Retour Arrière / Back D.I.Y. Bagpipes Seasoning


Seasoning, also known as dressing, is used both to make the leather bag of the bagpipes airtight, and to absorb the humidity from the piper's blowing so it does not accumulate on the reeds.

This page is in no way meant to detract from the excellence of commercial products like Sil-Seal ®, Highlander Bag Dressing ® or Hardie's Airtight Seasoning ®,  but it may happen to you too that you are caught short, and are in dire need of some sort of seasoning right now, without waiting for a commercial product to be mailed to you from the other end of the world.

It did happen to me, when I searched the Web in vain for a DIY recipe then asked for help on a piping discussion list.

So I have put here the following recipes, gleaned from various sources, as a service to pipers everywhere who may find themselves in the same predicament.

We shall ignore jocular replies about Eastern-European pipe bags, made of goat skin, supposedly relying on the goat smell to remain airtight, likewise ignore the smart alecks and their reply "Recipe: don't be a miser, spend some bucks and  purchase a can of Airtight Bag Seasoning" which are not completely helpful when you are caught in an emergency in Darkest Paraguay, away from the shops,, and we shall concentrate of actual recipes.

From Jason Austin on the Bagpiper list at Yahoogroups I got this:
"I learnt to play about 45 years ago in a small country town in
New Zealand and we used molasses to season the bag. 
It gave the bag a lovely sweet earthy smell !"

From
Zudupiper:
3 parts Murphy's Oil Soap
1 part Crisco shortening
Half a capful of Lysol (not CUPful, CAPful)
Heat in microwave 45 seconds, stir, season, drain. 
A "part" is 2 oz for a
first seasoning and 1 oz for a re-seasoning. 
This is a modification of Royce's recipe BTW.

And from Ian Richmond on the same list I got this recipe:
"1 part glycerine (available in a drug store),
1 part rubbing alcohol,
2 parts honey, no heating required.
This is a recipe given to me by George R. Duncan over forty years ago."


I have tried this last recipe on a new hide bag which had required re-stitching of part of the welt, and found that it did not stop the leaks at the needle-holes, maybe because I live in a hot climate ant the seasoning remained liquid, and was blown out through the needle holes it should have stopped.

Remembering a recipe I had read years ago in the College of Piping Tutor, I modified the above recipe to:

30 ml glycerine,
30 ml rubbing alcohol
(or 40 ml 100-proof whisky)
60 ml honey,
10 grammes granulated gelatine dissolved in
30 ml boiling water (20 ml if using whisky).

The gelatin (from the food department of my supermarket) in this recipe makes the seasoning set stiffly when it cools down, and this plugged perfectly the needle holes in my bag.
Five years, and only four re-seasonings later, the bag has not rotted away, does not smell bad, is still perfectly airtight, remains surprisingly airtight when I have to abandon playing for several weeks, and is in general a pleasure to play.
Obviously, like Hardie's Airtight it does need (re-)heating before you can use it; it keeps for years in a plastic bottle in the fridge.


Now here is a collection of recipes gleaned on bagpipes lists, from the Internet and from various piping books. Please note when considering the recipes from Brittany that Breton pipe bags were usually made of dog skin or goats skin, which are both more resistant than the sheep skin or cow skin traditionally used for Scottish Highland pipes.

According to the College of Piping "Highland Bagpipe Tutor" Volume II (1971 edition)  :
"You can season your bag with a mixture of olive oil (for the skin) and brown sugar (for the moisture).
No proportions are given, only that you must adapt them depending on the climate,
and whether you are a "dry blower" or a "wet blower".

"Treacle, honey, syrup, glycerine, glucose, gelatine and the white of an egg" are also mentioned in passing.

"To begin with you cannot do better in Scotland than use pure honey."

"Seasoning in an emergency
Sometimes you may have to season the bagpipe and play it the same night.
When this happens, mix a small quantity of honey and glycerine in equal proportions, and warm in a pan.
Do not dismantle the instrument, but take out the middle drone. Pour not more than one tablespoon
into the bag by way of the middle stock, making sure that the bag is held in such a way that the seasoning
flows to the back of the bag. Rub in as well as you can, clean out the middle stock, and replace the drone.
It is useful to know about this, but try to avoid landing yourself in such situations."

The following recipe is copied from a catalogue published by Henderson Bagpipes in 1920.
(www.thebagpipeplace.com/museum/page264.html)

"Cork all the stocks except one. Mix a quantity of unrefined cane sugar with a small amount of water,
melt to the consistency of syrup, and allow (the mixture) to cool until lukewarm.
Blow a little air into the bag to prevent the sides from adhering. Pour in the mixture, cork up the stock,
and rub the bag thoroughly between the hands until the sugar is spread over the inside.
Hang up the bag for a few hours to drip through the chanter stock. Finish by wiping out the stocks.
The bag is now ready to use. This treatment we have always used and found it most satisfactory.
The coating of sugar absorbs the distilled water arising from the hot breath blown in, therefore keeping the reeds in form.
Greasy and oily substances are in many cases used they have the reverse effect on the reeds and are not good for the skin.
Treacle and sugar should never be used it penetrates through and damages the clothing."

PM MacLellan's "Piper's Handbook" is unusually silent on the subject of the composition of seasoning,
the only one he mentions "comes in a can, please follow the makers instructions",
but in an interesting aside, he states that should one happen to change from one type of seasoning to
another, one should first rinse out the bag with warm water to which some Dettol has been added.

From David Schultz, in far-away Australia:

"Back in the 1950's we used to use a mixture of petroleum jelly (vaseline) and honey. I can't remember the proportions
but both ingredients were heated and mixed together and used in the same way modern dressings are used.
This mixture was so successful I can only remember seasoning my sheepskin bag a few times in 7 years of constant playing.
The pipes were then stored away for about 30 years.After this time they were not completely airtight, but could still be played.
The bag appeared to still be in perfect condition.I'm sure that had I seasoned it with the same mixture again it would have been as good as new."


The composition of commercial seasoning is a closely-guarded secret.
Yet it is rumoured that Hardie's famous Airtight Seasoning is made mostly
of lanolin suspended in glycerine, and a small amount of lye.


In his treaty "Skol ar Biniou", Dorig le Voyer, a Breton pipe maker, proposed several recipes for "stouv-toul", or seasoning.

Molasses :
"Boil molasses on a low fire to thicken it; when it reaches the consistency of gelatine use it,
after letting it cool so as not to damage the leather with excessive heat.
Not advised in very humid conditions, as it absorbs too much water and seeps through the leather.
Gives the instrument a bad smell."

Glucose and oat malt :
"Perfect airtightness, but not to be used by occasional players: if it dries out the bag remains stuck together,
and becomes impossible to inflate."

Neatsfoot oil (Huile de pied de beuf) :
"This makes the leather airtight, but it also weakens the leather and in hot weather it seeps through and spoils the piper's clothes."

Neatsfoot oil and resin :
"Boil two parts of resin in one part of oil, apply once it has cooled down.
Leaves an oily deposit on the reeds, which tends to make them too soft."

Sugar syrup :
"Best avoided, since the pure sugar causes the leather to perish very quickly.
Only acceptable in small quantity as an addition to some other recipe."

Glue, sugar and glycerine :
"Take a 3 cm by 3 cm (1 1/4" by 1 1/4" for the un-metric heathens) square of joiner's glue (bone glue or leather glue)
and steep it in water overnight; it will become jelly-like.
Heat up this jelly on a low fire until it has the consistency of table oil.
Add 1/4 volume of glycerine, and a tablespoon of sugar.
This mixture, heated for ten minutes (avoid boiling) is introduced lukewarm in the bag."

Glue and glycerine :
"Take a 5 cm by 5 cm (2" by 2") square of joiner's glue (bone glue or leather glue) and steep it in water overnight;.
place it in a pan with an equal volume of glycerine, melt on a low fire, use warm.
Should the bag dry out, you can return it to a supple state by pouring a little glycerine into it."

But he also mentions that in Scotland the seasoning can be got ready made, in little tins.


Yves Castel suggests in his "Methode de Biniou et Bombarde" to use "mixtures of honey and glycerine,
or of seal fat and glycerine"; no proportions are given.

He also proposes a recipe popular with pipers in earlier times, "a mixture of vegetable oil and egg white,
heated on a low fire till the egg white begins to coagulate;" again no proportions.

Finally, a few recipes I have gathered from here and there, on the Internet:


On the Bobdunsire forum (http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/showthread.php?t=79042) :
From Tom Weir:
"My tutor gave me this recipe that he has used for years. I've never used it but I have the stuff to mix it up for my next seasoning.
Mix the components and warm it in a a small bottle placed in water on the stove. Heat it until it mixes and flows easily.
Don't use a microwave to heat it because it will get too hot (oops- that's been said before).
2 parts of Glycerine
4 parts of Honey
4 parts of Anhydrous Lanolin"
From CM:
"A 50/50 combination of honey and glycerine, I would recommend this as an easy, inexpensive, and workable combination;
but caution that you may want to reduce the amount of glycerine depending on how much humidity there is where you live."
From D Campbell:
"A cup of honey, a cup of molasses and an egg (white only? I can check if you want). Mix and heat in a sauce pan 'till pourable."
From Patrick Piper:
"Royce Lerwick's seasoning. I think it's: 2 parts Murphy's Oil Soap, 1 part Crisco Shortening with a few drops of Pine Sol.
Warmed in a microwave just until it's mixed together. It does smell kind of "janitorial", though. Some like it, some don't."
From Stig Bang-Mortensen:
"50% animal glue and 50% sugar and some drops off Dettol looks like Airtight and smells like airtight. And even works like Airtight."
And also (http://forums.bobdunsire.com/forums/showthread.php?t=144681

From Colin Boucher "figjam911"
"When I first started to play...we didn't have the luxury of proprietary seasoning such as 'Airtight' and we made our own concoction.
The recipe was basically made up of treacle, sugar, honey, a little neatsfoot oil, a dash or more of whisky for a nice smell depending
upon taste, all mixed up and poured into the bag, rubbed in and the bag left overnight to drain out.
It worked...but the bags rotted real quick. The stuff leaked through the leather and stained the outer bag and clothing sometimes."
From Scot Kortegaard
"When I was a kid (wasn't that long ago!), all we ever used was a vaseline and glycerin mixture. If memory serves ...
three tablespoons of vaseline, add glycerin and stir until the right consistency is achieved, runny, but not thin. "
From "Wulls"
"My old teacher swore by Ichthammol ointment and glycerine.....
Ichthammol is basically vasaline and lanolin with antiseptic.
It worked fine as seasoning and smelled (stunk?) better than Airtight....."
- Compiler's note: "Ichthammol ointment", BP 1980 in the UK.
From "Stryker"
"According to the version of Logan’s Tutor that I started with, 1955, the procedure that was stated was to use Treacle.
What I was taught back then was a concoction of Lanolin, glycerin with a touch of honey. Lanolin is natural oil,
Glycerin is hydroscopic and honey for tradition. It worked very well kept the leather supple and lasted a long time.
I still use it on my pipes with a leather bag. (You heat the lanolin in a double boiler until liquid, add the rest,
mix and work it into the bag the hang to drain over night)"

From Peter Frodermo on http://olle.gallmo.se/sackpipa/maintenance.php, a recipe from Sweden:

"Buy hide glue (in granulated form), glycerine (glycerol) and a conservative such as Atamon
(sodium benzoate, or whatever your old grandmother used when she conserved lemonade).
Pour two table spoons of hide glue in a can. Cut the top off a beer can or use a plastic cup.
Pour water over the glue, so that it covers the glue by about 0.5 centimetres (1/5").
Put the can in a pot of simmering water on the stove and stir until the the glue is completely dissolved.
The liquid should now have the consistency of unwhipped cream.
Add glycerine, about 4 times as much as there is glue in the can.
Also add a table spoon of Atamon (or whatever conservative you use).
Stir and then let the solution cool down a bit. "


From Bill Carr (Nordic Piper) :

"Here's one. It's based on Royce's "Uptight" but I reckon it's better. A bit more work though.

1 cup vegetable shortening.
2 cups natural plant or wood soap (pine soap)
1 cup clear sugar syrup. (honey if you can afford it)
2 teaspoons gelatin crystals.
Just enough hot water to dissolve the gelatin.

Warm the vegetable shortening till it's clear. Stir in the soap first.
You end up with a milky white liquid that can be used as bag seasoning as it is.
Next stir in the syrup and finally the dissolved gelatin. Make sure it is completely dissolved.
Warm the whole thing so that every thing blends together. DON'T BOIL!
Set it aside over night to cool and set.
What you end up with looks like, tastes like, and has the same consistency as, Hardie's Airtight.
It works just as well too."

From J. Morrison on www.billingsbagpipe.us/id22.html
"Old-time pipers in Montana were unable to obtain store-bought seasoning from Scotland and resorted
to many concoctions, among them plain old honey, honey and glycerine, hide glue and glycerine,"

Justin Sytek <sytekjm@aol.com> sent me the link to a document in the National Museums of Scotlans site
in which David Glen the pipe-maker gives his recipe for seasoning the sheepskin bag of a set of Highland bagpipes.
The ingredients given are pure lard and resin in equal quantities, melted until they come to the boil and allowed to cool.
Pour the mixture into the bag and to rub it in to make the bag supple and airtight.
Adding a small piece of Archangel Tar to the mixture can be advantageous.
This is the mixture he sells ready-made in tins to his customers.

On the related subject of avoiding mold and other nasties from growing inside the bag, first note that leather that has been tanned using chromium salts is much less liable to growths than leather tanned with vegetable tannin; but the starch or sugar present in many recipes will be a nutritious growth medium for molds and bacteria, which is where some antiseptic agent may be of help.
I found in several sources advocating the addition of salicylic acid (Aspirin) to your seasoning recipe to help maintain a growth-free condition; you just crush an aspirin pill and add the powder to the mix you are using.
Another way to prevent mold is to add copper (in the form of an old  One Penny coin, a small plumbing fitting or a coil of copper electrical wire) inside the bag, as the copper salts will prevent the proliferation of mold; but make sure it wont get to your chanter stock; you might want to use a piece of hemp, caught between a drone stock and drone, to tie to the copper and ensure it cannot wander away too far and bugger your chanter reed, in the same way that some excess hemp from the drone reed, caught between stock and drone, can save you from having to fish in the bag when the  reed drops out of its seat !



On the subject of how to season you bag, I refuse to re-invent the wheel; please have a look at the very clear explanations you will find for instance on the relevant page of Andrew T. Lenz, Jr.'s excellent piping website.

If you have a seasoning recipe that could be added here, please send it to me if possible with source or reference.

Retour Arrière / Back



Last revision: 22 10 2013