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How To Make Your Own Bamboo Flutes EBook Making bamboo flutes make bamboo flutes flute making instructions
How To Make Your Own Bamboo Flutes EBook 

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his is a book about flutes as we know. To start the ball rolling though I thought it would be a good idea to to cover the making of a simple bamboo recorder. It is a very popular type of instrument and easy to play. The Native American Indian flute works on a similar same principle. Strictly speaking the recorder is not really a flute although many people associate it with one. In view of this I won't go into huge detail about making this type of instrument. After you've covered the later chapters it will be easy to make recorders in all different keys if you want.

However I'll explain the difference between a flute and a recorder.

With a recorder the air sound stream is made for you. You just blow into pre shaped mouthpiece and a sound is produced.

With a flute it is you who are actually a part of the mouthpiece because  you make the shape of the airstream. You make the airstream with your lips and you direct it onto a precise spot on the blowing edge. You could say you are part of the flute itself. Can you see the difference?

Now this makes a tremendous difference in the playing techniques of both instruments as well as the sounds that can be produced. In effect a recorder is much easier to get a basic sound out of than a flute. Anybody can just blow into a recorder and get a basic sound even a small baby. Not so with a flute. It is much harder to get a sound with a flute.

With the Shakuhachi for instance It is not uncommon for people to take a while maybe week to even just get a sound! I remember when I first picked up a Shakuhachi I couldn't make a sound. I can't remember how long it took me to get the sound but it didn't come overnight for sure. And then it may take years to master the flute lips position or embouchure  as it is called.

However with the flute you can achieve an endless variety of tone colours and sound effects that you just cannot attain on a recorder. And this is so dramatic that with both instruments even though the way the sound is produced is the same they really are in effect two totally different instruments. This is quite an important distinction to be aware of between flutes and recorder type instruments.

Anyway the main purpose of this chapter is for those who wish to get going right away. To start making sounds quickly and get the feel of working with bamboo. This section will show you how to make a simple bamboo recorder in the key of B flat above middle C. The key of B flat above middle C is quite high compared to the usual keys of flutes that I like to make. I really love the beautiful deep notes of bamboo flutes. But it is a good start and is very easy to play because the finger holes are relatively close together.

You'll find that a flute in the key of middle C is about 600mm long. The recorder we'll make here is only about 375mm in length and about 14mm in bore diameter. You'll find out how to make these recorders in any key later on once you've read the advanced sections.

Without further ado here we go. We start with a length of cured bamboo 375 mm in length and about 14mm in diameter.

Hollow out the bamboo

This is done the same way as for all flutes and is covered in the relevant section.

Making the mouthpiece

Before we make the mouthpiece for this instrument it is important to smooth out the the nodes as much as possible from the inside. You can easily do this with a round file. Just do this until the inside of the node feels fairly flush with the rest of the bore. Detailed instructions for working on the bore are presented in the relevant chapter.

To make the mouthpiece we start with a piece of wooden dowel of appropriate diameter to fit snugly into the mouthpiece end of the bamboo. The dowel needs to be shaped as in the next figure.

It's much easier to make the cutaway in the dowel before you cut it to length. So cut the dowel at first to a length of about 100mm. Put it in a vice and make the recess of about 1mm deep. You can do this with a flat file or something like that. After you've made the recess you can then cut it to final length of 20mm.

The next step is cut away a groove in the top of the bamboo on the same face as the finger holes as shown in the diagram. You can do this with a combination of a razor knife and sharp chisel. The exact dimensions of this cutaway are not critical. The measurements shown are just a guide. The 20mm distance is important though since it needs to be the same as the length of the dowel piece which we'll insert in the mouthpiece end.

Start off by cutting the bamboo vertically with the razor knife and then with the right width chisel make the angled cut. This might take a bit of practise but it's not too hard once you get the knack. If necessary experiment on a bit of scrap bamboo first. 



After you've cut the recess you then need to make a flat groove on the inside of the bamboo at the mouthpiece end from the end of the flute to the start of the cutaway. You do this with the same width chisel that you used to make the top cutaway in the bamboo

When this has been done the 20mm bit of dowel is inserted gently into the mouthpiece end so that it just aligns with the beginning of the cutaway. At this stage you should be able to blow into the end and get a sound. If you can't get the sound then remove the dowel from the end and take the recess down a fraction more and try again.

The next figures show the mouthpiece of a recorder You'll notice the jet is not exactly square. Remember the previous dimensions are only a guide. As with all flutes there is quite a bit of room for experimentation and personal touches.

This mouthpiece looks a bit different than what you will have at present. This is because it has been shaped so that it is easier to play and fits better between the lips. You can easily do this with the belt of the belt sander where it wraps around the shaft. You can shape the mouthpiece like this at this stage or after you've finished the recorder. This stage is optional and has no effect on the actual sound but it adds a nice final touch.

Cutting the bamboo to length

After you have made the mouthpiece and are satisfied with the basic tone it is time to cut the recorder to the right length. If you have a piece of bamboo with the right dimensions as stated above it should already be fairly well in tune and play the note B flat above middle C. However it may be that it is still a little below pitch. In this case you will need to trim sections off the bottom end till you get the correct pitch. Only take a couple of millimetres off at a time till you get the right pitch. Check this with the Chromatic tuner.

Marking out the positions for the finger holes

Once the recorder plays the correct pitch you then need to mark the positions of the finger holes. Please refer to the next figure which gives the positions as well as the diameter of the holes. Just mark out the centre positions of the holes with a removable felt pen as shown in the picture.

Drilling the holes

After the positions of the holes have been marked they need to be drilled. As explained I find the best way to do this is with the drill press. So drill the holes in the recorder with the correct diameter drill bits.

After the holes have been drilled you should then have a recorder which plays fairly well in tune. Some of the notes may still be a tiny bit under pitch. If this is the case then just widen the holes with a bigger drill bit 1mm at a time till you get it to the right pitch. The details of other fine tuning techniques are covered in later sections

Finishing the Recorder

Well at this stage you should have a playable bamboo recorder. All that remains is to add the finishing touches.

Clean up the finger holes

The inside of finger holes need to be cleaned up. You can use a round file or a bit of rolled up sandpaper. If you're using a file then be careful not to exert too much pressure on the outstroke or you might split the surface skin of the bamboo.

It is also important to finish off the finger holes by cleaning up the inside edge where it contacts the surface of the bamboo. This is so as to avoid splitting the surface skin of the bamboo and to form a better seal for the fingers. The way I do this is with a piece of bamboo around 200mm long and about the same outside diameter of the flute I am working on.

Around this I wrap a piece of medium - fine sandpaper. With a back and forth motion across the holes of the flute as shown in the diagram, gently remove and burs that may have formed on the bamboo during the drilling process. Please refer to the following pictures.

Finishing the Bore

Depending on the quality of flute you are making you will want to finish the bore in some way. For the cheaper type of flutes I just give the bore a light clean out then pour some appropriate type of oil inside the bore. It will soak into the bamboo thereby conditioning it and making it somewhat water resistant.

For the more expensive types of flutes the bore needs to be sealed. Before sealing it needs to be sanded a few times. This is covered in the sections on the bore.

Final Points

As was mentioned before the purpose of this section is to get you started quickly. At this stage there is not much you need to understand about flute making. You just mark out the measurements and drill the holes. And assuming your bamboo you're working with is the right size when finished you should have a reasonably sounding bamboo recorder.

It should be noted though that the measurements for the holes presented here will only work for a piece of bamboo of the the stated dimensions. If you have a piece of bamboo of different size the hole measurements will not work.

How to make a tuned flute of any bamboo size in any scale is all covered in depth in a later chapter.

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