Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Harpo Marx Horn Cane

When I was a young boy my father introduced me to one of his favorite comedy teams when he was a young boy: The Marx Brothers.

(Harpo, Groucho, Zeppo and Chico)

I was a big fan of Harpo - who frequently used props such as a horn cane, and he played the harp in most of his films. 

I even dressed as Harpo for Halloween a few times.

One of Harpo's signature props was a cane made up of a lead pipe, tape and a bulbhorn.

This is what I am going to make next.

For my old Halloween costume, I carried around a bike horn which had a similar bulbhorn.  But this has a horn bell, which I will get rid of.

I'm not going to make mine out of a pipe.  Instead, I went to the hardware store and picked up a few things.  First was a poplar dowel.

I bought a pack of rubber chair tips which will cover the bottom of the cane.  These tips were smaller than the dowel since the cane will eventually have a taper towards the bottom.

And to create that taper I finally bought myself a block plane.

The first step was to cut the dowel to length.  So, using my saw I cut it.

Next, I marked off where the taper will begin using some masking tape and I began shaving the wood with the block plane.

I knew when to stop shaving the wood once the chair tip fit on snugly.

Now that I have the taper I want, I sanded the cane.  I used various grits of sandpaper to get a smooth look and feel.  But I purposely left a few rough areas since Harpo's cane was rather worn looking.

Next it's time to remove the horn bell from the bicycle horn.  I used a saw attachment on my dremel to cut away the metal bell.  The bulbhorn simply pops off.

Next I used a small drill bit to make a hole at the top of the cane.  This hole will become bigger to fit in the piece of the horn that makes the honking noise.

I used larger drill bits until I achieved the desired size.

I also drilled smaller holes on the sides of the cane so that air can escape when the bulbhorn is squeezed.  Without this escape of air, there would be no honking noise.

I then put the bulbhorn back on to make sure everything looks good.

Below is how the cane looks assembled (but not glued together).

Next it's time to add color.  To do this I am going to try a spray-on stain and polyurethane that I found in the store.

I disassembled the cane and tool the wood part outside for a coat of the stain/sealer.

Looks good!  It's hard to tell from reference photos exactly what color the cane is.  I decided to go with a lighter wood color and add some brown and black paint once the stain dries.

The end result was a very worn looking cane.

With the colorization complete, it's time to assemble the cane.  I glued the horn piece into the top of the cane - making sure that no glue clogs the exit holes.

Once the glue dried I attached the bulbhorn.

Since the cane was held together with duct tape, I grabbed my roll and added some to complete the look.

Using an X-acto knife, I cut out the air holes for the honking.

And I'm done!

I took a short video so that you can hear the horn.  It doesn't sound exactly like it does in the movies, but it's still pretty cool.

In all the years I've idolized Harpo, and been Harpo for Halloween, I can't believe that I haven't done this sooner!  This project only took a few hours to do and was fun.  The next time I decide to be Harpo I will have this piece to complete the costume.
Thanks for reading!


  1. Go Harpo! I've loved the Marx Brothers ever since the early sixties, back in the day when our small town had two cinemas, before television was available. Even today I show their clips off YouTube to the school at the start of assemblies. Harpo with his beautiful harp playing, Chico's amazing piano, and Groucho's wise-cracking and 'Groucho walk'. You know you're a real Marx Brothers fan when you can name all five brothers without Googling!

  2. haha! gummo Is The fifth brother never seen on film...and i.didnt have to google that! I'm Glad You're a Fan! i love And Own All Their Movies. My Favorites Are a Night At The Opera And Monkey Business. But i Do Love Them all!

  3. I remember screening Duck Soup at university in about 1974. Still my favourite. Glad to hear your general knowledge is up to the task!

  4. Thanks Phil! The mirror scene in Duck Soup is legendary! I think I would have enjoyed/done better at school had someone like you been there showing off Marx Bros. clips to brighten my day!

  5. if u ask me, it would be better if the honking had a lower pitch. but other than that, its great! i finally get to be harpo for halloween!

  6. Thank you for your comment. I agree that the honk should be a lower pitch, but since I only had the smaller bulbhorn available, that's what I used. I'd love to see your Harpo costume and how your cane turns out!

  7. I'm envious. You'd think some enterprising person would take on a side line of making and marketing Harpo horn canes. Oh well.
    Sounds like surgery is yet called for. You need a larger reed for the horn; maybe you can remove the reed from that metal horn?
    Maybe you could find a dead bass harmonica and salvage the lowest reed from that. Perhaps you will do research and become a metal reed maker. Good journey.