One of the more enjoyable things to do with your spare time is to tackle making your own Native American Styled Flute. I keep hearing stories from customers that are very similar to others I hear from people on the street almost daily. People come in contact and are introduced to the Native American Flute in many different ways, and for many they are simply captured by the haunting yet comforting sound these beautiful wind instruments make. For some once they have purchased a flute or two the next logical step is to consider building their own flute, not sure why that is but it seems to be a common thread we hear all the time. It just seems like a natural progression for many I guess. There are many ways to craft a Native American Styled Flute and not everyone wants to do it our way, but for this post I am going to focus strictly on how it is we craft the windway parts of the flute and for us this process is done primarily by hand. That is not to say we don’t use power tools in our shop because we do, but the majority of the crafting of our flutes is done using hand tools.
Components of the Native American Flute
The most critical part of you flute short of getting the inside of the flute components crafted correctly is the crafting of the windway area. This is the part of the flute where all the sound is born. A correctly crafted windway can make or break your flute. This post is dedicated to just that – sharing our method for crafting a windway on what we call our 307 Native American Flutes. For those who are curious – 307 is simply the area code for the State of Wyoming. Living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a great place to make these instruments as there is so much around us that can inspire you. All of our flutes are voiced for the first time just a few miles from the magnificent Grand Tetons. But the crafting happens in our shop when it is quite and no one is around. I hope that by sharing with you this post it will help those of you who are starting this journey into making your own Native American Styled Flute and hopefully provide some needed direction.
Ok so you have purchased yourself some flute blanks (hopefully from us) and you are ready to go. This post assumes a few things. First, that you have purchased a set of blanks that are made up from two halves and that you have already bored the blowhole, the slow air chamber and the flute bore components into your blanks. You are now ready to create the windway area of the flute.
The schematics below are available if you will email me at “firstname.lastname@example.org” and request legible copies of the image files for your own use. We are not charging for these schematics but we do ask your permission to place you in our emailing list for future updates about our products. These schematics are Copyrighted and we do not allow the use of these schematics for commercial purposes or reproduction without prior written consent from Timothy Jennings or Teton Marketing. We do sell different flute blank options depending on your skill level. So visit our website from time to time – www.JacksonHoleTim.com. Every flute blank order is shipped with three proprietary schematics for no additional charge.
Taking your time in crafting this part of your flute is an absolute must. Making a mistake here can cause you some real headaches. Almost any mistake can be corrected but some mistakes can really give you a headache. It is this part of the flute that most people have a hard time finding information on how to build. Many flute makers simply don’t want to bother sharing this information with others for various reasons. Take a good look at the schematic above. The top schematic shows a side view of the Windway area. What you are looking at is the Exit Hole coming out of the Slow Air Chamber and into the Focusing Channel. Remember that there is going to be a fetish that sits on top of this area that will direct the airflow down the channel and onto the cutting edge. Remember to email us for a legible copy of these schematics.
Important Point of Interest: – Our focusing channels are cut into the body of the flute and not into the bottom of the fetish. Some flute makers prefer this way and others prefer crafting the channel as part of the fetish. We think that for those of you crafting your flute mainly by hand that this is the preferred method. So here is how we do this here in Jackson Hole…
The first thing you need to do is to transfer some lines with a pencil across the top of the flute blank that will contain the Windway area. You are looking to mark the edges of the Solid Block area. This is the solid area that sits between the Slow Air Chamber and the long Flute Bore. I like to then add about ⅛” in length to both ends of these marks. This extends the marks slightly into the apex of the bores on both side. This will guide you for placement of the exit hole from the Slow Air Chamber and entrance hole for the Cutting Edge. Again what you are aiming for is that the exit hole coming from the SAC sits a bit back of the apex of the router bit curve and the same is true on the other end.
Focusing Channel Dimensions
For the great majority of flutes you will make the dimensions of the Focusing Channel should be approximately ⅜” wide and long enough to pass just beyond the front and back of the solid block. The depth of the channel is very shallow and sits directly in the middle of the blanks width! About the thickness of a standard credit card works really well or about 1/32” deep. This is important because if your channel is too deep you will allow too much air flow through the channel and you will end up with no back pressure which is not what you want. If it is too shallow you will end up with too much back pressure and it will not play right either. In addition, if the channel is too deep then your cutting edge will have a hard time splitting the air flow properly. If you end up with a channel that is too shallow – no worries you can carve it a bit deeper using a standard 3/8″ wide flat chisel. If you are too deep then you can use a good flat sanding block or block plane to bring it down to the proper depth.
The Exit Hole Dimensions
The exit hole is the hole you will cut from the focusing channel into the SAC and this hole allows the air from your lungs to pass out of the SAC and into the Focusing Channel. This exit hole can be just about any size you want as long as your fetish covers the hole and the channel properly. We usually make the Exit Hole the same width as the Focusing Channel. The standard length we make the hole is ⅝” in length measured from the mark that extends just past the apex of the router bore. If you cut it longer that 5/8″ it should not affect your flute at all. But 5/8″ is a good all around length.
This is also where you want to create a softened ramp in the top of the inside of the flute blank that will help guide the air up and out of the SAC with as little interruption as possible. In addition you will want to soften the exit hole area that leads onto the focusing channel area. You will want to soften this sharp edge at the top and front of the exit hole. We use a combination of a Dremel type tool and small wood files to create a rounded area and then we sand everything really well. This ramp I am talking about is created at the apex of the very top part of the flute bore from the inside. We use a very sharp gouge to create a tapered soffit that tapers from the blowhole side (closest to your mouth) up to the edge of the back side of the exit hole.
This is the most critical part of the Windway process. TAKE YOUR TIME with this part of the flute. So what you want to do is to start with the line you marked for the front edge of the solid block – then you will measure forward (towards the foot of the flute) 6mm. I use millimeters here because they are more accurate. The hole you create here is going to be ⅜” wide or whatever width you Focusing Channel is and no more the 6mm in length. If you have a drill press you can use a ¼” (6.2mm) square Mortising bit to create the initial hole (many of our flute blanks already have this cut for you). Then you will turn the flute blank over and from the inside of the bore take a very sharp chisel that is no more than ⅜” wide and create a tapered edge from the inside to the tip of the front edge of the hole you just created.
IMPORTANT POINT HERE – before you try to create the tapered edge find a place where you can clamp the flute blank down very tightly to a work bench. You will clamp it with the inside of the flute facing up. By doing this you will lessen the chance of splitting the top part of the flute where your edge is to be thus creating a real problem for you. Be sure to use a wood block on top of the blank and clamp the blank using the block as a protective piece so you won’t mar your flute blanks gluing surfaces prior to gluing.
Start by taking your chisel (make sure it is very sharp) and taking off very small amounts of wood at a time. You want an angle that is approximately 45 – 48 degrees. Your goal is to create a sharp wedge-shaped channel that peaks at the front edge of the entrance hole. Your distance from the front of the block to the very edge of your taper should not be too much more than the 6 -7mm you started with. So what you end up with is an edge like the drawing above shows plus a very subtle ramp leading into and down the flute bore. Then you can fine tune this edge with files, exacto blades or chisels so that the final distance is just about 7mm from front of solid block to the front edge of the cutting edge.
Just like you did with the Slow Air Chamber and exit hole where you created a tapered ramp you want to do the same thing here only the ramp is tapering into the flute bore. Once you have finished this use some very good sandpaper and feather the ramps into the surrounding bore area. Start with 100 grit and finish with 220 grit. Again take your time here. What you are trying to accomplish is the smoothest transition for your breath to travel without too many rough spots.
Now you need to seal the inside of your flute blanks. You will need to sand the entire inside of the flute blanks down to 220 grit and then mask off the entire gluing surfaces (use a good blue tape). Then you can seal the inside of the blanks prior to gluing them together. We use Deft aerosol products in our shop and we stock them ready to ship. We start with several coats of Deft Sanding Sealer and sand in between every third coat until we are satisfied the bore is smooth. Then we finish with 4-6 coats (minimum) of Deft Satin finish. Let dry for at least 45 minutes and you are ready to glue.
The final tuning of your cutting edge area will happen after the flute blanks have been glued and you are ready to start tuning your flute. Using a very small wood file you will taper the top edge (from the outside top of flute blank) of the cutting edge and you will taper it gently downward (towards the blowhole) until the very edge of this part sits in the approximately middle of the airflow coming down the Focusing Channel. Try to keep your distance of the cutting edge to not more than 7mm if you can. This seems to be a good overall measurement for the entrance to the cutting edge.
Playing Holes are another subject we are asked about constantly and we will address this part of flute making in another post. Also shaping your flute by hand will affect how your flute tunes so do not get ahead of yourself when tuning your flute. Make sure you find your fundamental note first and keep it to the flat side of the note you are seeking. Then shape your flute to almost exactly where you want to finish. It is at this point you will want to proceed with the tuning of your playing hole. Please feel free email us with questions and time permitting we will do our best to provide you with timely answers. Leave a comment or two below and let us know what you think…
Artist Timothy Jennings