Make a PVC flute

Posted by jerry on December 23rd, 2006 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Music, Woodwork

pvc flute

Many years ago one of my fellow Mucky Duck Bush Band members – the late Barry Halpin – made a flute for me from PVC pipe. It was a transverse Irish Simple System flute (6 – holes) that worked on the same fingering as a tin whistle.

Several house moves later and that flute is long gone. But recently I came across Doug Tipple’s instructions on how to make one of these flutes and decided to make a couple.

The internal diameter of Australian PVC piping is a little different from the measurements that Doug gives, but using a tuner I found that Doug’s measurements give a good approximation. Using his metric sizes on some 20mm pvc tubing I made a couple of quite passable and playable flutes. Here’s how I did it. I made mine in the key of D – if you want to make one of a different key, try using Pete Kosel’s ‘Flutomat’ – just follow the link and set the desired key in the key selector at the bottom of his chart and you will have the necessary measurements

Pete Kosel’s Flutomat

First, I bought two one-metre lengths of 20mm white pvc tubing. I cut it to the overall length of 570mm

pvc flute

Then I attached a length of masking tape along the length to prevent tearout when drilling the holes.

I measured 525mm from one end and drilled a 9.5mm hole for the embouchure (for blowing). I stopped one end with a cork and blew across the embouchure to find I could make a fairly decent C# – The taking the flute back to the mitre saw I took a couple of salami slices off the end away from the embouchure until I could get a consistent D – the total length was now 563mm.

Then I laid out the holes with the following measurements as measured from the bottom of the flute:

hole one = 98mm (8.0mm drill)

hole two = 137mm (11.0mm drill)

hole three = 166mm (9.5mm drill)

hole four = 223mm (8.0mm drill)

hole five = 260mm (9.5mm drill)

hole six = 297mm(9.5mm drill)

pvc flute

pvc flute
Before drilling, don’t forget to centre-punch the marks so the drill doesn’t wander on the curved surface. And the drill needs to run slowly to avoid tearout and chipping the pvc. As you drill each hole, you need to test the flute against a tuner and make adjustments to the hole to bring it into tune by slightly extending the hole into an oval to make it sharper.

Once you have the holes drilled and in tune you will need to clean up the edges with a half round needle file

pvc flute

You may want to file the embouchure hole into a slight D shape to make it easier to make the notes. But that’s all there is to it. With a bit of patience and careful measurement you can build one in about an hour – this flute cost me a total of AUS$3.70!

pvc flute

Click here to hear a scale played on this instrument – please note that I am not a flute player!



Make a Fire Sword

Posted by jerry on December 19th, 2006 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Woodwork

fire sword

This post gives detailed instructions and photos on how to make a fire sword. But first the disclaimer: Fire twirling is dangerous, and fire swords especially so, due to the large amount of flame attached to this equipment. I have no control over your construction skills or techniques, so I take no responsibility or liability – actual or implied – for any damage or injury incurred from anyone using these instructions.

And so to the instructions…

Materials (makes two fire swords)

  • 2 x surplus ski stocks (poles)
  • 4 x computer hard drive plattens
  • 2 x pine wood pieces approx 7 x 10cm (3″ x 4″)
  • 3 metres kevlar wick 5 cm (2″) wide
  • Kevlar thread
  • 12 x wood screws
  • 6 x lengths of wire


  • hacksaw
  • electric drill
  • 18mm spade bit
  • 8mm high speed bit
  • scissors or stanley trimmer
  • canvas needle
  • pliers
  • screwdriver


You will need two old/unserviceable ski stocks (ski poles). The first thing is to cut them to length – about a centimetre up from the plastic ring that holds the flat snow disk. The actual measurement is irrelevant – the important thing is to ensure that both swords are made the same length.

firesword - cut to length

But keep the handles intact – they will provide a good grip and the safety straps add an element of safety.

Next take a couple of computer hard disk plattens – these are metal and highly reflective – excellent for keeping heat away from your hands. I used two on each as the smaller disks had a smaller central hole to help keep everything aligned nicely on the pole.

hard disk plattens

Mark and punch four points and drill holes around the centre hole of the disk. This will provide a means to anchor the disks so they can be used as heat shields near the handles.

hard disk platen

The disks themselves can get hot in use, so we want to insulate them from the rubber handles. Wood has excellent thermal insulation properties, so we will make wooden washers to use as spacers from the rubber grips, but also to provide a means of attaching the platens securely to the stock and to the handle.

You will need one for each fire sword – cut two pieces of pine about four inches square and drill an 18mm hole in the centre. I then rounded the corners using a large washer to mark the guidelines and then rounded the corners on a bandsaw – like this:

wooden washer

Now line up the metal disks centred over the 18mm hole in the wooden washer, and drill 8mm holes into the wood using the pre-drilled holes as a template.

Then attach the metal disk to the wooden spacer with wood screws, and slide the whole assembly onto the pole hard up against the handle – note: ensure the metal side is facing the point and that the wood is next to the rubber handle grip!

fire sword

Now drill two holes through the base of the rubber handle into the wood from the other side and fix the wooden spacer to the rubber handle grip – this will stop the heat shield from sliding down onto the wick when in action.

fire sword

So now you have something sword-like – but it won’t light until you have a wick.

Divide your kevlar wick into two equal lengths of about 1.5m (about 5 feet) using a decent pair of scissors or dressmaking scissors. Attach one end to the pointy end using masking tape and carefully wrap the kevlar with a slight overlap in a spiral up the length of the sword.

fire sword

It won’t stay there without assistance, so the next task is to thread your canvas needle with kevlar thread (so the thread won’t burn!) and sew along the overlap up the spiral until you get to the top. This may seem a tedious step, but it is important if you want the wick to stay on the sword. Take care to do this step properly.


Once this step is completed you effectively have a kevlar sheath – which can still slide off the end, so to secure it you will need the next step.

Bind masking tape tightly round three or more parts of the sword. This will stop the kevlar from twisting when you drill holes for the wire.

Mount the sword in a vice and use a centre punch to mark the drill point in the centre of the masking tape. Tap the centre punch hard nough to dent the metal tube beneath. Now drill an 8mm hole through each of the taped bits.

fire sword

Once both swords are drilled through the wicks and the centre tube, cut a short length of wire for each of the holes and wire the wick securely to the tube, like this:


When this is completed your fire sword is complete and ready to be fueled and used in a fire performance. The wick should hold enough fuel for a good five minute burn. Enjoy your pair of fire swords – safely. Do not use during a fire ban or in areas where there may be a risk of other material catching fire.

fire sword



Mothers of Intention band

Posted by jerry on December 9th, 2006 — Posted in Journal, Music

The Mothers of Intention came to Canberra last night along with wonderful Blue Mountains singer/songwriter Anne Ridgeway, to sing at the Merry Muse Folk Club. It was a great night and the harmonies were amazing!

Anne Ridgway has a rich mellifluous voice that complements her 12-string guitar, and the harmonies added by Rosie McDonald and Penny Rankin-Smith from Mothers of Intention contributed further depth and range. And Tony Pyrzakowski’s deft fiddle playing gave another dimension to the music. The crowd may not have been large, but it was very appreciative – calling the Mothers back for more at the end of the night. If you missed it then you missed one of the folk music highlights for this year.

The Mothers of Intention gave richly of their talents, and Lainey Balsdon’s recorder blends well with Tony’s fiddle and and the power of Rosie’s guitar.

And with energy to spare, they all went down to the Gorman House Markets to once again give freely of their music, and I was privileged to be asked to step in with Tony on the fiddle for our own dueling fiddles moment, as well as a lyrical Ashokan Farewell with the whole band. Anne Ridgeway was there also, so the market goers were given a real treat with some wonderful folk talent 🙂

Mothers of Intention band


Bushfire reminder

Posted by jerry on December 7th, 2006 — Posted in Journal

Living in the Western side of Canberra, memories of the 2003 bushfires are never far away. The phone call said it all: “There’s a large grass fire at the end of our street where the forest used to be.” Minutes later I was in the car and heading home. Perhaps a cigarette butt tossed casually from the window to prevent the car’s ashtray from getting dirty, and that’s all it took.

By the time I got to Dixon Drive in Holder I could see that the excellent fire brigade was well and truly on the job, and in a couple of hours had the thing down to a smoulder. Well done guys!

Holder grass fire
Holder grass fire

Holder grass fire

I guess that means there’s a little less fuel for us to worry about this summer – unlike our friends in Victoria who are facing some fourteen major bushfires in the Victorian alps and south of Benalla – Things are not looking good for that part of the country, and our thoughts go out to those preparing their homes or who are already fighting the fires.