Tag Archives: Flute

Aluminum tube makes awesome flutes.

I’ve have some 1 1/4 inch aluminum tube sitting around since my telescope project (remind me to tell you about that some day). I wanted to make flutes out of it, but couldn’t get my mouth the correct shape to blow over the holes.While tinkering with it, it occurred to me that I could make a wood block to cover the end of the tube and aim the air over the hole, like a fipple flute or recorder.

I started with a few pieces of 1 1/4 O.D. aluminum tube. I drilled a 5/16 inch hole about 1 inch from one end. This hole is the embouchure.

I built a block of wood with 1/2 inch walnut, 3/4 inch cherry and another 1/2 inch walnut. I also build one out of two pieces of 3/4 inch cherry. My early prototypes were made from 2×4 pine. I drilled a 1 1/4 inch hole, but not all the way through. This will act as the endcap.

Now I turned the block on it’s side and drilled a 1/2 hole, but not all the way. I only drilled as far as in the photo. Note that the drill bit cuts into 1 1/4 hole by about a 3/16 inch and forms the top slot seen in the other photos. Drill deep enough so that if the tube were inserted into the large hole, the embouchure would not be covered. The embouchure would point to between 8 o’clock and 9 o’clock in this photo.

Now drill a 5/16 inch hole the rest of the way through. Drill so that the edge of the drill bit would scrape the tube, if it were in the 1 1/4 hole. This is the actual hole that you will blow into.

I used the band saw to take a bit off the block, to open up the 1/2 hole. It made it easier to work and was how the finished piece was to look. I also used a sharp knife to widen sides of the hole a bit. I cut a 3/8 inch piece of 5/16 inch dowel and shaved off a bit. The dowel will was inserted and glued into the 5/16 hole we drilled and be aligned so that the cut off piece faces the right in this photo. The air will go under the dowel and over the embouchure. If you do it right, when you sight through the 5/16 hole from where you put your mouth, you will only see the inside of the embouchure hole. If you slice off too much from the the dowel, then you will hear alot of air moving, but not have much noise. You will have to try different angles by twisting the tube. I made three prototypes out of pine to get the angles and alignment right. There are two in the photo below. If you have trouble, take the tube, cover the end by the embouchure with duct tape and blow over the embouchure with a straw. When you find a place that makes noise, make a picture in your mind and then drill the 5/16 hole to replace the straw in that image.

Now you can shape the block with the band saw and sander. I wanted to make something comfortable for the mouth. Don’t pay any attention to the tuning holes in this photo. I didn’t know what I was doing when I cut them. I tried yet another formula, and it didn’t work.

Forget all those formula for getting the holes in the right spot. To tune the flute, you will need a chromatic tuner. I bought mine for about $12 when I bought my guitar. You will also need a good set of drill bits.

If you look at the holes and ignore the electrical tape, you may notice a pattern. Before I drilled the holes, I kept cutting the tube shorter until I got an A on my tuner. It was about 30cm or just over 12 inches. I wanted the notes A C D E G but I kept getting a B in the first hole, not a C, no matter how far I moved the hole. I decided to keep the B and move on. The trick seems to be to just drill holes and tune the holes from the low pitch to the high. I started with 1/8 inch holes and worked my way up in drill bit sizes until the note was correct. Larger holes sharpen up a note. You can’t flatten a note, so don’t over do it! When you sharpen a note, you sharpen all the notes with higher pitch also, so only work from low pitch up. Make sure the note is right and then move on. If you try to fool with the tuning later, you can throw the whole instrument off.

To get the holes in approximately the right location. Start with the lowest pitch hole at 2/3 the distance from embouchure to the end. The short flute has holes at 1/3, 1/2 and 2/3 the embouchure-to-end distance. The longer flute was at 2/7, 3/8, 3/7, 1/2, 5/8, 2/3. It is interesting to note that 2/7 is almost 2/6, which is 1/3. This means that both flutes have holes between 1/3 and 2/3 the distance from the embouchure to the end.

I met a local flute maker today.

“Little Hawk” from Free Spirit Studio. He had some of his own flutes at a wood carver show.

Check out his website at www.freespiritstudio.org

His flutes sounded amazing. He suggested that when I make my flute, I make it as long as from my elbow to my finger tips from blow hole to end. Then make the holes one hand width from the blow hole. There should be three holes, two fingers apart, then the next group of three finger holes should be three fingers down. The final three holes are also two fingers apart and should be a hand width from the end.

The finger holes are tuned by making them larger. They are also affected by the thickness of the flute.

It was my lucky day.

Flute tuning.

Now that I’ve figured out the fipple, tuning is the next challenge. This site lists ratios to calculate the finger hole locations, but they are for “ideal” situations. There also is a link to a finger hole calculator. The calculator doesn’t seem to work for me. I think the walls of my flute are too thick.

I also tried to drill holes at regular intervals. This worked ok on the cherry flute, but not on the poplar one. The cherry flute was about 12 1/2 inches, with six holes, 1 1/4 inches apart, starting 2 1/4 inches from the end, not the blow hole. I was able to widen the holes to sharpen the notes and bring most of the holes into tune. The holes on the poplar flute 1 1/2 inches apart (the flute is 15 1/2 inches from blow hole to tip). 1 1/2 inches makes the holes hard to reach.

The most interesting thing about tuning is that there are so many factors, it is almost impossible to have an exact “formula” for the holes. You just have to drill and then tune the instrument.

You can tune the flute by making the holes larger. This sharpens the notes. I found that making the holes larger affects the other notes. I haven’t figured out which end to start, so right now I’m just using my guitar tuner and adjusting the holes.

Also, many hole layouts have some holes very close together or look like holes are skipped. These are for pentatonic tunings. With a pentatonic tuning, all the available notes are in the same key, so you can play anything and have it sound like music.


While doing Yoga to “Music from the Hearts of Space” my attention was captured by notes being played on the flute. The music made me think of a hand made instrument, being played by a lone musician…

I began searching the internet for plans to make a flute. I couldn’t find anything complete, but lots of sites to help me along the way.

The fipple seems to be the hardest part to make and one website that promised plans was down. Here is the bottom side of the one that worked the best.