Activity: The Bullroarer

Discussion in 'Primitive Tools' started by paleojoe, Apr 17, 2010.

  1. paleojoe

    paleojoe Tracker

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    Hello everyone,


    Yes, you may all recognize this instrument from Crocodile Dundee...

    Although used widely by Australian Aboriginals, the bullroarer or turndun, or rhombus (in ancient Greek), is probably the most widely used instrument all over the world. It has over 60 names. It existed in Africa (Nigeria, Mali, etc.), British Isles (Scotland, it was called 'thunder spell'), North America (Navajo, Apache, Zuni, Inuit, etc.), and was used for a variety of purposes.

    It was predominately used as a 'phone' to communicate over large distances. It was sacred in ceremonial gatherings, it was a musical instrument, hunting tool, fear inducer to animals/people, it held a variety of other uses. It is easily one of, if not the, oldest wind instrument. I've seen pictures of scapula and slate bullroarers as well.

    And it is simple to make! A flat piece of wood, thin, and not necessarily straight and cordage is all that is needed. The wood acts as an 'aerofoil' that spins individually in a larger rotational spin. This backspin creates a deep vibrational hum akin to lions and motor engines. It carries far, both in pitch and vibration.

    Here are a few I have made:

    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    (I've been liking the sound a few notches add as of late...)

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    In Australia, there is a keen development of multi-tools, as the less carried, the better. Here is a bullroarer, shallow bowl (coolamon), atlatl thrower (woomera, and it works!) multitool:

    [​IMG]



    String and Handle:

    The length of string is determined by the size of the bullroarer and by the type of rotation you want. Going for more string, holding the excess in the opposite hand is another method.
    I like to go for a length of about 2'-3' as this lets me spin one-handed, and both over my head or to my side without requiring too much space.

    Of the variety of cordages I've tried, two-ply, leg-rolled leather has been the absolute best. Making knots every 6" or so also acts to reduce the amount of over spinning and can make a good handhold. Most of the plant cordages I've tried will all snap. Sisal goes quickly. New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax) is hardy and can be rolled thick, but thicker cordage tends to muffle the sound. I've also found that a slightly looser wrap on the ply lasts longer.

    Thin paracord has been somewhat successful, as you can melt the knots. It will break as well. Keep in mind, anything spinning that much, under that much tension will break a cord!
    As well, with the paracord, handholds are more required as this can happen with the friction of synthetics versus natural like leather:

    [​IMG][​IMG]

    The lighter the aerofoil, the better, the wider and longer, the better sounding.


    Use:

    The Bullroarer can be used spinning over the head or to the side, namely horizontal or vertical spin. Over the head allows for more force, and longer play. Vertical to the side works just as well, but not for heavy bullroarers.

    The trick is backspin. I give it a quick spin in my hand and then begin the rotation. You can also start by swinging in one direction, then changing it. Sometimes, you can just spin it and it will go. The roar comes in when you really begin to change the amount of force applied. Remember, it is not about swing as hard as you can, or like mad. It is about fluxes of force. It will begin roaring and will feel like it is flying.

    [​IMG]

    Another thing to consider is the wood used. I've really been liking Redwood as of late for the lightness, carvability, and look, but still my best sounding one is made from Douglas Fir.


    I think it is a great tool for communicating or locating. I've tested it with students and the best spots are peaks, ridges, areas that conduct wind or echo. I've buried myself in a gorge and spun and let the kids find me.

    I think this one should be taught more for man tracking or lost survival scenarios!


    Thanks for looking!

    Have fun out there!:D


    More info:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bullroarer_(music)
     
  2. Mtnfolk Mike

    Mtnfolk Mike Supporter Supporter

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    great stuff as usual man...:) i always dig your post's..
     
  3. Old Philosopher

    Old Philosopher Banned Member Banned

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    The bullroar rulz! Thanks for sharing.
    This might sound like heresy, but the last one I made I attached the cord with a HUGE deep-sea fishing swivel I took off a windsock. No twisting of the cord, and the blade was able to do what ever came natural to it.
     
  4. paleojoe

    paleojoe Tracker

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    Hello Old Philosopher.

    No heresy at all! I too have heard of functional swivel attachments for bullroarers. Great to hear that it works well for you!
     
  5. cbo

    cbo Guide

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    I just made one, and the kids like it, good post!
     
  6. Sgt. Mac

    Sgt. Mac Elder Staff Member Administrator Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II Bushclass Instructor

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    Great post! I'll have to put that on my to do list. Couple of quesions though, How far will the sound travel aprox., does the length and size alter the pitch?
     
  7. Michael

    Michael Scout

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    yep the black fellas down hear sear by em it kind of a scary sound when you hear it for the first time
     
  8. 45jack

    45jack Supporter Supporter

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    I haven't made one of these since I was a kid. Now that I know the rich heritage I just have to make one, or two or three.

    YouTube - communication
     
  9. paleojoe

    paleojoe Tracker

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    Hello Sgt. Mac,

    Hard to say how far it travels as it depends on location. Ridges and peaks, areas with decent echo or wind funneling are ideal.

    Smaller than 7" in Bullroarer length has muffled, short bursts of sound, 7" or more has longer, loud sound. Wider than narrow also has deeper sound from my experience...
     
  10. Michael

    Michael Scout

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    on the flats a long way up to 5 miles
     
  11. Tom Krein

    Tom Krein Scout

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    Cool post! I have one from New Zeland I think... LOTS of fun!

    Tom
     
  12. bigbore442001

    bigbore442001 Scout

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    I will have to make one of those. I live on a large lake so I wonder if people living across about one mile away will be able to hear it?
     
  13. Buckskin

    Buckskin Guide

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    I started carving one of these and I have a question about thickness. Mine is from a piece of stock that is about 3/4" thick. I think it needs to be thinner, but how thin?

    Thanks!
     
  14. paleojoe

    paleojoe Tracker

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    Hello Buckskin,

    Mine have a convex taper from the center to the edge, so I'd say at the thickest in the center somewhere in the 1/4" or thinner range. But also, density of wood is also to consider. A harder, denser wood can go thinner, and a lighter wood can get away with a bit thicker if need be...

    The best way to test at the end is to string it up and see how it twirls. If it doesn't spin, too thick; if the cord keeps snapping and feels really taught in weight, too thick; if you get fatigued too quick and tension pulls into your fingers, too thick.

    Hope this helps!
     
  15. Buckskin

    Buckskin Guide

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    I have a piece of cedar left over from a fence project. I will take it down a bit and play with it. Thanks for the advice.
     
  16. mainewoods

    mainewoods Maine Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    LOL Great!

    That was Funny Thanks for the Video LOL [​IMG]
     
  17. mainewoods

    mainewoods Maine Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    Thanks Paleojoe I'll got to Make one of those My wife is alway outdoors LOl Thanks for sharing, But I am adding it to my list # 42 Thanks again My Friend
     
  18. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    Hello all,

    My first post here. I came here because I wanted to find more information on bullroarers. Has anyone made any more bullroarers in the last two years, or did this turn out to be a momentary curiosity? What was the loudest shape you have found, given the same wood and length?

    I have made nine of them so far, ranging in size from about 5 inches out of gardening stake wood (SO does not work) to 15 inches out of red oak wood. The lighter ones have been made out of basswood, and I feel they are too light to make good volume. The next one will be 18 inches out of red oak with a large round free end and the string end will have a smaller radius round end. I have one of these that is 12 inches long. I have a piece of bubinga that I will cut into 12-inch pieces of the same shapes to compare to my other 12s and see if the volume rises because of stiffness and weight. I will have to see about posting photos tomorrow when I have time.

    I guess I'm going to go crazy and find the heaviest and most dense piece of wood for the money and make a large bullroarer that will be as loud as possible and low pitched. I'm wondering about using these as communication devices in a living history village setting (1190 CE year setting) in the absence of cell phones. The question would be to determine how to code messages like, "Hey, I forgot my socks. Please bring me brown long wool socks," or "Time to bring the apples in."

    Please understand that I have already signed my death and pain warrant because I have made and used an instrument that is taboo for women in certain cultures. I'm sorry if I have offended you, but these are bullroarers that can only be used by certain kinds of women, and if you use one of ours, you might become a woman. Verboten!

    Seriously, it has an interesting sound, and it is soothing to hear the rise and fall of the sound as it spins up and down in tension. The lower the pitch, the better I like it. Kind of like watching a pump jack's rise and fall as it pumps the oil out.

    I will have to see how my recent interest in wood carving expands, especially as it gets into other useful things that would be needed in a living history village.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2012
  19. woodsrunner

    woodsrunner Banned Member Banned

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    good bit o bush lore there amigo!
    thanks for sharing paleo...woods
     
  20. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    Okay! Here's my bullroarer lineup!

    Sorry, bad photo (color is off and the light is poor, plus the camera is cheap). They are as follows from left to right. All string ends are facing the top of the photo.

    The first four from the left are made from basswood and measure over 4", 8" for the next two, and 12" for the fourth one. The rest of them are made from red oak (the dark red one is merely stained with red oak oil-based stain), and they are as follows, left to right starting with the dark red one; 10 ", 12" for the next two, 15" for the next two, and the biggest functional one is 18"!

    The second and third ones from the far left are about 3/8" thick, and the rest of them are 1/4" thick. The first, second, and fifth have airfoil edges, and the fourth and seventh have cut angular airfoils rather than the smooth, rounded airfoils. The rest of them are simply straight cut up-and-down, as they were cut with a coping saw. You'll notice that the third from the right looks a little off, in that I made each corner a unique length to see if an asymmetrical shape would affect the sound. This 15-incher seems to have a lower pitch with a more pronounced rough popping sound about a second before it comes to a stop before going the other direction. I don't know that it's as loud, though. I need someone with more reliable ears to tell me for sure, as it's going to sound different to the person spinning it than to the person hearing it afar.

    I'm going to make one from basswood that would have scalloped edges on the bottom and star-like pointed edges (like a cartoon pow(!) shaped exclamation speech box) along the sides to see if that causes more audible air disturbances than the other designs of the same length (will be 12"). The two after that will be made from bubinga wood (12" each), matching the shapes of the red oak designs to see how weight affects the volume.

    Edit: I forgot to add that on the big one, I used something called a Lamar Knot (I don't know the proper name for it) twice on the end of the 18-incher so that if the first tied loop fails, I have a second one to catch it slipping it away to warn me it's time to replace it. Notice how the first one is taut, and the second one is loose? That gives me a "tug" on the string when the first one fails, and is knotted above the primary knot so it can't slip off.

    Roar!!!
     

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    Last edited: Mar 31, 2012
  21. Buckskin

    Buckskin Guide

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    I never really got mine to roar and have not tried making one out another species of wood.
     
  22. Gulo gulo

    Gulo gulo Scout

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    I'm going to try making one out of spruce (just pruned some branches so it's what is available); this'll be my first!
     
  23. bsred

    bsred Guide

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    I like to take mine out in the yard at night to freak out my neighbors usually just after dark, I'm not that big a jerk. They are great fun and easy to make. You can't whirl one around without smiling unless you're really concentrating. To make one really easily get a paint stir stick (one of the decent ones) and drill a hole in the handle end, then just tie on some line at least 3 feet or so. You don't need a special knot, a slip knot or bowline works fine in my experience.
     
  24. Scooter

    Scooter Scout

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    I know you may not want to do this with something you have worked hard on, but if you start the swing then gently let it brush the ground it will kick start the rotation that creates the roar.
     
  25. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    You might also want to make sure that you're not using a string that is too stiff for it to turn quickly. I've had that problem and simply went down to a thinner string. On the bigger bullroarers, I tried doubling up the string I was using (Blue Hawk 17lb braided mason line). Make sure it is braided line and not twisted line. Anyway, it turns out that going back to a single line made it spin even better.
     
  26. Zig

    Zig Guide

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    I have one that I got when I was visiting Australia and New Zealand. Very cool. I'm definitely going to add this to the Monthly Project list. Thanks for the idea, paleojoe!
     
  27. Buckskin

    Buckskin Guide

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    That might be the problem right there. I had flat braided three strands of mason's line. I will have to dig it out and try restringing it.
     
  28. Bartnmax

    Bartnmax Scout

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    Hi again fellas (& gals).
    Yeah as an Aussie kid I, like a lot of kids in my area, grew up playing with home made aboriginal Bullroarers. Often used one1 for 'talking' to other kids that lived down the street a bit. Sorta let em know when I got home from various activities, etc.
    The pitch can be varied in two main ways, firstly by varying the speed it is swung, and also by varying the length of the cord. By combining the two you can get a fair variance in the tone of the Bullroarer. Once you sort out a suitable 'code' with your fellow 'bushcrafters' you can use it quite effectively for communication. The trick is learning to 'slip' the cord so as to increase/decrease it's length whilst it's being swung. Takes a bit or practice.

    Interetsingly thre sound doesn't seem to worry animals all that much so it works extrely well for communication when hunting, etc at times when you dont want to scare game. The beauty of these things is that they are an item that doesn't need to be carried into the wilderness with you. With a length of reasonable strength cord they can be quickly & easilly made in just about any location where there's wood present.

    Bill.
     
  29. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    I have some questions for you, Bill.

    Are girls allowed to play with them, since you are so close to aboriginal culture in proximity?

    And, how do you slip the string up and down as you spin it about?

    Does the nature of the edges affect the loudness/characteristic of the sound? it seems to be that after you cut it straight up-and-down with a scroll saw/jig saw, and then round the straight edge to an airfoil profile, is seems to lessen the volume it puts out. Is that about right?

    And how far away could you hear one of these things?
     
  30. Adahy

    Adahy Kuksaholic

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    This is awesome!
     
  31. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    Okay, I made another one in a similar shape to the small dark red one, but 12" long and 2" wide at the bottom. Not much different than the others.

    I'm looking at this 24" bubinga thin stock that I bought for over $8. Do I really want to cut this up and make similar shapes to the red oak models to see if the extra weight makes it louder? Suggestions for creativity with the bubinga piece would be welcome. It is 24" X 3".
     
  32. Bartnmax

    Bartnmax Scout

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    Hi there again.
    Apologies for the late reply. That's a time thing between the USA & us here in Oz unfortunately.

    Ok, yeah aboriginal women folk also use them for communication. There are various types of communication that are carried out with them. Often in the aboriginal communities there are sacred rituals & ceremonies that are restricted to gender, but the bullroarer isn't just used in that context. It's also a general use tool that works in day to day situations.


    Working the cord is a technique that takes some getting used to.
    The excess cord is held in the non-working hand & feed out or gathered in from the hand doing the swinging of the bullroarer.

    Often making one is a trial & error procedure. Getting the edge right depends on the timber used I believe (I'm certainly no expert on them). The sound as I am led to belive, actually involves vibration of air bought on by the bullroarer travelling thorugh the air as it's swung, so the better the edge is in terms of aerodynamics the less effectively it works in disrupting the air around it. At least that's what I've been led to believe. I've got to be honest & say I've never really experimented by comparing one with rough edges against one that's more aerodynamically sound. You need to remember that although the aboriginals are very skillful with their ancient technologies they certainly dont have access to jig saws, sanders, etc (at least they didn't up until reletively recently). Their tools for making these items usually consisted of consisted of basic axes/knives for cutting, fire for removal of excess timber & hardening, sanding on rocks, etc. Very stone age stuff, but they knew how to produce some interesting stuff with these ancient tools. I 'spose 80,000 years of trial & error certainly helps em get these things right.

    The distance you can hear them is dependent on a great many factors, but it can be up to several miles given the right circumstances. Some of the factors that impact on distance include terrain, air density, vegitation growth in the area, etc. There's really no set rule that I know of in that regard.

    Bill.
     
  33. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    Are you saying that some people who say that aboriginal women can be subjected to pain and death for exposure to a bullroarer is just making stuff up?

    To clarify, it has been my experience that when you make the airfoil shapes, it quiets down the bullroarer. I guess what I need to do is do something along the edges, like put irregular-shaped edges to make the bullroarer more "disruptive" as it spins.

    But what to do with the remaining beautiful bubinga thin stock? I was thinking of making a similar-shaped one from a 12" piece to compare extra width and weight. If the extra width works against me, then I'll just cut the width down to a similar size and compare on weight alone. My guess is, the heavier it is, the louder it is.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2012
  34. Gulo gulo

    Gulo gulo Scout

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    I tried the rough edge hypothesis by squaring off the lower half on one side and the upper half on the other and it made it harder to get a sound and it was more muffled than it was before. I made mine out of spruce and it was about 7" long and less than 2" wide. I wanna make a longer wider one, maybe with birch. Maybe 10" x 3-5".
     
  35. bsred

    bsred Guide

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    They don't have to be airfoil shaped, you can take a piece of trim board with square edges and it will work fine. Changing the length of line while in use isn't very hard, just go slow, quick motions will sometimes cause a jerking on the roarer and make it spin flat. I'm no expert but I've made quite a few and played with even more, in my experience nearly any shape will work; flat and straight, tear drop shaped, coffin shaped, eliptical, aifoil or flat or concave on one side. I think I've given all mine away to kids of friends, I'll have to dig around to see if I still have one. I'm going to make a new one tomorrow.
     
  36. pure_mahem

    pure_mahem Guide

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    I remember making one in the shape of a thunderbird for a school project many many moons ago. Can't recall which tribe it was used for but it was one of the plains native american tribes that it was used to call for rain. Pretty cool.
     
  37. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    I suppose the different shapes really didn't make that much of a difference, just the larger size and the weight of heavier wood?
     
  38. WomanCrafter

    WomanCrafter Tinder Gatherer

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    I finally had the time to make a notched version of the angled squared piece. Alas, if there is a difference, I need someone else to listen to it for me and see if there IS a difference. Maybe there's not enough notches on it, maybe the edge has to be a majority of pointed edges rather than flat edges?

    I'll make another one like that, but I'm working today. I'll have plenty of time this week to make one like that.
     

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  39. Bartnmax

    Bartnmax Scout

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    Hi again.
    Sorry once again for the late reply.
    Bullroarers were often used ceremonially to ward off evil spirits & sometimes that included women (& even kids at times), hence in some tribes they are considered 'mens business' only & this is where women could get in big trouble if they use or even listen to one. Many years ago that could entail physical punishment or even death, but much of that culture has mellowed with modern times & rarely are there physical retributions carried out these days.
    At least not legally carried out anyway.
    Not all tribes are the same though & what may be sacred to one particular tribe may not necssaerilly be so to others.
    I know there are some aboriginal women that have used them for various purposes - mainly for communication & scaring game when hunting though as they dont have the same ceremonial significance where women are concerned.

    The bullroarer actually gets it's distinctive sound by interupting air flow as the blade counter rotates. If it's too aerodynamic it tends to slow that counter rotation & hence the sound drops off, but if it's not aerodynamic enough then it doesn't attain enough speed to get good volume either. To be honest I'm not sure if there's any sort of physical formula or particular pattern that's followed to get optimal performance from them or whether it's just a trial & error process.
    I dont necessarilly think there's any particular pitch that's aimed for but I've got to admit to not having adequate knowledge of aboriginal tradition & culture to be able to say that for certain.

    Bill.
     
  40. bsred

    bsred Guide

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    The shape does change the sound a bit, main reason I pointed that out was so noone got dicouraged. I've had more trouble with them being too light than too heavy or mis-shaped.
     
  41. Grey Ranger

    Grey Ranger Guide

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    Great post man, thanks for sharing that interesting tool!

    stuff like this is what bushcraft is all about!
     

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