Native American flutes are a true work of art, both visually and musically. A single slotted opening, often covered by a totem figure, creates the entire tone of the flute. Most flutes are tuned first using a template, then are adjusted by hand to ensure perfect pitch. You can make flutes with or without a totem.
Forming the Flute
Determine the desired length for the flute. An average-pitched flute is typically 1 foot long. Higher- and lower-pitched flutes are shorter and longer, respectively.
Cut the wood block in half lengthwise.
Slowly remove layers of wood from the center of the wood block with a hand carving tool. Carve two chambers into the wood—a wind chamber and a hole chamber. The wind chamber should be carved from the first quarter of the flute. The hole chamber takes up the last half, with the second quarter being a solid space until you have formed half of the center circle.
Drill a 1/4-inch hole into the flute's top half. The hole should be roughly four inches from the mouthpiece. This will be the windway.
Apply wood glue onto the edges of the flute pieces, then press them together. Place the flute in a clamp to dry.
Shape the outside of the flute with a plane, slowly removing layers of the wood until the flute is round. Do not shape near the windway.
Shape the windway by expanding the hole into a rectangle with a woodcarving tool. Place a small cube of wood in the center of the rectangle to form two openings.
Carving and Tuning the Holes
Mark the locations of the tone holes. Traditional flutes have five holes to produce the native pentatonic scale. Plan on placing the holes toward the top half of the flute; you don't need to space them down to the bottom.
Tune the lowest note of the flute first by cutting off the bottom of the flute until the tone matches what you desire.
Mark the location of the five holes. The holes should be placed in a comfortable position for your fingerings. Drill the five holes, drilling them small to begin with and widening them as necessary. Remember that the larger the hole, the higher the note becomes.
Create exact tones by matching the pitches on your flute to those on an electronic tuner. To raise the pitches, shorten the length of the flute. To lower the pitches, slightly widen the size of the particular hole.
Sand the sides and the bottom of the flute by hand with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any nicks and scratches.
Apply a natural finish of linseed oil to moisten and condition the wood. Use at least two coats—three if the flute is made of a soft wood (typical soft woods include pine and fir). Allow the finish to dry overnight.
Polish the flute with melted beeswax for a final shine using soft cotton cloth, such as a cloth diaper.
Items you will need
Hand carving tool
Cloth diaper or other soft cotton cloth
Do not try to make a musical instrument unless you are already proficient at playing it. The intricacies of instrument making require an understanding of the components of the instrument and how each piece produces its necessary tones and pitches.
- flutes image by Hubert from Fotolia.com