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Making a Transverse Flute (side-blown)
Using "Black Bamboo" to make a transverse flute in the key of E.  Using a professionally made wood flute for tuning purposes.
Date(s): January 8, 2008. Album by Tom Mills. 1 - 31 of 31 Total. 2338 Visits.
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where did u get your knife
 - 
Al W. Johnson | alwjohnson@bellsouth.net, Sun, 8 Sep 2013 10:13AM
Thanks for sharing...how can you get the black bamboo??? I saw on Ebay :  http://www.ebay.com/itm/261055124543?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649
how do you think about this bamboo ?
 - 
Dung Pham | https://www.facebook.com/contom.contep, Thu, 15 Aug 2013 5:34PM
Thanks...Nice job...and just what I was looking for.
 - 
James Taddeo, Fri, 22 Mar 2013 6:26PM
enjoyable and helpful thank you
 - 
dave murphy, Wed, 17 Aug 2011 7:25AM
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This photo essay documents the steps employed to make a well tuned bamboo flute in the key of E.  I will use the wood flute in the center as a guide to make and tune the new bamboo flute.

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This is a rough drawing of the specifications on the wood flute I am copying. As the bamboo is a natural substance these measurements can only be relied upon as a guide.  Unlike the perfectly milled wooden flute, the bamboo will differ in bore diameter, the bore will be less than perfectly round, etc.  Thus, we will have to make adjustments to the length of the bamboo, and the placement and size of the finger holes to reach our goal.
"Hi, do you have measuremen..."
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Here are the materials and some of the tools I will be using. Shown in this photo are: 3 flute blanks, a round file, a small carving knife, a spool of linen thread, 2 dowels with sand paper attached (for smoothing the bore), and an electronic guitar tuner.  Not shown are a long drill bit for clearing the nodes from the bore and a drill-press for drilling the embouchure and the finger holes. The Embouchure is the proper name for the sound hole...or the mouthpiece.

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Another photo of some of the tools.  The flute we are to copy is the more reddish brown flute - made of Yew wood.

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The round file will be used to enlarge and clean the embouchure and the finger holes.

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The electronic tuning device will be used to insure that the flute is properly tuned.  In this case, we'll be trying to match the Yew flute.  I enjoy playing flute with other instruments, and the yew flute is my favorite - so I would like to match it as close as possible.  Flutes are tricky to tune because you can consciously (or unconsciously) bend notes considerably simply by blowing with more or less force.  Although the tuner will help quite a bit, I will still have to rely primarily on tuning by ear.

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I've selected a piece of bamboo that has an inside bore near the size of the Yew flute - about 5/8".  This piece of bamboo is ever so slightly larger in bore diameter.

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I will be drilling and carving the embouchure shortly.  I've selected a bamboo blank that is slightly longer than the Yew flute.  I will first have to break out 2 nodes inside the bore of the flute blank.  The "nodes" are the internal walls inside the bamboo.

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I will be using this spade-bit drill, with a long extension.  These extensions come in very handy for flute making.

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Holding the blank firmly in my left hand I slowly and carefully drill through the nodes, and use the wide spade-bit to clean up as much of the remnants of the nodes as I can.  I will use sandpaper on a dowel to smooth the bore further.

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I am using a dowel with sandpaper stapled on it to clean out the bore of the flute.

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I have several of these sandpaper dowels read to go - some with course paper, some with fine paper for polishing the bore.  The smoother the bore of the flute, the "sweeter" the sound of the flute!

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Preparing to drill the embouchure.  Many flute makers burn the holes in their bamboo flutes to avoid splitting  and splintering the bamboo.  I have found that applying a small bit of tape to the body of the flute before drilling eliminates the splintering problem.  I have marked the placement of the hole so that the finished embouchure will be placed properly in relation to the remaining node to the left (I want the edge of my embouchure approximately 1/4" from the node).

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Using sharp drill bits and going slowly using a drill press helps a bit too.

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The initial hole placement looks good.  I'll need to shape the embouchure next.  I'll be shooting for an oval shape similar to the one on the Yew flute.

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When playing the flute, the side facing the camera will be up against my lower lip.  Air will be blown across the hole and across the edge on the far side.

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I'm using a small, pointy and very sharp knife to shape the embouchure.  This is a delicate procedure and it pays to go slowly, being especially mindful of the grain of the bamboo fibers.

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Slicing away material in order to enlarge the hole towards the node below.  In the end, I'll need to have the opening of the hole about 1/4" from the node.

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After completing the embouchure, I prepare to cut the length of the flute.  The shorter the tube, the higher the note.  Right now, the bamboo flute is much too long, and its base note is much lower than the Yew flute (the base note on the Yew flute is when all finger holes are covered).  In order to get these flutes to match, I'll have to carefully shorten the bamboo flute - testing with the electronic tuner and my ear as I go.

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Bingo!  First I played my Yew flute and determined its base note.  Then I slowly cut down the bamboo flute to match it as exactly as possible.  Remember, flutes can be difficult to tune because you get a different note if you blow harder or softer (soft creates a flatter note...harder a more sharp note).  I'm ready now to begin drilling the finger holes.

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I'm going to start at the foot of the flute (the opposite end with the mouthpiece is called the "Head".

As it turned out, the bamboo flute was exactly the same length as the Yew flute.  That makes things easier.  I'm marking the first hole and preparing to drill (through the tape again to avoid splintering the bamboo).


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The diameter of the 1st hole on the Yew flute is 23/64".  It's tempting to use a drill bit of that exact size, but I smartly choose the next size down.  I can always enlarge the hole to arrive at the note I want.  It's very difficult to put wood back if it is too large!  Maybe a little explanation is in order:

When you lift your finger from a hole on a flute, you get a higher note as the hole effectively shortens the flute to the edge of the hole.  The closer the hole is to the mouthpiece/embouchure, the higher the note.  

So the trick here is to start with a note that is a little bit lower than the note we want (i.e., a little flat) and then slowly increasing the size of the hole up towards the head to raise or sharpen the note till we get what we want.


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Rather than bore viewers with a series of photos showing me marking holes, drilling them, and then fine tuning the notes with careful use of the round file...I opted to skip that part.

This is deceiving in a way, because it is all the tedious marking, drilling, and enlarging that flute making and tuning is all about.  

Starting at the most footward hole,  and working one at a time, I copied the placement and size of the holes on the Yew flute.  As with the first hole in the photo before, I made each hole slightly smaller than those on the Yew flute, and then carefully enlarged each hole while repeatedly testing the notes produced to arrive at the proper note for each.

Some of tuning was done using the electronic tuner - but most was accomplished by ear.  The tuner helps me get into the ballpark...my ear gets me to my seat in the right row!


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Bamboo will split badly if not wrapped with thread of some sort.  I found this out the hard way! My friend (and fellow flute maker) Salvador, taught me this simple wrapping technique.

I cut 4 equal lengths of thread and waxed them by running them over a block of bees-wax.  I made a loop about 5" from one end and held it against the bottom of the flute where I want to start the wrap.


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As you can see, I'm using the running end of the thread to wrap over the top of the loop.  After a 2 or 3 wraps, the thread binds upon itself.  I continue wrapping around the flute body and over the loop until I get nearly to the end of the thread.

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Once at the end, I pass what remains of the running end through the loop I had laid down.  I'm now going to use the loop to pull the running end underneath the wrap.  I'll have to get a firm grip on both ends while doing this...

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Like a pint-sized tug-of-war, I'm pulling the loop with my right hand and the running end with my left. I'm positioning the juncture of the two (the loop and the running end)underneath the center of the wrap - then I pull as tight as I can to set this knotless binding in place.

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Afterward, I cut off the remaining ends, and put a dab of super glue on the wrap.

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I repeat this 4 more times on different portions of the flute, and I'm done.

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I made both of these bamboo flutes this morning, using the Yew flute (center) as a model for tuning purposes.  The one pictured in this photo essay is the flute on the bottom.

I hope to shortly have either a video or sound file prepared so you can hear these flutes as well as see them.  I'm off to prepare this now...

Thanks for looking.


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