How I make flutes

The most important ingredient for any creation, is the love you give it. When you lay your heart and soul into what you're doing, the results radiate alike. So when crafting flutes I consciously focus on giving them love and care during all steps of their journey, so they become instruments that open your heart and connect with your soul.

Step 1: Selecting the right materials

Not all trees want to become a flute. Some types of wood are excellent for furniture, others for building instruments. Western Red Cedar is most famous for making Native American Flutes. But many other types of wood are equally qualified, if not better.

My personal favorites are red Padauk and Walnut. Besides their magnificent looks and brilliant tonal quality, these woods are also blessed with strength and endurance. Cedar on the contrary is very soft so it is easily damaged after an accidental drop. But this very softness also gives it a very precious, loving voice on the midtone and higher range flutes.

Likewise every wood has its positive and negative aspects that have to be in balance. I handpick every single piece of wood taking into account all of its flutemaking characteristics, ensuring only the finest pieces are used for my instruments.

 

Raffaello holding a piece of black wenge wood in his flute workshop

 

All the flutes in my store have information on the wood I used in their description, and In have a dedicated page describing the most common wood types I use. Needless to say, every piece of wood has to be bone dry before starting to make it into a flute. If a wood isn't completely dry I will let it rest in my workshop for months, and even years, before putting my hands to it.

Step 2: Drilling the sound chamber

Creating a smooth and straight sound chamber is essential for tonal quality. Here I use a "gun drill system" made from an old wood lathe. This machine is the heart of my drilling process. It works by spinning around the wood blank and carefully driving a long drill into it. The result of a well-performed drill is a smooth and perfectly straight hole: the ideal sound chamber.

 

Raffaello drilling the sound chamber of a native american style flute on a wood lathe

 

This single-bore design doesn't require gluing two separate wood blanks together and next to being beautiful for its clean design, it's also better for stability. There is no seam where the wood could possibly open up, so taking your flute outdoors or hiking it up a mountain is no issue.

After the drilling process I use the same lathe for turning the flute into its round shape, and sand it to smoothen its surface.

 

Sanding a native american style flute on a wood lathe

Step 3: Creating a voice

The sound character, or voice of a flute is what really makes you connect with an instrument. It is determined almost entirely by the construction of the part you find below the totem: the shallow track, and the 'true sound hole' (rectangular). It can be shaped in many different ways, all producing (subtle) differences in sound quality and playability. It's an extremely precise process where a fraction of a millimetre can create the most enchanting voice, or break it into squeezing. Patience and a calm mind are key.

Voicing a native american style flute with a file

 

Using a standard method doesn't bring out the unique voice of a flute. Therefore I adopted a practice of experimenting with different voicing techniques until I find each flute's most honest and profound character.

You will find that my flutes have a very open, relaxed and natural voice, and each one has its unique presence. Not even two flutes made out of the same tree sound identical, but they always have the same deep level of connection.

Step 4: Professional tuning

When voicing is giving color to the sound of your flute, tuning is teaching it words and language to communicate with. I believe in speaking truth, and playing false notes on the flute feels like lying. My flutes therefore only leave my workshop when they are nicely in tune and give me a warm and honest feeling in my stomach. I do the tuning entirely by hand according to a set of quality standards.

Tuning is done by adjusting the length of the sound chamber, positioning the finger holes and precisely shaping them. Every new change influences all other parts of the flute, so it's a process of constant adjusting and readjusting, until a harmonic balance is reached.

I tune my flutes to an easy-to-play pentatonic scale, but also to a full chromatic scale. This means they can be played and improvised without any musical knowledge, and you can also use them for studying western sheet music and going beyond the pentatonic scale.

Step 5: Crafting aesthetic details

In zen Buddhism, the room where you practice has to be as clear and simple as possible to reduce distractions and to calm the mind. I apply the same concept to my flutes' aesthetics. My intention when deciding on visual aspects is to create a beautiful yet simple instrument so the mind is satisfied, doesn't go looking for mistakes or judgments, and naturally calms down.

 

Mouthpiece of a Prana Native American style flute

 

The fetish, mouthpiece, and other details on my flutes are all made by hand. I use a handsaw and a dremel tool to rough out the shape, and then continue with chisels to make them into their final form. I use three to four different grinds of sandpaper to smoothen the entire flute including its details.

I listen carefully to how the flute wants to be shaped by taking into accordance the structural and visual aspect of every piece of wood, attentively combining it with other parts of wood, the leather, etc. The result is a unique and complete instrument every time again.

After they have a characterizing voice, professional tuning and their final presence, I give my flutes the Prana logo.

 

The prana flutes metal logo stamp

 

Step 6: Applying natural oils & finishers

Applying oils and finishers is the last step in my flutemaking process. All finishers and oils that I use are 100% natural & biodegradable. I start with applying pure almond oil to the inside chambers of my flutes. This first layer penetrates deep into the wood, sealing the pores and acting as a protector against fungi and bacteria.

After the almond oil I apply a mixture of pure tung oil and orange oil to the exterior of the flute. Tung oil is a drying oil that will bring out the chracter of the wood, giving it more intense colors, popping out the grain and darkening the wood. Tung oil is obtained by pressing the seeds of the Tung Tree in China, and has been used as a protector for woods from at least 400 BC, where it appears in the writings of Confucius.

Finally, after the tung oil has fully dried, I finish the flute with several layers of my own Prana flute wax. This flute wax will bring out the colors even more and give it an extra touch of sheen (from matte to low-satin). My flute wax is also made of 100% natural ingredients based on a mixture of carnauba, beeswax and essential oils.

The waxing process is fairly easy and can be maintained over time to further enhance the looks of your flute, so my flutes come with a container of Prana flute wax for future maintenance.

 

Finishing a native american style flute with natural oils and finishers

 

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