Project theme:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • Cedar lumber (2x4 or 2x6) at least 30” long
  • Paper towels
  • Band-aids
  • Lint-free cloth ripped into small pieces to apply the finish
  • Plastic to place under flutes when gluing (garbage bags work great)
Tool list
  • Table saw with ½” dado blade or a router with a straight
  • Router with a minimum of a ¾” and 1” core bits
  • Drill press or hand drill with assorted sized bits
  • Variable speed saber saw or coping saw
  • Miniature handheld block planes (one/participant)
  • Utility folding knives with extra blades (one/participant)
  • Screwdriver to change blades on utility knives
  • Fine-toothed saw
  • Chromatic musical tuner
  • Assorted small files to clean up the holes in the flutes
  • Assorted sandpaper grits: 60; 80; 220; 320; 600; 1200
  • Good quality, fast-drying wood glue (i.e. TiteBond)
  • Stain/finish – this is an important topic. Most stains/finishes have a warning label attached. Some finishes are food-safe. I make a mixture that is used by “Blue Bear Flutes” that is made of beeswax, vegetable oils, plus a few essential oils that make the flutes safe to put in ones’ mouth and prevent fungal growth.

    Note: To make flutes it’s important to either have a trained instructor or have someone purchase a couple of flute-making books and learn before offering a course on Native American Flute Making

  1. Go to a lumber supply store and pick out straight-grained cedar lumber. Check for different color cedar. Knots and removed knots make interesting flutes – but they require special attention so should be used very sparingly by newbies.
  2. Cut flute blanks to length. Different tuned flutes require different length flutes. Common lengths are around 20” – 28” in length.
  3. Cut flute blanks to width. Each flute will be cut lengthwise in half. These will be cut from the 2x4 or 2x6. For example, if you are going to router out the flute using a 1” diameter bore, the top half of the flute needs to be 1” + ¼” on either side of the bore = 1 ½” in thickness. Cut the bottom half of the flute the same size. If the bore of the flute is ¾” then the two flute pieces need to be ¾” + ¼” on both sides = 1 ¼” in thickness o A 2x4 piece of cedar approximately 30” long will usually make 2 flutes.
  4. Mark both sides of the flutes in such a way that you will be able to match the two halves – even if you have 30+ blanks and they all fall on the ground! o The two halves of the flute should be matched so that the grain matches = the two pieces share the same table saw cut as well as both facing the same direction. Don’t flip them over, or use halves from different parts of the same piece of cedar as the grain will not match.
  5. Mark the flute for the air channel, the soundhole, the space between the soundhole and the bore, and the bore. The channel for the air to enter the flute is about 2 - 3” long. The sound hole is about 3-3 ½” long. The space between the soundhole and the bore is about 5/16”-1/2” in width. The rest of the blank is the bore. Mark both parts of the flute where the router will remove the wood.
  6. Adjust the router so it will remove the correct amount of wood. The height of the router will be ½” if using a 1” router bit and 3/8” if using a ¾” bit.
  7. Mark where to lift and set the blank back down to cut the bore and the sound chamber.
  8. Cut the bore and sound chambers on both flute pieces. o Flip the second blank 180 degrees from the first to make sure the borehole match perfectly.
  9. Mark where the exit from the soundhole chamber exits as well as where the hole enters the borehole. These should be rectangles 5/32” (parallel to the flute) by 3/8” (at 90 degrees to the length of the flute) o Important to make sure the holes don’t exceed 7/32” as larger than that will create a ‘windy’ sound
  10. Drill two 5/16” holes inside each of the rectangles – just touching the sides of the rectangles. o Can join the two holes by moving the drill to create an opening.
  11. Using a coping saw, or variable speed saber saw, cut the edges of the holes to make the rectangles 5/15” by 3/8”. This will be the top of the flute. o Note. This opening can be made up to 7/32” by 3/8”
  12. Turn the top of the flute over, placing it on a piece of scrap plywood. Chisel a ramp into both openings. These ramps should be about 30 degrees. The end of the ramp that meets the hole must be very clean and thin. This creates the sound.
  13. Two ways to cut the hole from the mouth of the flute to the sound chamber: o Clamp the two pieces together and drill a ¼” hole from the end of the flute into the sound chamber. Make sure your drill is vertical in both planes. o Use a ¼” core router bit, centered in the flute blank, with a depth of 1/8”, and router the hole in both sides of the flute. Again, flip one 180 degrees to be sure the holes match perfectly.
  14. A 1/32”-3/64” channel needs to be chiseled between the two openings. Critical for sound quality to be between these two measurements.
  15. Either tape the two pieces together with painter’s tape or two rubber bands to hold them together.
  16. NOTE: This is the prep work that is typically done before the workshop. Make sure you have enough blanks for a few extra so people can make choices and to allow for a couple of damaged flutes. These next steps are done by the workshop participants:

  17. Choose from the cedar blanks the flute that ‘speaks to you. o Other than color, the flutes have two different diameter bores. o The 1” diameter flutes make deeper sounding flutes, and the holes are further apart so you need larger hands. o The ¾” diameter flutes make higher-pitched sounds and your hands don’t have to be as large.
  18. Sand the inside of both sides of the flute. Sand the bore, the soundhole, and the small channel where you blow into the flute. Start with 220 grain and finish with 600 grit. The smoother the inside of the flute, the clearer the sound. o Don’t sand where the two parts of the flute will be glued together!
  19. When both sides of the flute are smooth, wipe them down so there is no dust.
  20. Stain the inside of the flute, where you sanded. Do not stain where the glue will go to attach the two halves of the flute. Make sure you stain in the two openings as well.
  21. Put some glue on one side of the flute half. Make sure glue is spread over where these two halves will join. If there is a place where the glue is missing, the flute will not work. Clean up and glue that runs into the inside of the flute.
  22. You need a partner. Join the two halves together, making sure the bores line up, as well as the other end of the flute. Clamp the two halves together with about 6 clamps. Put one clamp between the two openings on the top of the flute. Wipe off excess glue. (Note: I typically help with this step to make sure the flutes have the correct amount and placement of glue.)
  23. Let the glue dry for ½ hour.
  24. Choose the bird/totem you want and begin shaping/sanding until it is smooth. o Some birds/totems need some shaping to make them look good. Use the utility knives to do this.
  25. Once the glue has been set, remove the clamps.
  26. Looking at the bore, draw a circle that just touches the outside edges of the flute, equidistant around the flute.
  27. Important…where the bird/totem sits, it MUST remain flat so don’t shape the flute about two finger widths in front of the borehole and two finger widths behind the sound hold opening. This area remains flat so the bird/totem can sit flat.
  28. Draw a small circle around the mouth end hole. Measure about two fingers width from the mouth end and mark it. This is where you can use a utility knife and cut the flute down to fit in your mouth. This is usually done after you finish planning the flute to shape.
  29. Begin hand planing the flute. You can hand plane the full length of the bottom of the flute but must leave that flat spot on the top of the flute. o Work slowly, making sure your fingers are clear of the hand plane as it is very sharp and will cut your finger and remove some of your fingernail! o If you continue to slightly change the angle every time you remove some wood, this helps make the fluted round.
  30. Anytime around here, the instructor will call you over to cut the end of your flute to tune it to the deepest note of your flute. You will blow into the flute, the instructor will use a chromatic tuner to cut the end of the flute until it reaches the ‘fundamental’ note of your flute
  31. Once you have shaped the flute to where you are satisfied, shape the mouth end of the flute using a utility knife until it is almost the shape you want. You will fine-tune it when you are sanding the flute.
  32. The instructor will now help you drill 6 holes in the flute. He/she will use a set of tables that will give the spacing of the holes o The hole spacing depends upon the deepest note (as determined earlier), as well as o The thickness of the walls of your flute
  33. Sanding the flute is where you bring the flute alive! Take your time. Start with 60 or 80 grit and remove ALL blemishes. I mean ALL blemishes. Hold it up to the light and sight down the flute. You will see all defects. They need to be sanded.
  34. Once you reach the stage where you might see a few scratches made by the 80 grit sandpaper, go to 220 grit and repeat the process. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Switch to 320 grit. Then go to 600 to 1500 grit. The flute should feel super smooth to the touch.
  35. This next step can be done during the class, or if there are too many students, the instructor will have to do it later and get the flute to you. o The instructor uses the chromatic tuner and a Dremel to fine-tunes each hole to match with the fundamental note. o This will take about 15 + minutes per flute
  36. Wipe the inside and outside of the flute until it is clean.
  37. Take a small patch of lint-free cloth (about 2”x2”) and rub it into the finish. Apply to the foot end of the flute and reach into the bore with the cloth as far as you can with the cloth and finger. Place on a flute stand and apply the finish on the exterior of the flute. Watch the color come alive! Apply several coats, waiting a few minutes between coats. Make sure any finish is removed from the 6 holes.
  38. While you are waiting to add the next coat of finish, make a flute stand with the materials provided. You will need a dowel, or a straight tree branch that fits into the bore of the flute, along with a stand to insert the dowel into. Clean up the stand and use the finish you used on your flute to complete the flute stand.
  39. The flute is complete after several coats of finish are applied.
  40. To attach the bird/totem to the flute, cut a strip of cloth or hide approximately ¼” wide and 2 feet long. Attach the bird/totem to the flute by wrapping the cloth/hide several times around the flute. Use one knot to hold the bird/totem to the flute. o The front of the bird/totem must fit very near the opening furthest from the mouthpiece.
  41. Enjoy!
Suggest an Edit