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My Favorite Things About Flutes

Introduction to Native Flutes
Back to SpiritualUN


1.Assemble tools and materials.

Small Carving Set (NIJI best)
Chainsaw files (1/8in. up)
Small screwdriver or drill set
Sandpaper (36 to 1600 grit)
Beeswax (buy bulk)
Bic lighters or small torch
Heavy, flat surface (for sanding)
Sharpening stone and oil
Knife (Opinel best)
Plane and saw

Glue (Titebond best)
Heavy string or rubberbands
Leather strip for tying saddle

2. Getting Ready to Carve
Plane wood to a rectangle shape or select a pre-cut 2x2"
L (Length of flute)
S (Saddle piece)
For a personal healing flute, L= the distance from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger
For a Love Flute, L=any length the medicine man deems appropriate for the man seeking his mate with the gift of music
Red cedar is the preferred wood of the Northwest tribes
L+S is the length you need to select for a flute with a matching saddle
2x2" is the width of a flute that will be about 3/4in. inside diameter
Make a cut for the saddle on the end and then slice or split wood in half lengthwise.
(See Fig. 1)

Wood that is older with tight and straight grain and soft like cedar or redwood is preferred

3. Marking dimensions
After deciding on the best end for the mouthpiece (this will be the sound of the best vibration in the wood when held about four inches from top with the thumb and first finger and tapped with the other hand),
First mark the center line on each half of the flute. Doing this as accurately as possible ensures the best quality in the finished instrument.
(See Fig. 2)
Then, with the two halves of the flute lined up next to each other, draw a line about 4'' from the top where the mouthpiece will be.
3/8 " further away, draw another line straight across. This will be the plate between the two chambers of the flute.
Decide on the inner diameter of your flute. L=17to22" and D=3/4" to 1"(inch) is common.
You can also carve a tapered flute as you gain proficiency in carving techniques, i.e. 1 inch tapering to 1/4 inch.
You mark your lines 1/2 D for the inner diameter and leave them there when you carve.
Now mark 1 1/2 inches from top end of flute along center line. This will be where you file a hole for the mouthpiece using about an 1/8 in. chain saw file.
Measure a 3/8 in. wide plate across the two halves with both sides lined up exactly.
(See Fig. 3)
Measure (Hint: always measure from the center line) another 3/8 in. wide plate about 4 " from the first one. (d=1/2D is the depth of the channels you will now carve out of the two halves of your flute using a flat carving tool and two size of gouges.)
(See Fig. 4)

2. Begin to Carve
A: Use wood carving tools like NIJI (used for Japanese wood cutting). Always remember to leave the pencil lines when carving. Use a straight and a curved gouge.
Leave about 1/4 to 1/2 inch distance from the plate lines while carving out the gouge. This is left for fine tuning near the end of the flutecarving workshop.
First mark a place to begin carving with the straight tool, then gouge out with the curved tool.
Always hold the tools correctly, as you need to keep them sharp but not hurt yourself.
There is a way to hold the carving hand with the other hand to prevent slippage. Go slow at first. Try to read the grain of the wood. A good cut will result in wood that curls rather than splits.
B: Remember to leave a good amount of wood near the plates to leave room to finish this as flat and smooth as possible before the two halves are glued back together.
The top of the flute where the reed hole and fingerholes will be carved is usually determined when carving because the wood shavings should curl toward the plate on this side of the flute.
C: Finish inner diameter smooth with a piece of sand paper rolled around a pencil or in the hands. Note: A penny should roll end over end down the groove of a 3/4" diameter flute that has a good round.

3. Fine tuning Plates
Finish plates as perpendicular to the groove and as smoothly as possible. You can accomplish this best by pinching small amounts of beeswax flat and melting them with a Bic lighter into the area to be carved and then using a combination of a very sharp straight-edged tool and a small gouge, until the plates are straight and smooth as possible while still leaving the pencil lines. Hint: let edge of tool "carve itself ".
4. Mouthpiece Hole
Drawn on each side of the flute at the center line and about one-half inch from the end of the flute, the mouthpiece hole may be filed in with a chainsaw file about one eighth inch and up until desired diameter is reached
( See Figure 5).
Or the mouthpiece hole may be made larger by cutting off the end of the flute after gluing together and sanding the edges.

5. Top of flute
Sand the top of the flute where you have decided your reed will be cut on a heavy flat piece of metal or glass. Start with about 60 grit, progressing to a fine finish of 600 to 1600 grit. This is where the reed holes will be cut and the saddle will sit when the flute is played. Do both sides of the lower plate and then hot beeswax unto this area to stabilize it as much as possible before carving.

6. Reed holes
Finish preparing to carve the reed holes by melting more beeswax onto the area to be carved on the inside of the flute. The hole above the lower plate is square (see Figure 6) and the hole below the plate is square on the top of the flute but has a 45 degree angle on the inside of the flute on the lowest part of the square.

7. Mark and file
Mark and file or drill the finger holes where you want them on the top of the flute. Five or six holes are traditional. For a personal healing flute to, L = the distance from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger. This is the length of the finished flute.
The lowest hole on the flute is a hand's breadth from the bottom where the sound comes out. The distance between holes is the distance between a person's own knuckles. Make sure there is the least 4 in. between the top finger hole and the bottom of the reed hole. If you have a short flute, you may have to settle for five holes instead of six.
On a longer flute, you may decide to put a thumb hole on the opposite side of the flute from the finger holes. We have even made a flute with 10 holes. There were two thumbholes and two smaller side holes for the little fingers. On your first flute however, five or six holes is a good start.
If you want to make a flute that is in tune with the piano, you can consult with David at 1-800-4 flutes in San Diego California, or even order one from him. He also puts out a short book on Native American flutes. Always start carving the finger holes from the outside of the flute. Then carve from the inside and then the outside again, alternating until the hole breaks through. Resand the inside smooth afterwards .

8. Sign and date
Sign and date the inside of the flute if you wish, on the side opposite the finger holes, and I add my own symbol "light cloud ." Then I preserve my well-sanded groove with a seal of hot beeswax. After the flute is glued together, you can insert a small pen light into the end of the flute and read this signing.

9. Glue together
Be sure you don't get any beeswax on the surfaces to be reunited. Rough sand (a larger grit like 36 or 60 is used here), the two halves of the flute to be glued together. Spread a thin layer of glue without getting any on the beeswax in the groove and tie the two halves together as tightly as possible, making sure the plates stay perfectly aligned. No air or light leaks should show between the plates. All pencil lines should match up as closely as possible. If a split was used, then use hot beeswax instead of glue to reunite the two halves of the flute.

10. Untie
Let dry overnight if possible. Untie and carve the outside the flute with a sharp knife. Leave the flat upper plate you sanded for the reed holes alone while making the rest of the outer surface of the flute round. Shape the mouthhole the way you want it.
(See Figure 7)
Sand the flute as fine as possible. A mirror finish is obtained by using up to 1600 grit and beeswaxing with hot wax to preserve the flute. Hint: First soaking the flute with an oil made by simmering with thyme for 20 minutes makes a dark, old wood style finish. Do this if you wish before beeswaxing .

11. Saddle
Carve saddle of a plain design or make one to look like a bird that mates for life, because the Love flute represents lasting family. Sand bottom of saddle flat with fine grit on flat plate and beeswax after carving. An indent on the flat side equal to the distance from the upper square hole to beginning of the reed hole is carved only a fingernail width deep. Tie finished saddle in place with a leather strip or anything that will hold tightly after tying. There should be a tremolo and no air leaks when blowing into the flute if the saddle is set correctly. The flute grows sweeter the longer it is played.
(See Figure 7)