(right out of the Kung Fu movies)
This project will use bamboo to construct a modified Native American (NA) style Flute which doubles as a hiking staff and more, depending on how much you want to build into it. Like most NA flutes the range is limited to mostly the fundamental octave however i was able get the first two notes of the second octave clearly, which made me happy enough. Since i already have my prototype shown on the site with actual photos, i will use Computer Generated Graphics from AutoCAD 3-D solid modeling renderings to illustrate the steps involved as well as actual photos. You will need a few tools but in the absence of power tools you can get by nicely with some simple hand tools. For the lucky ones with the power tools, a router, a drill press, and a sander are great aids to speed up the work. For those who like manual operations, you can get by with a hand powered drill or an iron rod heated up with a propane torch to install the holes, a razor knife for trimming and carving, a file, sand paper, and some glue. The staff / flute shown in this tutorial measures 5 feet 3 inches long and consists of five sections, the middle one holding the fingering holes and the sound holes. Be sure when you make yours that your staff will balance nicely when you hold it in the playing position. You can always use counter balances inside, or outside the staff at either end to restore proper balance. The length does not matter as long as you have an odd number of sections and the center one is the one with most of the holes.
Tutorial Quick Menu
Selecting your material
anything will work as far as bamboo goes but what i suggest you look
for is a stalk that is from five to six feet long with sections that
are at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) long. There also should be an
odd number of sections, when finished, or you may have problems
with the balance of the staff and it will be
difficult to be comfortable with when playing the instrument.
With an odd number of sections, the middle one gets the finger holes.
The one i made had five sections.
|Before you get into the actual making of the flute, lets make it a bit stronger first so we don't have to worry about the end splitting on us during the construction. So, the first thing we will do is to make the hard wood heel for the staff. It will look like a stepped pin, with a small diameter of an inch or so that fits into the open end of your staff, and a larger diameter (slightly larger than the outside diameter of the staff end) that will protrude from the staff and make a strong, solid contact point for the foot of your staff.|
The heel piece protects the staff's end from splitting from repeated contact with the ground
|You can see by the cut-away illustration on the left what i am describing. The shank goes into the end of the staff, while the cap end butts up against the end of the bamboo with it's shoulder, providing a firm and solid contact with the staff after it is glued into place. Mine was a bit small on the inside diameter so applying glue to both surfaces, i also poured about ¼ cup of clue into the tube before plugging the hole with the heel piece. Then i wrapped masking tape around the seam where they meet, and turned the stick in a vertical position so the glue would run down in side the hole and fill up all the gaps, making a very solid and secure heel piece that will take a lot of abuse without damage.|
|The first real step in making your flute is to select which node is going to separate your air chamber. It should be the upper portion of the middle bamboo section of the rod. The task is to make a flat spot that goes past this node on both sides of the divide. The part toward the large end of the staff should be about 1½ inches long and the flat should extend past the node toward the smaller end of the staff about 1 inch. It is important that this be completely flat and smooth. I used a router to machine this flat on my staff, but in the absence of power tools, a steady hand and a wood file will do the same job. This flat should be 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch wide however be careful not to go too deep with it or you will penetrate the air chambers on either side of the node wall. A good way to know how deep to go is to measure the wall thickness of your bamboo and only go half that deep, leaving half the original thickness below the flat.|
||At left you can see the flat and how it extends more to the left (towards the thicker end) than it does past the lower side of the node wall. In this illustration i also have installed the round ¼ inch diameter hole on the blowing end, and another one, tangent to the node wall on the other side. I have also taken a small file and shaped the sound hole to a square configuration with a bevel on the lower edge of the hole. The angle is about 20º to 30ºfor the wedge shape. Avoid a sharp edge, as it will put a wheeze sound in the tonal quality of the flute. Putting a small radius will smooth out the wheeze sound for you. If you like the rushing air sound then make it sharp. The main thing is that it is completely flat and smooth.|
|The section of the bamboo on the upper (towards the heavier end) side of the sound hole node is the air chamber section of the flute. This is where you breath will build up a lot of moisture as you blow into another small hole somewhere on the section and the pressure in the chamber builds so that the air escapes from the top of the air chamber through the ¼ inch diameter hole the we use to direct the air stream into the channel that will carry it to the sound hole on the other side of the fetish. The fetish is the part that will cover most of the flat area that you machined into your staff in the last step.|
At the right
you can see the fetish covering the air chamber hole but the machined
channel in the bottom of the fetish channels that air to the beveled
edge of the rectangular sound hole. At his point in time you do
not have any other holes in the air chamber so you must make one that
you will blow into when playing the flute. It's location is entirely
up to you and how comfy you feel holding the flute.
The fetish provides the channel for the air stream to get from the air chamber to the sound hole beveled edge.
|At left you can see an actual photo of the blowing hole. Note, it is not at 90º from the flat, but located by holding the flute like i was going to play it, and finding the place where my mouth felt most comfortable. I then marked that place and drilled the hole.|
|The sound hole starts off as a ¼ inch diameter, or less hole drilled tangent to the radius of the nodal wall where it meets the inside diameter of the tube section. That is to say the edge of the drill touches where the straight wall starts to curve as it encounters the node wall. Once that is done, you can make it rectangular by either filing it out with a small hand file. ( i use a narrow file ¼ inch wide for this). Making the rectangle 1/4 inch long, from the nodal wall towards the end of the flute. Make it 1/4 to 5/16 wide with straight, squared corners. Once it is to size it is ready to bevel. The bevel is what causes the air stream coming into the sound chamber to began to vibrate and resonate in sympathy with the length of the flute. The bevel is important and can alter your sound greatly, depending on how it is shaped and finished. An alternate method of making the rectangular hole is to burn it in with a square piece of heated metal. This works OK, but leaves a tapered hole that is bigger at the top, plus it makes the flute stink like burning wood if you are not careful to get all of the char out of the hole later on. This applies also to the sound holes, they can be burned into the flute instead of drilled.|
|At right you can see the arrangement of the hole in the air chamber with the fetish and the sound hole. The air flows into the air chamber from your blowing in the side hole and travels up through the hole in the top of the chamber, guided along by the channel in the fetish, it is directed at the beveled edge of the sound hole where it resonates the column of air in the sound chamber producing the tones. The edge of the fetish is placed flush with the leading edge of the sound hole for best results. (See the detail below)|
|You can see at right how the fetish matches the leading edge of the sound hole. You can see also the bevel on the sound hole more clearly in this detail as well. Making the bevel edge sharp will introduce a "windy" sound to the flute and putting a very small radius on it will make the sound a bit more mellow. Be careful not to make it too blunt or you may have problems playing it. My suggestion is to start off making it sharp, and little by little, touch it with smooth sand paper to remove the sharpness of tone by taking off the sharpness of the edge. This is a cut away section view, keep in mind, the air channel appears half it's normal thickness in this shot but it matches the width of the sound hole.||
The sound hole is ¼ inch deep and 5/16 inch wide, with a 20º to 30º angled trailing edge that causes the air column in the flute to resonate.
The fetish is thin and has an air channel going almost through it, but not quite. It is a "dead end" channel that begins about a quarter inch from the end, and continues toward the sound hole, coming out of the far end of the fetish where is directs the air stream at the beveled edge of the sound hole. The piece is thin so if you are going to route out the channel then you should
The fetish can be tricky to make. When you start it's construction it is just a face on a longer block of wood. The slot is milled and then it is sliced off the parent block and trimmed, then glued over the air chamber hole and flush with the leading edge of the sound hole. Caution should be taken when gluing in place. Do not use excessive amounts or you may block the air chamber. It only must be air tight.
|do it while the piece of wood is still part of a larger block or you will have a difficult time holding it for routing. I used a block of hardwood that measured the same as the flat i had machined on the flute body but was three inches thick. I could hold it easily and machine the slot in the exposed side of the block. After the slot was milled, i cut off the piece to a little thicker than i needed to fill the depth of the flat. I sanded it smooth and flat, then trimmed the open end to fit flush with the leading edge of the sound hole. It looked like a big rectangular block with one side a rough saw cut finish and one side flat and smooth, with a groove routed in it. This can also be done with a razor knife and some small chisels The rounded shape will be hand worked with a wood file later on after the glue dries.|
Now you have the fetish made and the glue has had 24 hours to set and harden you can grind, file, sand, what ever method you prefer to machine off all the outside excess from the fetish to blend it's contour with that of the flute. I used a hand file to do this operation but a sander would have been just great. I also use a "Dremel" tool and bits to do any fine detail work. Use what ever tools you have available to make the work easier or faster. The flute will not play at all yet because you have no holes in the sound side of the staff. You only have a sound hole but no place for the air to leave so the next step it so set the fundamental sound holes at the far end of the flute. These are vitally important as they set the "Fundamental Tone" of the flute, thus determining what it's key will be. The Fundamental tone is the lowest note that the flute can produce. In the case of our example, this was a "G" note. I got lucky because all i did was drill four ¼ inch diameter holed tangent to the far node wall of the sound chamber. The farther away the holes from the beveled edge of the flute, the lower the pitch will be. The closer the leading edge of the hole is from the bevel edge, the higher the pitch will be. It is the top of these holes, and not their size or shape that determines the pitch. Indeed you can make slots instead of holes as i did on an earlier construction project involving variations on the fetish design, such as the one below.
You will need some sort of tuner for this next step. I use an electronic tuner, which is best, however if you don't have one then you can use any other instrument of set pitch, such as a harmonica, to use for tuning the flute. I will use the electronic tuner to tune the fundamental pitch. I got lucky with mine because when in put in the the original holes, they were right on, so i did not have to elongate them. If they were too high to make a "G" flute then i would have routed them so the leading edge is closer to the sound hole bevel to make an "A:" flute instead. What ever you tune these holes (or slots) to, will be the fundamental tone of the flute.
Slots work as well as holes
The fundamental sound holes determine the pitch and the key of the flute by the distance from the leading edge of the closest holes to the bevel edge of the sound hole.
Here at left you can see the fundamental holes. The leading edge (closest to the sound hole) is the determining factor in adjusting the pitch. Make this distance shorter and the pitch goes up. I put the holes as far to the end of the section as i could. If the sound was too low, then i would elongate the holes and make slots from them, gradually increasing the slot length by taking off material from the leading edge until the fundamental tone reaches the point where i can make it sharp, or flat, just by increasing or decreasing the amount of air pressure in the air chamber. One of the nice features of NA flutes is the ability to "bend" notes, make them sharp or flat at will by varying the air pressure slightly as you fill the air chamber with your breath. Blowing slightly higher makes the pitch rise, and blowing softer makes it fall and become lower in pitch. Tune your slots/holes so that when you arrive at your sought after key, you can make it sharp or flat by blowing harder or softer. I mean only slightly harder or softer, as a lot harder will shift you into the second octave which is not a comfy place for a NA flute with it's limited range. I can only get the first two notes in the second octave from any of them i have ever tried to play. The smaller holes are just for decoration and do not effect the pitch because they are farther back than the larger ones, which control the pitch. The edge distance from these holes to the bevel edge is exactly 12.125 inches. This means that for a "G" Flute with the same size inside diameter as mine will also have this same measurement to the leading edge of the hole.
of the finger holes is critical, as you may have guessed. A little off
in one direction or the other and your flute cannot play a scale properly.
There are many scales in music and the one in which i tune all my instruments
is the 12 tone tempered scale. For the key of "G" that would
be the following notes: G A
B C D E F#
G. Because the flute is already
tuned to the G note, we can eliminate finger positions for that note
by simply holding down all the six holes on the flute and blowing softly
for the low G and harder for the high G in the next octave, all without
lifting any of your fingers from any of the six holes. So only the notes
above that lie between the two G's are needed as holes in the flute.
With only these 6 holes we can make 8 notes of the scale that correspond
to the singing names for them, do, re, mi, sol,
fa, la, ti, do.
Fundamental length = 12.13" or (30.81cm)
|#1. = 8.55" or (21.59cm)||#2. = 7.5 " or (19.05cm)||#3. = 6.38" or (16.20cm)|
|#4. = 5.13" or (13.00cm)||#5. = 3.95" or (10.03cm)||#6. = 2.31" or (5.87cm)|
|In case your flute ends up with a longer or shorter fundamental length then what you need to do is use the ratios you get by dividing the hold distance by the fundamental length to determine where the new keyed flute holes should go. Lets make an example of this one and make believe we end up with a shorter flute that must be keyed in "A" instead of "G". First lets determine the ratios of each hole as matched against the fundamental length.|
|#1. = .705||#2. = .619||#3. = .526||#4. = .423||#5. = .326||#6. = .191|
Using these ratios, we can determine the spacing for holes in our new "A" flute by simply multiplying these ratios by the fundamental length of the "A" flute. Lets just make up an imaginary number for the make believe "A" flute of 10.88" or (27.64cm) for the fundamental length and multiply it by the ratios of the six holes. The chart below would give you a basic idea of where the holes should go.
Fundamental length = 10.88" or (27.64cm)
|#1. = 7.67" or (19.48cm)||#2. = 6.73" or (17.09cm)||#3. = 5.72" or (14.53cm)|
|#4. = 4.60" or (11.68cm)||#5. = 3.55" or (9.02cm)||#6. = 2.08" or (5.28cm)|
|From comparing the two charts for the hole spacing you can see that they are quite different, especially with the lower holes. This method should bet you in the ball park but you still have to install the holes. If you are going to use the same size holes for all the finger positions then be sure to add .125" or (3.18mm) to the lengths given here and you will have the center of your ¼ inch diameter hole. Next step will be installing the pilot holes and testing the sound.|
this point in the project you should be ready to start drilling the finger
holes. They are going to be ¼ inch diameter when finished (at least
that is the plan) but if we make a mistake and place them too close to
the bevel edge we will not be able to fix that problem. It is easy to
make the pitch higher by elongating the hole and removing material from
the upper edge (nearest the sound hole). However it is not easy to lower
the pitch so what we do is first drill a smaller hole than the one we
will end up using. With the smaller hole two things happen. First the
edge is farther away from the bevel, and secondly the small hole will
still make a close tone when you lift your finger off of that hole. Don't
make all the holes at the same time. Only make one at a time and always
start at the lowest one first, working your way up the scale as you go,
until you have hole #6 installed.
Let's use a 3/16 diameter drill to start off with and take the first dimension from the "G" flute chart which is #1. = 8.55" or (21.59cm). We are going to end up with a ¼ inch diameter hole so adding the radius of a quarter inch hole (.125") to the length shown here will give 8.68" (or 22.05cm) for the center of the hole. Even though the first hole will only be 3/16" we will use this new figure for our center and drill a pilot hole at that location. I hope there is no need to tell anybody not to drill through both sides of the bamboo. We only have holes in the front. When laying out these hole locations make them centered with the sound hole. That is in line with the sound hole radially, and a center distance from the bevel of 8.68 inches. Now is when you need your electronic tuner to see where your note is. The first hole in the "G" flute is the "A" hole and should produce a note that is pitched to that frequency. Blow gently into the side hole and watch the indicator your tuner to see if you are sharp or flat with that "A" note. If you are sharp, then this is bad news and the hole will have to be plugged and reinstalled. For this reason it is always good to use a test flute, a second one you make along side of the main one. The test flute does not have to be bigger than the sound side of your staff, it is the hole placement and size that we are trying to develop and if we mess up the test flute, we can put a piece of tape over that hole and drill another one.
|At left is a shot of my tuner. It is a Sabine model ST-1500 and it is completely automatic. You do not have to turn any dials to select a pitch or even select an octave, it is completely automatic. The row of red LEDs indicate what note is being played and above that row is another row of three LEDs, one green one and two red ones. When the one on the left flashes the note is "flat", or lower in pitch than it should be. When the right light flashes that pitch is too high, or "sharp". You guessed it, the green one tells you that you are right on pitch. The faster the flashing the more off you are, the slower that flashing the closer you are getting to the true pitch. It has a built in microphone as well as a plug-in clip-on transducer that can clip right to the instrument and tune it even in a loud room where the instrument can't be heard. Ideas for band members who come late to the gigs.|
the note is flat, or lower than it is supposed to be, then that is OK
because we can "rat out" the top edge working the hole closer
to the bevel and raising the pitch. Keep cutting away at the top edge
of the hole until you get the correct frequency when you uncover that
hole and blow into your flute. Don't start the next hole until you have
the first one in tune. I use a little Dremel hand tool with small bits
to enlarge the holes but you can use a sharp Exacto (razor) knife with
a pointed blade to do this, or a rotary file in a drill press. Any method
will work as long as it removes material from the top edge of the hole
and raises the pitch of that note. After the first hole, do that same
operation to all of the remaining five holes, tuning each one as you go.
The scale for the key of "G" is shown earlier in this tutorial
under "laying out the finger holes" These are the notes you
must tune the flute to produce at the correct frequency. Don't take off
too much at a time or you may pass the point where the note resonates
I mentioned earlier that one of the features of a NA flute is that you can bend the notes somewhat easier than with a penny whistle This is the key to the fine tuning of your flute. You will find that blowing harder slightly will alter the pitch and make it higher, while blowing more softly will lower the tone somewhat. You can observe this on your electronic tuner as you make the final adjustments to the holes to bring them on pitch. What ever hole you are tuning at the time make sure you can make it sound sharp by blowing a little bit harder, or flat, by blowing softer. If you can make it bridge that overlap area so it can produce a flat or sharp one for that particular note, then you can be sure that your tuning is perfect and "right on the money". Use this "flat/sharp" method to tune all of the holes on your flute so that they resonate at a mean frequency and can produce a sharper or flatter tone with breath control. When you have tuned all of the holes, you are just about finished with your flute / staff. All that remains is to learn to play it. You will learn and the rate at which you will learn is directly proportionate to the amount of time you spend playing scales, or what ever. It does not matter at all what you do with your flute as long as you play it you will learn more and more about it and become better and better with you ability to hop around switching octaves to be able to play some tunes.
|Here i am using a "rat tail file" to elongate the fundamental holes at the bottom of the flute. I am bringing them as close to the nodal wall as i can because i need to adjust the upper edge of the holes by adding material to make the tone a bit lower. For some strange reason the pitch had changed after i put the holes into the flute and now it is a bit difficult to get the pitch correctly because one must blow so gently to bend the tone to the correct pitch. Some times it is easier to use a hand tool like a rat tail file instead of a power tool like the Dremel moto-tool i used to carve and rework some of the holes and other operations.|
Fixing misplaced holes
|As we do the fine tuning on a hole it is easy to raise the pitch by just taking off some material at the top of the finger hole, but what if the hole is already too sharp? This means you have put it too near the sound hole and there is no effect taking material off the bottom of the hole except that the hole may get so big you can't cover it. Logically, if taking material off the top edge of the hole will raise the pitch, then adding material to the top edge can lower the pitch.|
|At right you can see the hole marked with the black line, has a build up of some material at the top edge of the hole. What i do to effectively "move" the hole is to use "White Glue", which dries clear, somewhat, on that edge of the hole. I build up layer by layer if i have the time, or i simply cover the top edge with a piece of tape so about 1/3 of the hole is covered by the tape. This then becomes my "dam" and i can fill it with out worrying about the glue flowing down the inside (or outside) of the flute when applied with a thick coat. The marked hole has a buildup on the upper edge (left side of the hole)|
|Here you can see an even thicker layering of the glue on the fundamental holes at the bottom of the flute. Remember that these holes give the flute it's basic tone so they must be right on pitch of nothing else will work properly. The glue was not dry yet when i took this shot so you can see it better as it loses it white color as it dries. Notice also that i have "ratted out" (elongated) the fundamental holes also to compensate for restricting the air flow with the little glue wall, false leading edge. Unfortunately i am right against the node wall now and cannot go any lower with these compensatory elongating.|
The hand grip
A leather thong wrapped around the flute forms the hand grip
|To make a firm, non slip grip for the walking staff i used a leather thong about 6 feet long and wrapped it around the area of the staff where i would be most comfortable holding it while walking. I wrapped it tightly, and the beginning loose end is laid along the flute pointing toward the end of the staff and wrapped up by the rest of the handle grip so it cannot come loose. At the lower end, where i finished wrapping the leather thong i gave it one tuck under the next loop, and then applied a little white glue to the last inch of so and tudked it between the last two helical wraps where is will not come loose. This is a simple way to make a very comfortable handle for your Staff.|
The Decroative Top Cap
|This is a purely optional item and does not add nor detract from either the use of the staff for walking or playing music but it makes a nice closure for the top end of the staff. I also carved my initials ( J P ) into the end to personalize my staff. I printed out the initials in the font that i wanted to use, then on the back of the print out, i covered the paper with pencil graphite by scribbling all over the back. Now i had my desired font on one side of the paper strip and the back is covered with pencil graphite. I then taped the initials to the staff and went over then heavily with a ball point pen. When the pressure of the ball rolled over the paper, it caused the graphite on the back to act like carbon papler and transfer the letters to the bamboo. I then went over them with pernanent ink to make them clearly visible and not easily erased. I used a Dremel moto-tool to carve the letters into the bamboo. I then sprayed them with brown pint which i sanded off later on from the barrel surface, leaving the carved letters below this surface still brown, making them quite visible. I then sprayed the entire end with clear enamel.|
|I found a glass pebble, the kind they sell for decorations in aquairiums, terrariums, etc. Just a plain emerald green glass pebble which i clued to the end of the staff with white glue, filling the gaps and setting the pebble solidly in the end so it is secure. I also drilled some holes in the back of the staff (opposite side from the initials) so that when the light strikes the green glass on top of the staff, the inside is bathed in a pretty green glow that is visible through the holes. The back surface of the pebble has a two-way mirrored surface that both reflects and allows light to pass through it.|
Above you can see i am balancing the Staff-Flute on my two fingers and the tip of my thumb, the point of balance is shown in close up at right. It is important that this point lies between hole #6 and hole #4 or you may experience an awkward feel with the balance and unnecessary fatigue when playing the instrument. The weight of the instrument should be supported by the thumbs so place the balance point between the thumbs in the playing position. This should lie as indicated above.
You can control this by leaving the thicker end of the bamboo much longer than it needs to be in the beginning, maybe an entire section of bamboo longer. If you are going to end up with 5 sections, then start with 6 and leave the extra section at the heavy end. After the flute is finished, then you can remove some of the heavy end and keep sawing pieces off until you achieve this balance point. If you need to add weight to the narrow end you can do this by drilling a small hole in the top of the last section and pouring in some white glue until you get the proper balance.