The Home De(s)pot Flute

I've often heard people proclaim that they've absolutely no musical talent, or that they're tone deaf, etc...  Frankly, I'm often inclined to agree. Yet, they still yearn to make pleasant musical sounds, to create something. This project is dedicated to those who long to do both.

Home De(s)pot Flute is a simple pentatonic fipple flute tuned in C. What those fancy words mean is that this flute doesn't need a trained lip (called the embrochure) to blow a pleasant note. Nor does it hit any "bad" notes. While you may not be able blow your favorite show tunes on this instrument, you will be able to make notes that sound harmonious with each other.

The Home De(s)pot Flute has a sweet, breathy tone perfect for solo, introspective playing with a modest volume level to keep you from annoying your neighbors. And the more accomplished musician will be able to coax two pentatonic (five note) octaves out of it. And even a bluesy scale in A.

You'll need about $5.00 worth of parts from the local home improvement center. You may already have these in your shed. You'll need:

Some 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC pipe. Though the finished flute is less than 14" long, go ahead and buy a 10' length. It's cheap. Trust me. Oh, and make absolutely sure it's schedule 40 PVC. It'll say so along the side of the pipe.

5/8" wooden dowel.

A hot glue gun. These things are cheaply available at craft or hardware stores. Mine cost less than $5.00.

You'll need some tools, too:

A hacksaw. You'll need this to cut pipe and cut the wind channel, too.

A small needle file. Preferably half round. This will smooth out the edge (fipple) of the wind channel.

A sharp, small knife for deburring edges.

Two bits and a drill. Make that two drill bits and a drill. 3/8" and 1/4" are good sizes to start with. A bigger variety of sizes is even better.

Step 1

Cut a length of pipe about 15" long. Deburr both ends. Make a mark on one end approx. 1 5/8"from the opening. This is where the fipple hole will be cut. Use the 3/8" bit and drill a hole at the mark. Try your best to drill at a 40 to 60 degree angle from the closest edge of the pipe as shown in the diagram. The sharp edge of the hole will create the sound of your flute and is the most critical part of the flute. Be sure to clean and deburr all holes you drill.


Step 2

Cut a 1" length from your wooden dowel. This will make the bulk of the stopper. 5/8" dowel usually fits snugly in 1/2" schedule 40 PVC pipe. If it's too loose, use a bit of masking tape make it fit tighter. You'll want this to be airtight. Push the dowel into the pipe on the end with the hole. Push it close to the hole but do not close off the hole at all.


Step 3

Cut another piece of pipe about 1 1/2" long. Then cut a section about 5/8" to 3/4" wide from this short tube. Try to cut as parallel as possible. This small section of pipe will become the windway.



Hold the piece you just cut on the pipe between the hole and plugged end. A small wind channel is formed between the pipe and the cut pipe section. While holding it on, blow through the end opening. If all is OK, you should hear a whistling sound. Slide the pipe section closer and further from the hole, blowing through at all positions. when the note is the strongest, mark its' position and glue it down with the hot glue gun.

Step 4

Now to tune the instrument. Once the hot glue has cooled and dried, blow into the windway. To tune up to C, cut away pieces of the open end (opposite the mouthpiece) 1/8" at a time, until the note is a solid C.

When the flute plays C in tune, pull out a calculator. You'll need it to decide where to drill the fingerholes. Measure the flute from the open end to the center of the fipple hole. This number, we'll call "L".

For the first hole, multiply L by 0.83 and the answer is the distance between the center of the fipple hole and the center of the first hole.

For the second hole, multiply L by 0.73 and the answer is the distance between the center of the fipple hole and the center of the second hole.

For the third and fourth holes, multiply L by 0.58 and .5, respectively, to place those holes.

After the places are marked, drill holes with a 1/4" bit. Deburr the edges, and clean out the inside of the flute.


BTW, you may notice that the fipple hole is on the underside of the flute, opposite the fingerholes. Yes, this different from most other flutes of this type. With this particular design, I feel it allows a more comfortable playing position.

Now for final tuning. Cover all holes except the first one (closest the open end). Blow, and the note should be D. If it's flat, ream out the hole with a reamer, sharp knife or file handle...anything as long as it has a sharp edge. If the note is sharp, backfill the hole edges with thick superglue.

Open the next hole..tune it to E, and the next to G, and the next to A. You will now be able to play a pentatonic C scale by opening up the fingerholes lowest to highest. Overblow (blow harder) to get the high C

Step 5

For a final touch, fill in any gap next to the wooden plug with hot melt glue, so that the glue is at least flush with the end of the pipe. doing this will will make things easier on your lips when you play.

There is your Home De(s)pot flute. If you need a bigger challenge, it's modifiable to make a full diatonic scale. It's really easy, too. Just drill two more holes as shown in the diagram below.


Six holes will allow you to play a full diatonic scale (or even a full chromatic scale if you're really intuitive). The fingering is exactly like a pennywhistle.

If you want  a flute in a different key, simply cut the pipe to whatever note you wish and use the same formulas given above to determine where the fingerholes go. If you're really adventurous, place the holes by ear, or eye, or whatever feels good in your hands. Sometimes a randomly tuned instrument can give surprisingly good results.

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Any questions?