Video – Making a Conch Shell Horn

Can the majestic sound of a conch horn summon the ranks of Neptune to do your bidding?

Well, maybe not. But making a conch shell horn can help you channel the ancient Mayan residents of Xcalak, Mexico. Pay them homage by making one yourself. But how?

In this video you’ll find out:

  • What a conch shell looks like (you don’t want to use the wrong kind of shell, do you?)
  • How to choose the right size shell to make a conch shell horn (it has to be just right, ie the conch shell that Goldilocks chose)
  • Where to cut the shell for optimal blowing (not too little or too much)
  • What it sounds like when you successfully blow your conch shell horn.

Watch the video - Making a Conch Shell Horn

Making a conch shell horn is simple and with the right equipment, it’s easy too. Blowing into the horn…that’s another matter. If you’ve never played a trumpet, it can be a bit tricky at first. Here’s how.

You need to “buzz” your lips as you blow, rather than just blowing into the hole (it’s way different than blowing into a recorder like you did in sixth grade). Here’s a page that gives some succinct points on how to make a sound on the trumpet.

It’s pretty much the same for a conch shell horn.

Try it out, and if at first you don’t succeed, try again. As you saw in the video, my first few tries were spectacular failures but eventually I got it.

You’ll know when you get it, because the sound of a conch shell horn is rich and strong, not weak and breath-y.

In case you need some more details, here’s a summary of the video and the steps to make (and play) a conch shell horn.

Video summary

Conch shells

OK, before you start to make your conch shell horn, you should know what a conch shell looks like (duh). In Xcalak you’ll find conch shells washed up on the beach in various sizes and states of destruction. Choose one that looks like it hasn’t been through the apocalypse.

Seashells that aren't conch shells
These shells aren't conch shells at all.
Various seashells, none of which is a conch shell
None of these are conch shells either. Sorry, but I don't have the patience to look up what they all are so I can't tell you.
A totally deteriorated conch shell lying on the beach, dying (pretty much)
This is a conch shell, but it's pretty much trashed. There's no way you can use this to make a conch shell horn.
A great-looking conch shell
This is a conch shell. Pretty distinctive, right?

Choose the right size

Too small, and you won’t be able to blow it, too big and you won’t be able to hold it properly.

It’s too small if:

  • At it’s longest point, it’s less than the length of your hand
  • You can put your hand around it completely

It’s too big if:

  • It’s awkward to hold it and cover the hole where the conch animal used to be at the same time
Three sizes of conch shell - Daddy bear size, Mommy bear size, and Baby bear size
Of these three shells, I'd pick the biggest one. That's because I already tried holding it so I know it's the right size.

Where to cut the shell

You need to chop the tip off your conch shell so you can blow into it. Try to cut the conch shell at about the 3rd ring. This should make a hole between the size of a dime or a quarter.

The red arrow points to the third ring on the conch shell
Here's what's meant by the "third ring". The arrow is pointing right at it.
  • The rings spiral down the horn, so you need to cut through the curved part
  • Conch shells are really Like, way harder than we expected. We tried to use a hand saw and it took too long. We recommend using an electric saw (like in the video)

After cutting the hole, remove the spiral part inside so you can blow your horn properly. We chipped our out with a screwdriver, but you could use anything that can snap the spiral out.

Cutting a conch shell with an electric saw
Using a power tool is way easier than doing this by hand. Highly recommended.

How to blow into the conch shell horn

You finished your horn! But can you use it?

  • Put your hands around the conch shell and cover the hole where the conch animal used to be. Tip: position your fleshy finger pad in the middle of the hole
  • Press your lips together and put them against the hole you cut in the conch
  • Blow through your pressed lips so that they “buzz”
  • Enjoy the sound of your conch shell horn echoing across Xcalak
Blowing the conch shell horn like a champ
Heather summons the might of Poseidon with the sound of her conch shell horn.

Can’t wait to visit Xcalak? First, check Planning Your Visit to find out what you need to know before you arrive.