Wight Woodturners April 2014 Riverside Meeting

Guest Speaker ~ Joe Caudwell  

Making and Playing Didgeridoos  

Once a year the Wight Woodturners invite a guest speaker to talk about a Wood or Art related subject of interest to the woodworkers and artisans of the Club.  This year we were pleased to welcome Joe Caudwell a well-known Didgeridoo performer and maker of these fascinating instruments.  You may well have seen Joe playing in St. Thomas’s Square in Newport or entertaining the crowds in Cowes during Cowes Week.


Joe started his talk by telling us an enchanting story of how a didgeridoo was first used long long ago around a camp fire in the Aborigine lands of Australia.  In some of the wood collected for the fire the termites had naturally hollowed out the inside of the branch and were all clustered inside.  Not wanting to put the branch on the fire for it would kill the insects one of the men raised the branch to his lips and blew out the termites.  The termites blown into the air became the stars, and the first didgeridoo was born.  These long hollow tapering tubes make a distinctive sound when “blown” with the mouth and create an eerie and timeless entrancing form of music.


Joe then introduced us to his collection of instruments he had brought along and demonstrated the different sounds each made.  Like other instruments they are made and tuned to different keys.  The longer the didgeridoo the lower the note and a greater taper generates richer harmonics and a louder sound.  Joe went on to explain how with the use of circular breathing a long and seemingly continuous note can be produced.  To this basic note are added vocalisations generated by the vocal chords and modulated by the throat and shape of the mouth cavity. Joe told us the Aborigines mimicked animal noises in their music.


In this country eucalyptus wood and termites are in short supply so Joe searches the local woods and copses for small trees with straightish and tapering trunks to make his instruments.  Joe often includes part of the root which can be used to make a bell end.  To hollow the didgeridoo the trunk is cut down the middle on a band-saw, each half hollowed out and then glued back together with cascamite resin glue. The bark is removed and the wood shaped to give a consistent wall thickness.  Some of the construction methods are shown in the pictures below together with some photos of Joe’s presentation.   To see a larger image just click on any of the small pictures. 


To see a larger image just double click on any of the pictures.


Joe tells us how the didgeridoo came in to being

Here Joe introduces us to some of the instruments he has made

And illustrates how the different shapes produce different notes and timbres


To make a didgeridoo the wood is sawn right down the middle on a band saw

Working quickly the insideis carefully hollowed out and smoothed before the wood moves too far

And is then quickly glued together again with hard setting resin glue using Jubilee clips to hold it until set


The bark is removed and the wood shaped with a traditional drawknife

And sanded smooth

Many didgeridoos are decorated with aboriginal motifs using ochre type colours


Here you can see the different sizes of the instruments

This didgeridoo uses the root to form a large bell end to amplify the sound

This large instrument has aloud deep note




This one is in a higher keywith a less rich sound Now Joe entertains us with didgeridoo accompanied by djembe, finger cymbals and tambourine Here’s Joe performing atone of his concerts



The evening was concluded by Joe playing different music on all of the didgeridoos he had brought along and finishing with long piece of music on his largest instrument accompanied by the djembe, finger cymbals and tambourine. Music for a certainly memorable finale to the evening. Wight Woodturners sincerely thank Joe for an enchanting and interesting evening which was enjoyed by all.


This evening, although we weren’t quite sure at the time, was to be the Wight Woodturners last meeting at the Riverside Centre before our permanent move to our new venue. And so, Joe’s musical send-off was fitting for the occasion!


The Riverside Centre has been Wight Woodturners home since its formation in 2002 and will have many memories for some members of the club, especially for those members who gave much of their time helping people in the woodwork shop during the daytime classes. However, with diminishing daytime use the space occupied by the woodwork shop is due to be re-developed into meeting rooms and offices so it is time for the Woodturners to move on. Our new venue, with more space, will allow the club to grow in numbers and allow us to expand the range our activities. Wight Woodturners would like to express their thanks to the Riverside Centre for their hospitality and support over the years.


A link to Joe’s website, which includes many sound clips of Didgeridoo music is HERE


Text -Peter Smart – 18th May 2014
Photos 4 to 9 & 15 © Joe Caudwell