canÂ make your mouthpiece.
The mouthpiece will form a tight seal around your mouth so you can blow a raspberry into the pipe and make your didge sing. For the mouthpiece you’ll need a rubber pipe connector. Be sure you buy a connector that fits your pipe.
The connector comes with two metal thingies that are meant to hold the rubber connector to a plastic pipe. Since they’re ugly, we won’t be using them.
You’ll need to use a box cutter to cut your connector in half. The knife is dangerous, so you must be careful with this step if you want to keep all your fingers. I found that it was easier to hold it if I slipped the connector over the end of a piece of scrap pipe. Draw a line in the middle of your connector, and then cut the two pieces apart.
Now, being even more careful, you’ll need to shape the cut edge so it fits around your mouth. After the mouthpiece fits snugly, use some sandpaper to smooth all the edges. Use your mask so you don’t get rubber dust in your lungs.
The rubber connectors are made slightly larger than the outside diameter of your pipe, but we won’t be using the metal things that plumbers use to tighten them together. To make a tighter fit, use some masking tape or plumber’s tape around the very top of your didge, putting it on over the dry layer of paper mache. Keep trying the mouthpiece on to see if the fit is tight enough. Then put your mouthpiece aside until after you’ve finished painting your new didgeridoo.
Adding the design.
Now all that’s left is to paint your didgeridoo.
Before painting your design, lightly sand your paper mache layer so it’s smooth, and then give it an undercoat of gesso or primer. Then draw your design onto the didge and start painting. I used acrylic paint for mine.
You can look up traditional designs online, or just make up your own design to fit your own personality.
I noticed that traditional designs often use stylized paintings of reptiles, and the didges are often broken up into several different sections, with each section a different color. I decided that I wanted to use this general idea, but without trying to directly copy from the traditional Australian designs.
The most well-known reptile in the dry part of our state is the rattlesnake. Then I chose a blue-tailed skink for the top section. I don’t actually know if we have these little lizards here in eastern Oregon, but there were lots of them in eastern Washington, where I grew up.
The skink is protected from the snake by a band of sage green.
I actually chose the skink because way back when I was a kid, I was a bit weird. (Still am, of course.) Like all weird kids, I got to spend a lot of time alone. One of the ways I liked to pass the time during the summers was to turn over rocks and look for these fast, shy creatures. Even though the blue-tailed skink has that iridescent blue tail, I think you could live in the Washington Scablands all your life without seeing one if you didn’t go out looking for them. Even when you are looking, they aren’t easy to find.
Since scorpions and rattlesnakes also hide under rocks, I’m not sure why I survived my childhood. Perhaps the gods do watch after fools.