Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | November 11, 2014

Carving a Native American Flute

For many years I have had an urge to craft an authentic Native American Indian Flute but for some reason, it never happened… probably because I knew that I would not be able to play it even if I did build one :).  But, two things recently happened to renew my interest.  First I was listening to a wonderful CD by Scott August titled Distant Spirits which is predominately Indian flute music and, second, a local Chelan gift store named Spirals added a line of beautiful flutes to their offerings.  I became motivated!  Then I recalled a very old book I have by W. Ben Hunt titled The Complete How-To Book of Indian Craft.  This book was compiled from other books written by Hunt in the early 40’s and included plans for a Indian Flute.  I was “in business.”

I pretty much followed Hunt’s plans with some minor modifications.  Rather than repeat Bent Hunt’s directions here, I will simply refer you to Hunt’s plans that can be found at www.Flutopia.com/plans.htm.  I will, however, mention the few things that I did differently from Hunt.  Some I did as the tone of my first flute was okay but far from great.  Here are some differences that I suggest making:

1) Hunt calls for a mouth hole measuring 1/8th inch.  I found that well too small and went with a ¼” hole.  Additionally, Hunt’s mouth piece is a short 3/8th inch. My second flute is 1”.
2) The instructions calls for making a volume control piece where Hunt suggests using lead, celluloid or cardboard. Yikes!… lead?  Obviously written during a different time.  I made mine out of hardwood.  It is not easy though as it is to be only 1/32” thick. 1/32” is the thickness of a standard credit card.  With my second flute, I scrapped the whole volume control thing. Rather I made a recessed 1/32” flue;
3) Hunt makes no mention of the need for everything to be smooth and contoured.  On my second flute I replaced all the square-ness with contoured, well sanded and angled lines, making sure all burrs and rough spots were removed.  I made all air passages like a smooth flowing waterway.  And, Hunt’s block is 1/4″… I suggest 1″.

“Google” Native American flute making and look over what is available.  I could not find any detailed plans or measured drawings but I did  find lots of suggestions… as you will.  In the end, I don’t believe measurement is all that important.  I just heard about someone that made a flute out of a carrot.  And, there is a company than commercially makes sells flutes made from branches and limbs… some are even made into walking sticks.

So here is my first flute in progressive steps:

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Here, I have  a 1 1/4″… 20″ long piece of Alaska Cedar which has been ripped, marked and one half gouged out.

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The second side is now gouged out and the various holes cut and drilled per Hunt’s measurement and instructions

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The two sides are now glued together.  Before gluing, I tried it out for sound.  If it had been too bad, I could have made some adjustments.  As it was, it was okay.  At this point, I really did not know what improvements I could make and should have done more research even before marking and gouging.
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My finished flute.  Those that know me know I love eagles… so here we go again.
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This is the “block.”  This is where one adjusts the tone as best as they can. Typically, Indian flute blocks are carved in a Southwest Indian motif.
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I placed a rattler on the upper wall of the end of the sound chamber and a eagle feather on each side.
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This is my second flute.  It is not as ornate as my first but it sounds 100% better.  The block on this one has an eagle feather and there are eagle feathers on each side of the chamber, below the block.   On this one I added “Four Directions holes” at the end of the sound chamber.  The block here is made of New Zealand Kauri wood and the flute is Alaska Yellow Cedar.  By the way, Kauri wood is over 30,000 years old… pretty rare stuff.

But, dang…. I still can’t play one of these.  I will have to work on that.

Thank you for reading and keep sharp!

Please visit my website at www.MichaelKellerWoodcarving.com


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