Let’s Talk Tools & Supplies
Hand Tools required for flute building a 2 piece flute
Before getting started on tools and supplies there is some general information which has been helpful to me in my journey as a flute builder. First, if there is a flute circle in your area, become a member. This will connect you with others that are interested in the NAF. This connection will give you the opportunity to see and play flutes made by a variety of flute makers. Many of the members of our flute circle have extensive collections of flutes which they normally bring (one at a time) to the meeting.
You will also connect to players, builders and people who are just interested in learning more about the Native American culture. Many active flute circles are listed on the International Native American Flute Association or (INAFA) website. The internet can also be a great resource for locating a flute circle in your area. Unfortunately, they can be few and far between. We are lucky, the flute circle that my wife and I have joined is in Norman Oklahoma where we live. Many members travel 60 or more miles one way to take part in our monthly meetings. I also recommend becoming a member of the INAFA as they list most of the flute festivals and other flute related activities that are held around the country. Their quarterly newsletter is full of NAF related activities across the country and a listing of many builders, some may be located near you. Which could be a possible resource.
The more flutes you see, touch and play the better builder you will become. Don’t be afraid to look under the hood (ask the owner or builder if you can remove the bird to see what is underneath, or have them do it) Seeing what other builders are doing in this area can help you improve you building technique. In my opinion the most critical portion of a flute is the area under the bird, the leading edge of the bird and the splitting edge. All which can be seen better if the bird is removed.
If you are going to purchase a flute online, make sure that you ask about the builders return policy. Each flute plays differently (back pressure, finger hole placement, tone quality and voice) having a flute that you can comfortably play, and has a tone quality that is pleasing to your ear is important. Each flute, even if made from the same wood by the same builder can have a different and unique tone and sound quality. Purchasing a flute without hearing and playing it may leave you disappointed. Many of the builders I have run across have a satisfaction guarantee policy or trial period.
In my case, I offer a 10 day satisfaction guarantee. You can visit my website for details, http://www.jolflutes.com (Journey of Life Flutes). Ordered flutes are completed to the purchasers specification and when finished the flute is paid for and shipped. Upon ordering, no down payment or deposit is required. I work on the honor system. Shipping time isn’t part of the 10 day trial period. Within the trial period, if the new owner isn’t totally satisfied with their purchase, they can contact me and return the flute in its original condition and packaging and I will refund the purchase price minus postage or make them another flute.
It’s time for me to get off the soap box and start with the serious stuff . What tools you’ll need to complete your first flute. I am going to make an assumption that you have a workbench or some solid surface to work on. Not sure your significant other would appreciate using the kitchen counter top as a work bench. But then that is up to you. A good solid work space is necessary for some of the operations will require the blank to be held in a stable position when cutting the ramp.
2 main categories of tool are:
- Tools that are a necessity
- Tools that are nice to have
In my last post I mentioned that I would cover the tools required to build a flute and that no special tools would be needed if you purchased pre-routed blanks with the wind way cut. Well, I may have bent the truth a bit. Depending on your experience and what you have been doing you may already have some or all the required tools. However, If you are starting from scratch with no tools then you will need to make some small purchases of a few tools to fill in your flute tool inventory.
I have included photos since some of the tool may be unfamiliar. As the old saying goes “ a picture is worth a thousand words”, but I will write a thousands word anyway. This is in no way meant to be instructional as to how to get a particular task done. That will be covered in the how to build post which will be coming next. This is just a list with explanation of the tools, the next post will cover the assembly.
Wood glue (Need to have)
You will be gluing the 2 sides of the flute together so some type of glue is necessary. I suggest “Titebond III”. Some builders use “Titebond Extend” which allows more open time to move the pieces around before the glues starts to set. Experiment with both. I have found that I don’t need the extended time. You will find that when you glue and clamp the blanks together that they tend to slide around and some alignment, will be necessary.
Start off with a small bottle, this glue will go a long way, and has a shelf life. Of course, if you have other uses for wood glue then purchase whatever you feel is necessary. If your shop is unheated and you live in an area were the temperature goes below freezing, take all your glues in at night. If they freeze, they turn into a jelly like substance. My glue goes in the house with me at night.
Clamps (Need to have)
You will need some type of clamps to hold the glued up flute together during the drying process.
I suggest using spring clamps. Medium size works well. As with many tools you can purchase expensive clamps or lower price clamps. I found some 6 inch spring clamps at Home Depot that were about a $1.00 each. They work well for the purpose and you will need 8 to 10 clamps. The advantage of using spring clamps is that they are quickly placed and removed, will not damage the softer woods, and allow for quick adjustment of the 2 halves.
“C” clamps can be used but have several disadvantages. First, they are heavy and cumbersome. As I have mentioned, the two halves will slide around and trying to screw down several C clamps and adjust the halves for alignment is just about impossible. Also, if you are working with a softwood, like any of the cedars, which make wonderful flutes, “C” clamps can damage the wood by applying too much pressure. If “C” clamps are all you have, and you want to try using them I suggest you place a scrap clamping strip of wood on both halves, this will spread the pressure out along the entire length of the flute blank and also protect the flute wood from damage. Double sided tape can be used to hold the clamp pad wood to the flute blanks.
Brad Point drill bits (Need to have)
Brad point drill bits are designed specifically for drilling wood. Very handy to have around the shop. Again if you are just getting started you can purchase a set of these bits for around $5.00 and up. If you are a woodworker I suggest you purchase to best set you can afford. You will be using these to drill your “true sound hole” TSH and the pilot holes for the finger holes. Normal twist bits have a tendency to slide around when getting started and can cause you to drill a hole off center or out of place. Brad points are the way to go.
Riffler files (Need to have)
You will need a small flat file (mill file) for finishing and shaping the TSH. A mill fine is flat rectangular shaped. Again, sets of these files have a wide price range. Purchase a set of steal riffler files. You may be temped to purchase a set of diamond impregnated riffler files. I have found that the mill file in these sets don’t have a sharp 90 degree edge and can’t be used to square off the corners of the TSH. Having sharp corners and edges in this area is important. This can impact the play-ability and voice of the flute. Diamond files also have a tendency to get clogged with wood particles and can be difficult to clean. My recommendations are to stay away from this type of file. Riffler mill files seem to only come in sets. The mill file is the one that you will use the most and I have worn out several this past year and had to purchase an entire set just to get that little mill file. (See photo)
Small wood rasp (Nice to have)
WoodCraft sells a small flat wood rasp which I have found helpful when increasing the size of the TSH. WoodCraft also sells a small handle that will clamp onto any small file that makes them easier to control and more comfortable to use.
Wood Chisel (Need to have)
You will need a wood chisel to cut the ramp to the TSH. If you don’t have any, buy a name brand 3/8” wide chisel. Less expensive chisels will not hold a good edge and for our purposes this tool needs to stay sharp.
Glue Mop (Need to have)
When gluing the two half’s together, glue will run out the sides of the joint. This is called squeeze out. This is important if you don’t have any squeeze out them you didn’t use enough glue. Squeeze out will happen on the outside and the inside of the flute body. The glue inside will need to be mopped out before it dries or you will have a great deal of difficulty getting it out afterwards. An easy way to get this job done is to use a ½ inch dowel rod with an oval slot cut into the end. (see photo) This closed loop will hold a 6 inch strip of damp cloth through the slot. I normally cut mine at 6 x ¾, you want to tight fit when running this mop in and out of the barrel. I use old cotton socks cut into strips for this job, they work well. Make sure you have all the lint and loose particles of cloth removed before mopping.
Small Square (Nice to have) See Photo
I find a small 6 inch sliding square very useful when making my flutes. I priced one at WoodCraft at something like $70.00. My response to the sales person was, “ Isn’t that kind of high for that tool?” He told me that it was accurate to within .00001 of an inch. Well that is impressive, but we are working with wood. I went to Harbor Freight and purchased one for about $5.00 and it works just fine. I went back and purchased another one to have a spare. I don’t know about your shop but in mine small tools have a tendency to hiding under wood, sandpaper and other shop stuff that is lying around.
Sand Paper (Need to Have)
Sanding is a part of just about all wood working. If a craftsman takes all the time and work to make a project, but doesn’t sand it correctly, the poor finish will negate all the hard work put into the project. Sanding is a necessary evil, I don’t know anyone that enjoys doing it but it must be done. You will need several different grits to get a nice finish. Many times a variety pack can be purchased starting with a 80 grit and ending up with a 150 or 220. If 220 isn’t part of the package pick up a few extra sheet of that grit. This will get you started.
You may need to set up a sanding table. This make it possible to get the 2 flute blanks to fit together as tightly as possible. Purchase a roll of adhesive sand paper. When I stared I purchased three grits but have found that the 320 grit is the most useful and lasts a very long time. To set up a sanding table you will need a very hard and flat surface. I use the extension table on my table saw which is flat and about 28 inches long. I stick a piece of this sand paper the entire length of the table. This allows me to sand the whole length of each blank at once. We will talk about this more when we get to the “how to make” section of my next blog post.
Shaping tool (Need to have)
Once you get the blanks glued together you will need to mark out the nest and then start shaping of the exterior of the flute. I use my lathe but for this process we will assume that you don’t have a lathe available. There are several tools that can be used to shape the outside of the flute. A wood rasp, a spoke shave, wood plane or stationary belt sander can all be used. How you do this is up to you. The tool or tools you choose will have some impact on the final shape. Flutes don’t have to be round. I have seen many shapes, so think it over, and then decide your final shape. If you have any of these tools available then I suggest you use what you have. If not, to keep you cost down, I suggest using a wood rasp and sand paper. This will give you several options in your final shape and a lot of control over the end product.
Wood Vice (Nice to have)
A device for firmly holding the flute blank during the shaping and other process is very handy. Wood vices are different then the standard workbench vice in that as their name implies they are made for holding wood. These devices have a very wide price range but I have found that the one offered by Harbor Freight for under $15.00 has worked well for me. It can be clamped temporally to the work surface or screwed down. I have mine clamped to my workbench with the supplied screw clamps for the past year and have never had a problem with it. I did add oak clamping pads to the vice clamping surface which I made from some scrap wood I had lying around. (See photo)
Well that should get you started. In my next posting we will start the construction process. If you have any question I can be reached through my website. http://www.jolflutes.com