Building Wooden Flutes

This is the beginnings of a page on making wooden flutes.  For right now, I'm just going to start by including information that was posted to the woodenflute or earlyflute email lists.  Hopefully I'll be able to organize the information with time.

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1999 09:57:13 +1100 From: "Mark and Josephine" <> Subject: [woodenflute] Tone holes and voicing

I have been continuing my work in hopes of gaining more understanding of the basic principles that make the flute work like it does. I'd like to share these observations to see if others can either confirm or correct them:

1) A tone hole moved up the flute, on the surface, helps to sharpen the overblown note.

2) Undercutting a tone hole more can help to sharpen the first register note, while only marginally effecting the overblown note, as long as the opening at the surfact of the flute remains the same.

3) I have found that Trevor Robinson's suggestion that the second register is more sensitive to small changes in the size of the tone hole holds true, but a well respected maker told me that when he voices chanters on pipes that he finds the first register to be more effected by tone hole size, so he first gets the second register in tune and then fine tunes the first register. Any thoughts on this??

Any feedback will be appreciated.


Mark Hoza

~~~~~~ Maker of Kything Flutes Made in Australia from Australian hardwoods email: web site: Phone: +61-2-6653-8755 (02)6653-8755 within Australia




Mark Try to get hold of the book "Tone and Intonation on the Recorder" by Edward Kottick (?) which gives excellent advice on the various effects of tone hole size, undercutting, tone hole position, and undercutting assymetry. I think that the book is out of print but should be available from your library.

Tuning a recorder is quite a good place to start learning about woodwind tuning as it is much less subjective than flute tuning, for example. Basically a warmed up recorder will produce a fixed pitch when blown with a fixed breath pressure. Reading Rod Cameron's excellent mis-posting (more please Rod!) confirms that different players will blow the same flute and consistently produce a different pitch.

The basic principles are: 1. Hole position affects first and second register notes, but first register notes are more strongly affected. Therefore moving a hole north up a flute sharpens the lower note more than the upper note. 2. Hole size affects first and second register notes, but the second register is more strongly affected.

>From this you could assume that for a given bore there is only one position and size of hole that provides a first and second register notes that are in tune. While this may be true for plain drilled holes but you would be ignoring the effect of undercutting.

Undercutting the north side of a hole whilst waxing the south side effectively moved the hole north without increasing the hole size. Therefore first register is more affected.

Undercutting symmetrically effectively increases the hole size without moving the centre of the hole. This means that the second register would be more strongly affected.

These techniques can be mixed together to correct the pitch and balance between the first two registers. To raise the pitch of the second register without affecting the first register at all you can undercut S, E, and W and wax the North side. This effectively opens up the hole (which would sharpen the second register a lot and the first register a bit) and moves it south a little bit (which flattens the first register a bit and the second register hardly at all). The effect is that the second register has been sharpened and the first register left where it was.

Mods to holes of course have a much greater effect on hole 1 than on hole 7. For the same reason tuning mods have more of an effect on a soprano recorder than on a tenor flute.

If your first and second register notes are in tune but the third register is out you will probably need to modify the bore. The basic principles are outlined in Kottick's excellent book.

Do any of you experienced makers have any hints and tips for us amateurs? Do you spread out your tuning runs over a number of days to reduce the subjectivity?






From: "Mark and Josephine" <>

By the way, I contacted Rod and he was happy to have the information in his mis-post on flute care to be public domain, asking to be contacted if better ideas were discovered.

In light of some of what Rod had to say about the treatment of wood for flute making, I have some (what I am certain are not original) questions.

Why don't flute makers of today utilize such wood sealers as marine epoxies and various urethane finishes? Is it because, as Rod suggests, that too smooth of a bore takes away from the characteristic sound that the traditional flute player is seeking? I can see how this would make sense. Is it true that customers of so called Irish style wooden flutes are looking for flutes with a relatively rough bore? It seems like we go to great lengths to make a smooth bore and then oil the flute to help crispen up the tone, which a smooth bore also does.

I was told my one reputable maker, who is not on the net, that I could use a nitro lacquer on my flutes to good effect. He said that it smooths the bore and also seals the pores, especially in the bore, to moisture changes. Another maker spoke of using marine epoxy to seal the bore.

Why don't we use some kind of wood sealant with wooden flutes? I was reading Rod's posting thinking, "This is a fascinating read for me, but wouldn't a new flute client's head be spinning, thinking about cracking out their silver flute again??" It seems like most flute players want to make music, while the makers are very concerned with the design effects of this or that hole in the flute and what they can do so that the flutes don't come back for repairs and adjustments.

I am not an accomplished player of the wooden flute, so I am naive. Someone, please clue me in to the reason why we are oiling wooden flutes. Might it even be, as one of my customers suggested, that a lacquered flute also cracks?? Is it maybe less reliable to seal the wood, for it's longevity as a flute tube?

I hope that this is of interest to those on the list.

Mark Hoza

~~~~~~ Maker of Kything Flutes Made in Australia from Australian hardwoods email: web site: Phone: +61-2-6653-8755 (02)6653-8755 within Australia


>I have been playing about a year now, and have some tunes coming off the >fingers... I LOVE playing. But I find that even now, I cannot get rid of >what I think is an overly "breathy" sound. Low octave is fine... no >"huffing" noise at all, but when I go into the second, I just cannot seem to >get my giant lips to go tight enough to eliminate this awful >"whooshing" , breathy sound. Any tips? Thanks

We need to eliminate the instrument first - have you had someone else play it to prove it's not making the noise? It's worth spending a bit of time on this even if you feel your flute is playing well - the difference between a flute that has been "made" and one that has been "finished" is pretty striking!

Make sure that the embouchure is cut cleanly and look carefully at the left and right sides of the embouchure hole. These should have the sharp edges taken off them both inside and out. Do this with a very sharp knife (No 11 scalpel is good), but be very careful not to damage the edge you blow across (the far side). Remembering the grain direction, cut from the middle out in both directions. But remember, stop before you start to attack "the edge". The inside edge (your side) is not so important as it is covered by your lip. And someday your flute may be played by a left-hander!

Any raggedness on the "edge" itself can contribute greatly to breathiness, but is best fixed by a maker. Round that edge too far and breathiness won't be your only problem!

Look also to the finger holes. They also should have the sharp edges taken off inside and out. Play each note in turn, focussing on the noise, to see if some need more attention than others. Usually the smaller holes will.



Terry McGee

61 Calder Crescent, Holder ACT 2611 Australia Phone +61 (0)2 6288 8006, Fax +61 (0)2 6287 4263 mailto:

- flutes & piccolos for Irish music - woodwind and brass repairs & rebuilding - broadcasting and recording, ArtSound Studios - Irish music group, Ballyhooley - maintenance of the National Carillon, Canberra

with the assistance of the ACT Government through its Cultural Council.

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