Bamboo Flute

Building a bamboo flute

First you need a piece of bamboo with an inside diameter of about 3/4 inches or a little larger. A thin walled bamboo will give the best sound. Red Margin or Black bamboo work well. Preferably the bamboo will be well dried and must be crack free.I try to pick a piece of bamboo with as few nodes as possible.  If there are hairline cracks these can be sealed with beeswax.

Cut the bamboo to length. When cutting the bamboo it’s a good idea to use a very fine tooth saw. I’ve found that a coping saw or hacksaw makes the finest, smoothest cut. If using a power saw you should first wrap the bamboo with masking tape at the place you’ll be cutting. This helps keep the bamboo from splintering. The first cut will be at the mouth end. Cut just behind a node so that the end you blow in is closed. (there is a membrane/partition at each node). The next cut will determine how long your flute is. The length of the bamboo will determine what key the flute plays in. Here is a basic chart for determining the key.

Key of A – 14 inches
Key of F – 18 inches
Key of D – 21 inches

Once you’ve cut the bamboo to length you’ll need to remove any inside membranes, being careful not to pierce the membrane on the mouth end. I use a round wood rasp, about 1/2 inch in diameter and 12 inches long. A long screw driver or a long drill bit also works. The nice thing about the wood rasp is you can use it to smooth the inside of the flute at the nodes. A piece of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel will also work.

At this point you need to drill the hole you blow thru. This hole should be about 1/2 inch from the end and no more than 3/8 inch in diameter. I put tape over the area to be drilled and use a 1/4 inch drill bit. Once I have that hole drilled I enlarge it with a 5/16 inch bit. Sand the hole lightly so that it is nice and smooth.

Next come the finger holes. Spacing and size of these holes determines how “true” each note is. The chart below will show you where to place the holes.

For a 14 inch flute (key of A)

Hole
1
2
3
4
5
6
Distance from open end
2 1/4
3 3/4
4 3/8
5 5/8
6 3/4
7 7/8
Note
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#

For an 18 inch flute (key of F)

Hole
1
2
3
4
5
6
Distance from open end
2 7/8
4 3/4
5 1/2
7 1/4
8 5/8
10
Note
G
A
Bb
C
D
E

For a 21 inch flute (key of D

Hole
1
2
3
4
5
6
Distance from open end
2 1/4
3 3/4
4 3/8
5 5/8
6 3/4
7 7/8
Note
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#

Remember, these distances are to the center of each hole measured from the open end. Make the holes 1/4 inch in diameter at first. As you enlarge the holes very slightly the notes become sharper. You’re on your own at this point. I have no ear for music and can’t tell one note from another! Just make sure you drill carefully without splintering the bamboo. You play the flute by blowing across the hole like playing a bottle. These are just the basics. You can find lots more information on the web about building, tuning, and playing a flute.

Leave a Reply