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  QUESTION: Leaded pipe organ pipes are usually made of a tin/lead alloy (basically solder) of PVC, 18 Jun 2004, South Australia


(Metal) Pipes are usually made of a tin/lead alloy (basically solder), but have also been made of pure tin and zinc. The historical alternative is pipes made from wood (some types/shapes of pipe can not be made of wood). I am studying organ pipes (which is how I know of the lead content) and have made pipes from paper/ cardboard, PVC pipe and Aluminium tubing. Organ builders sometimes refer to this alloy as 'metal'. Like the lead lighters, it is used because it is the easiest thing to work and gives a good result. There is great controversy in organ circles about what material gives the best sound in a pipe. I've just found a Swedish paper that I hope will qualify this. Almost any book on pipe organs will confirm the composition. I have a number of references that I can give you details of that if you can't find one. I think you are safe singing next to a lead pipe (as you are safe looking at a lead light window) - my interest arises from reading the article on lead sinkers. Pipes start out as a sheet cast onto a table, so in the processing there are literally several square metres of molten metal solidifying. Later on in the process this is cut up, shaped and then soldered.


ANSWER: 18 Jun 2004

Dear Michael,

Inspired by your email I've found a (very humourous) description of soldering lead organ pipes at which includes the excellent advice "because of the lead fumes do not breath while doing any of this" and "you shouldn't lick a soldering iron to clean it" (!!) and something I didn't know - Osama Bin Laden controls the world market in gum arabic or whiting (I'm not sure which he meant)! Nevertheless I have now the required confirmation that pipe organ pipes are leaded so I'll ask our volunteer webmaster, David Ratcliffe to add them to the "Other uses" section of the Sources of Lead page.

By the way, I was not at all concerned about getting lead poisoned by the leaded organ pipes at choir practice, just amazed that I see them every week and never thought they would be made of lead!

So tell me, which material does give the best sound in an organ pipe? And is there a pipe organ manufacturer who never uses lead pipes? that we could add to our Lead-Free and Hazard Reduction Products & Services Thanks for keeping me informed.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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