Best Kiowa Flute Making Instructions

By Deb Powers ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • 1 2-by-2-by-28 inch block of wood (or 1 purchased flute blank)
  • Table or band saw
  • Router with 7/8-inch round head bit
  • Drill and 1/8-inch bit
  • Files/rasps
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish (tung oil or stain)
  • Pencil
  • Leather thong

Native American flutes get their unique, haunting sound because the flute has two interior chambers separated by a "flue" that directs the air up and through a second sound hole. While many Native American flutes are made of bamboo or river reeds, some of the most beautiful are carved of woods like cedar, maple or spruce. Making a traditional Kiowa love flute from scratch is a moderately challenging project for an experienced woodworker. These instructions are for making a Kiowa love flute in the key of F#. If you start with a purchased flute blank, skip the first section of these instructions.

Choose the the type of wood, which will affect the sound and feel of the flute as well as how easy it is to work with it. The most popular wood for making Kiowa love flutes is cedar, but you can use pine, fir, spruce, redwood, maple, oak, walnut or alder, among others.

Cut wood to 24 inches in length. Set aside remnant to shape bird later. Rip the 24-inch length in half using a table or band saw. The two halves will form the flute body.

Measuring and routing diagram for Steps 3 and 4

Measure and mark the distance for the slow air chamber (SAC) and the sound chamber on both halves of the flute body. Make your first mark about 1 1/2 inches from the "head" of the flute. Make a second mark about 3 inches from the first line, and a third about 1 inch from the second mark.

Create the SAC and sound chamber in each half with router, using a 7/8-inch round head bit. Refer to the routing diagram in Step 3 above. Do not route blackened areas. The routed trough should be about 1/2-inch deep to create a 1-inch diameter bore when the two pieces are joined.

Sand interior of each routed trough to smooth the surface.

Drill pilot holes for TSH and SAC exit hole as shown in diagram

Drill pilot holes for SAC exit and true sound hole (TSH) in one half of the flute body using 1/8-inch drill bit. This half will be the top of your flute. The mouth hole should be drilled just before the dividing wall between the two chambers, and should be drilled directly through the wood from the inside to the outside. The true mouth hole should be drilled directly after the dividing wall, and should be drilled at about a 45-degree angle away from the head of the flute.

Carefully line up the cut edges of the cedar block and glue together. Clamp till dry. You now have a completed flute blank.

Sand the flute smooth. You can use a lathe to start shaping the flute at this point, or sand it into shape.

Sand around the two pilot holes before enlarging them.

Using a craft knife or a pencil, draw a rounded rectangle around the two pilot holes, allowing about 1/2 inch above and below them. Sand the marked area smooth and flat.

Drill the mouth hole into the head end of the flute using a 1/8-inch drill bit or Dremel tool, or heat an awl and use it to burn through the wood into the slow air chamber from the end of the flute.

Follow the diagram for angling the exit hole and true sound hole.

Carefully drill and shape the SAC exit hole and the true sound hole starting with the pilot holes drilled from the inside earlier. The holes should be perfectly rectangular for best sound. Maintain the 45-degree angle on the TSH while enlarging the opening. Test sound as you drill by blowing into the mouth hole and judging the key for your base note.

Shave away wood between the two openings to create a flue for air to flow.

Draw two lines connecting the exit hole and the true sound hole on either side, then carefully cut away the wood between the two holes. This is the "flue," a channel that will direct the air from one chamber into the other. It should slope downward from the exit hole to the true sound hole.

Test the sound of the flute and shorten if necessary to adjust pitch. The longer you make the sound tube, the lower the pitch of your flute will be. Saw off sections from the foot of the flute in 1/4-inch increments until you reach the desired sound, then sand the end to fine-tune the pitch.

The arrangement of the fingering holes is highly individual, though there are general patterns to follow.

Mark the top of the flute for placement of the fingering holes. Drill fingering holes through flute wall using a 1/4-inch drill bit. Increase diameter of holes slowly, finishing of with sandpaper to smooth edges.

Finish shaping the flute with a sanding block or lathe.

Fetish carving diagram

Measure and mark cutting lines on the remaining block of wood, following the carving diagram. The diagram also shows how the fetish piece should fit onto the flute.

Sand fetish piece with fine sandpaper to a smooth finish.

Bind fetish piece to flute using leather thong.

Tip

Instead of drilling the holes for the flute, you can use a heated awl, screwdriver or nail to burn through the wood. Customize the distance for the sound holes by using your finger span as a measure.

Warning

Always wear eye protection when working with saws, lathes and sanders to prevent eye injury.

About the Author

Deb Powers is an avid urban gardener who works with a community collective to promote sustainable urban agriculture and build partnerships between local business owners and community organizations. Powers serves as a social media and marketing consultant for local non-profits and businesses, and is collaborating with a coffee roaster to publish a cookbook highlighting coffee as a culinary ingredient.