The Hand Crank Organ


Whilst on holiday near the south coast, in the year 2000, we went to the Rye Mechanical music museum and had a very interesting time there. We were the only people there at the time so we had a one to one guided tour. One exhibit we were shown was a small hand turned organ with which we were both fascinated especially when we were told that it could be made by a DIY enthusiast. A leaflet about the plans for this organ was at the Rye museum, so thus started my next major hobby – making a John Smith busker organ.


I decided to build the senior organ, so sent off for the plans from John Smith. After watching the video supplied with the drawings I made a start with the bellows and reservoir. This meant working with leather and cloth (blackout material), which I had never done before, but the video gave enough information to get started.


My job then was supervising students at the local university in a large woodwork shop as they try to turn there ideas into 3D models, so I had access to a number of machines which do need “testing” from time to time! (during the dinner hour!!).

I used MDF for the casework and bellows, ash (old table leg) for the tracker bar and some Canadian whitewood for most of the pipes which I cut down to 3mm thick.

Assembly was quite straight forward, but, as I found out the hard way, attention to detail is very important. The main thing to watch for is air leaks everywhere. A number of small leaks quickly add up to a loss of a lot of air and in a small reservoir like this one can soon lead to loss of pressure. Also air leaks in the organ pipes reduce sound quality. I sealed all my pipes both inside and out. By doing this the pipes reverberated instead of sounding dead.

 The tracker bar being non standard spacing for the holes meant that a machine to punch the paper music had to be made.

John Smith again has designed a mechanical punching machine for this organ.

To get the correct hole spacing for the tracker bar, I had made a steel template by using the index wheels on a small milling machine. This same template was used to produce the spacing for the punch machine so any small errors would be the same on both the organ and the punch



 I felt a great sense of achievement when I first played my own arrangement of The Cancan, which would still benefit from some more work.


My first outing with the organ was to Hunstanton at the invitation of John Smith. This was where we first met a number of fellow organ grinders who made us very welcome notably Edward Murry-Harvy with whom we teamed up on the Saturday. We also met Bob Essex (of the Midster Punch M/c) who lives only a few miles from us and invited us to see his workshop and organs he is making.


 Because of this weekend I had to quickly make a cart on which to put the organ. I had no wheels, so I made some solid wooden ones which did the job. John Smith saw them and offered me a set that he had on condition that I collected them from his house. That was a most rewarding visit in that he was able to give me lots of ideas and pointers to help me improve my organs (note the plural) because by this time I had started my second organ – a new 26 note again designed by “Smiffy”.

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