The only thing better than making music is making music on an instrument you built yourself. For the aspiring instrument maker, a flute is a good place to start. With little more than a piece of tubing, a drill and a saw, you can start making music in a few hours. You may never be invited to play with the London Philharmonic, but you will have the satisfaction of making music from scratch. The simple model below will play in only one key, but is perfectly adequate to play most folk and popular tunes.
Making and tuning your flute
Measure and cut the pipe to a length of 21 inches. Using a tubing cutter will give you a cleaner edge and reduce the danger of “egging” or flattening the pipe. A hacksaw will do an adequate job, but use care to remove burrs with emery cloth. Copper is relatively soft. Avoid applying too much pressure while crafting your instrument.
Measure 1 and 1/4 inches from one end of the tube, and mark with a permanent marker. Drill a 1/2-inch hole through one wall of the tube centered on this mark.
Elongate the hole by rasping the edges with a needle file. When finished, you should have an oval opening with the long sides of the oval pointing toward either end of the pipe.
Smooth the edges of the hole by sanding with fine-grit emery cloth. You will be putting your lips up against this hole, so make it as smooth as possible.
Slip the end-cap onto the end of the pipe next to the hole you’ve just finished. At this point, you should be able to get a D tone when you blow across the mouthpiece.
Measure and mark the fingering holes. Place the flute on a flat surface with the mouthpiece facing up. Measuring from the open end of the pipe, make a mark at 3 and 1/8 inches, 5 and 3/8 inches, 6 and 1/2 inches, 8 and 5/8 inches, 10 and 3/8 inches and 11 and 1/2 inches. Be sure these holes line up evenly with the hole for the mouthpiece.
Drill a 1/4-inch hole at each mark. Center each hole carefully using the mark as a guide.
Tune the flute by using your fingers to cover all holes while blowing into the flute. Lift your finger from the hole furthest from the mouthpiece, and listen to the pitch. Chances are, it will be flat. Enlarging with a needle file will raise the pitch of the note, making it sharper. Take your time, and remove only a small amount of material at a time until you reach the desired pitch.
Repeat the process above for each of the remaining holes. Work one hole at a time toward the mouthpiece.
Sand the edges of the holes with emery cloth until smooth.
If the flute’s pitch is extremely flat overall, try trimming a small amount off the open end of the pipe before boring out the finger holes. Tuning can be a tedious process but the time will be well spent. This flute can last for a lifetime.
Smooth and clean all holes and cuts on the pipe thoroughly. Small pieces of copper can be sharp.