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!

Enjoy!

Cheers
Jerry

40 Comments »

Comment by candi bowen

I really like the photos as you go along. My hubby made one for me a few years ago but mine is shorter. He didn’t use masking tape so one of the hole edges chipped, but not badly enough to prevent covering it. I spray painted it with American Indian designs. Humm, I wonder if I’m brave enough to actually use a power tool myself . . .

Candi

Posted on February 21, 2007 at 1:38 am

Comment by Alex

Thank you, This is very helpful!
Do you know any mathematic formulas (or so) to calculate the caliber, the flute length and the hole sizes if I’d like to build a flute which is an octave deeper than yours (e.g. bassflute > contrabassflute)?

Posted on March 7, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Comment by jerry

Sorry Alex – I just followed the instructions. But a good Google search should turn up the mathematical formula you are after.

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on March 7, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Comment by Amanda

wow this is really cool i cant wait to make it and try it out myself!!

Posted on April 12, 2007 at 1:15 am

Comment by Dioscar

So what kind of flute is this? Low D?

Posted on May 7, 2007 at 3:16 am

Comment by Draven

Thanks man for putting this up. i made one for myself so i could play along with my kids with theyr recorders and now my oldest wants one.I’m a disabled soldier and have to create activities i can share with the kids so you just gave me one that i can share with them for years to come Thank you very much.

Posted on October 20, 2007 at 10:28 am

Comment by jerry

Dioscar – yes it’s a low D

Posted on October 20, 2007 at 2:18 pm

Comment by jerry

Draven – you’re most welcome – it’s great to have a bunch of things to share with the kids and the kids will love that hey have something they can share with you too

Posted on October 20, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Comment by Ryan

If ya wanna make it an octave lower it should work just to make every dimension 2 times larger ( there are other formulas to make it like a 3rd or etc lower but i don’t remember the numbers off the top of my head 3/2 and 5/4 might be a fourth and fifth)

Posted on December 21, 2007 at 2:11 pm

Comment by al

jerry: just ran across your blog looking up how to make a flute. very clear instructions. but i have a question, your vise cought my eye, would it be possible to tell me where i might purchase one.thanks and have a pleasant day

Posted on January 11, 2008 at 4:03 am

Comment by jerry

The vise is a Zyliss z-Vise – an incredibly versatile vise and clamping system. I bought mine at the Working with Wood Show in Canberra about five years ago. You can find out more at:
http://www.advmachinery.com/default.asp?pg=zvise
and I note that these do turn up on eBay. They are not sold in hardware stores – and they are just about indestructable being made from aircraft alloy. Make sure you get all the accessories if you are buying secondhand.

Posted on January 11, 2008 at 6:17 am

Comment by Pickle

I poked a hole in my Coke bottle today at school and got a idea from it; so I Googled “Make” and “Flute” and come up with this. 🙂

I’ll be sure to try it out the weekend, it will certainly something I’ll enjoy doing with my dad, and will be a lovely addition to my musical instrument collection.

Thanks.

Posted on March 28, 2008 at 7:50 am

Comment by chy

Great post on flute making, simple and concise! I am about to hack out a flute from a length of PVC pipe, so your blog was a nice find.

I have a question regarding the cork position. In your pictures, it is quite a distance from the embouchure throughout the construction process. Doesn’t that influence the tuning as the column of air in the bore would have a different ratio between the point of entry (the embouchure) and the end of the flute?

If there is more distance between the cork and embouchure, it seems to me that air has to be forced (blown) into the bore in two directions, thus needing a greater effort to make a sound.

Your thoughts?

Posted on September 24, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Comment by dennis

i tryed to make one of your flutes with no luck. just didnt sound right.do you make these flutes for sale. if so where could i get one. i make N.A.flutes but they are end blown. i always want to make and try a side blown flute. but so far no luck with them.

Posted on October 29, 2008 at 6:47 am

Comment by jerry

Chi – regarding the cork position, it is more about positioning it to bring it into tune. You don’t need more air because the issue is making the column of air vibrate, not fill the tube – so it’s more about getting the embrouchure right to get the right sound. It takes surprisingly little breath to make it work.

Posted on October 29, 2008 at 7:03 pm

Comment by jerry

Dennis, sorry, I don’t make them for sale, but I can urge you to have another go – the tubing is pretty cheap, and if you measure well it should be close to being in tune – requiring only a small adjustment of the cork

Posted on October 29, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Comment by Derrick

Very nice blog! I’m going to attempt this soon, any tips on drilling the holes, to prevent chips? There was some talk of masking tape…

Thanks!
-Derrick

Posted on November 15, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Comment by Charles

Hi Jerry. Thanks for the step-by-step of your flute-making adventure. I’ve made one Low D flute based on the Tipple design and would love to compare notes. Not a flute player (yet), I’m wondering about your enbouchure – did you simply drill a straight (perpendicular) hole for the embouchure or did you drill on an angle to sharpen the blowing edge or undercut the blowing edge in some way? My flute functions, but there’s loads of room for improvement! Any tips/ideas you’d like to share would be appreciated.

Charles

Posted on January 6, 2009 at 12:23 am

Comment by jerry

Thanks for the comment Charles – I drilled the embouchure perpendicular – like the rest of the holes, but in cleaning up with the half-round needle file I did undercut slightly to present a sharp edge to help split the air better – but it sounded okay just with the hole drilled so I’m not sure the clean-up made a lot of difference.

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on January 6, 2009 at 7:37 am

Comment by jerry

… And for Derrick – to prevent tearout or chipping I attached a layer of masking tape along the length of the tube and drilled through it – it also helped in the marking out process too, as well as keeping the drill bit in position so it wouldn’t wander on the tube.

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on January 6, 2009 at 7:46 am

Comment by Corey

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for sharing this. I’ve just started my interest in flute making, with bamboo particularly but while i’m waiting to harvest some, pvc is a great and cheap way to get the hang of it.

I came across another great and simple tutorial I didn’t think you’d mind me posting here…
Native American PVC Flute – http://www.nativeaccess.com/ancestral/flute-adv.html

Thank you again!

Posted on January 27, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Comment by Theo Evans Stanley

I found this exstreamly helpful and my father and I made one strait away thanks!

Posted on May 17, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Comment by Theo Evans Stanley

Hi again, I was wondering if you could give me the fingerings for the second octave please. I play the fife and the highest note is a top G. But my fife is a c fife so could you please give me the fingerings for the second octave on your flute in D.

Many thanks Theodor

Posted on May 25, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Comment by theo Evans Stanley

By the way what do you mean by “D” shapped?????

Posted on May 25, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Comment by jerry

Theo, Like it says – shaped like the capital letter ‘D’ – one side filed flat and the other left round.

Posted on May 26, 2009 at 7:30 am

Comment by jerry

Hi Theo, there is a fingering chart here

http://www.geocities.com/novairishsession/modes/MDION.GIF

the fingering is the same as for tin whistle. The faint image is the second octave. You can see more on playing these scales at

http://www.geocities.com/novairishsession/modes/modes.htm

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on May 26, 2009 at 7:44 am

Comment by Art

Hi Jerry,I enjoyed your website and wish I saw it sooner.Im a senior citizen and my wife said I need a hobby so I tried to make a flute ha ha.I used a 15 inch piece of pvc with two holes on top with the cork between them.I have 6 key holes.I also made a channel between the two top holes plus drilled the second on an angle.Jerry the only sound I get once and awhile is a whistle
sound.What do you think is wrong Jerry my wife is waitng for me tp play it for her ha ha.Thanks much and stay well.Art

Posted on October 3, 2009 at 6:30 am

Comment by jerry

Hi Art
Difficult to say what the issue is without seeing a photo – perhaps you could take a photo and email it to me? Assuming this is a transverse flute (not an end-blown one) the issue may be that you have two holes on top rather than one and the cork should be in the end as per my illustration. Have a think about how the flute functions and that might help.

The pvc tube encloses a column of air. The air is set in vibration by the difference in speed of the air blown across the embouchure hole (the blowing hole) which divides the blown air and sets up a vortex in side the tube. The cork in the end means the vortex is directed down along the length of the tube, and the frequency of the vibration is determined by the length of the tube. The finger holes alter the length of the tube and hence the pitch of the note being produced. If you have a high whistle, it probably means you either have a leak around the cork or air is leaking through the second hole making the apparent length of the air column quite short.

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on October 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

Comment by Jonathan Schmadeke

Thanks for taking the time to put together such a detailed set of directions. I have directed my physics students here for ideas on how to make their own homemade musical instrument.

Take care,
Jonathan
Goodyear, AZ

Posted on December 11, 2009 at 12:18 am

Comment by Grant

Jerry, Is it possible for me to make a flute like yours with only a saw and rough sandpaper (and PVC, drill, etc…)? I don’t want to go and buy an expensive machine just to build a flute, but I really want to build one! Can you help?

Posted on November 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

Comment by jerry

Smartgrant –
Most certainly you can make this with only basic hand tools. As long as you get the measurements right you should have no problem. I would use a hacksaw to cut the PVC, and I would still use masking tape or similar to mark out the measurements and reduce split outs when drilling. But you can definitely make this with just a saw and a basic drill – even the hand one like a food whisk will work just fine

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on November 29, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Comment by Jerry

Hi Jerry, great article with great pictures detailing the steps…thanks very much. This has really inspired me to try to make one. Have you tried making a flute with metal or aluminium pipe instead of PVC? If I followed exactly the same steps and specifications of the PVC flute, what do you think would be the difference in the sound between the PVC flute and lets say, an aluminium pipe flute?

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Comment by jerry

Thanks – I haven’t tried making a flute with aluminium pipe – if you followed the same steps it should work just fine, and possibly will have a purer tone. Let me know how you get on – and send pictures 🙂

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Comment by Jerry L

Hi Jerry, sure I will do. But I think I shall not be too ambitious but start with a PVC one first, at least if there are mistakes, I can easily start over at minimal cost. I don’t know the price of aluminium tubes but I am sure they are a lot more expensive. By the way, I found on the internet a guy from South Africa that makes aluminium pipe flutes in different keys for pretty reasonable prices. Check out http://www.firstflutes.co.za

Regards
Jerry L
Singapore

Posted on December 13, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Comment by Mikhala

Hi, I am making a flute for a school project and was wondering if this design can play a C major scale. Thanks so much!

Posted on December 31, 2010 at 11:49 am

Comment by jerry

Hi Mikhala – that sounds like a great project!

If you want to make it in the key of C, you will need slightly different measurements. You can use the ‘Flutomat’ (follow the link) and just select which key you want from the key selector at the bottom and it will give you the measurements for each of the holes

http://www.cwo.com/~ph_kosel/flutomat.html

Cheers
Jerry

Posted on December 31, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Comment by Lenny

doesn’t anybody use PVC pipe for plumbing anymore? LOL

Posted on August 19, 2011 at 1:38 am

Comment by elvis odemejero

i love ur design it great i also construct penny whistle but am still doing more research but when am true i will share my idea with u.God bless u.

Posted on September 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Comment by theddm

Thanks a lot!! My first PVC flute was horrible but the second is FANTASTIC! Sounds great and I was also doing one for my brother. Thanks a lot Jerry.

Posted on January 23, 2012 at 2:03 am

Comment by tok(Thailand)

I’ve been confusing about the diameter of each hole.
I had made two of it but they gave me bad
pitch and i’ll try again .Thanks for your kindness Jerry.

Posted on January 24, 2012 at 3:49 am

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