Jan 27, 2016

How To Build Homemade PVC and CPVC Flutes

PVC Flutes

My three custom PVC flutes so far - from left to right: 1/2" CPVC, 3/4" CPVC, 3/4" PVC

          Since taking up the Celtic Tin Whistle, I found another outlet for this type of musical instrument; building your own custom flutes from PVC.  Now I love everything DIY, so I took the project and ran with it, and within two days I had made the three flutes above.

          Pics, reviews, instructions, and more after the break!





          First off I went with a 1/2" CPVC fife - it was actually all the PVC I had on hand, and I didn't think it would work very well at all!  My technique was hardly scientific - you could say I took a drill and a vague idea of what a flute looked like, and kinda ignored whatever that thing is called mathematics.  And hey, it worked.

Dowel stopper in the end of the flute
          One thing that took me by surprise, having no fluting experience, is that you actually have to seal off the end past the mouthpiece - otherwise it hardly works at all.  A good thing to keep in mind when working with this stage - dead space past the blowhole before the stopper will actually put your instrument out of tune, so either keep it as low as possible, or at least compensate for it by tuning the holes afterwards.


          So what tools and techniques do you need to build your own?

Tools:
- Electric drill and many drill bits
- Medium and fine grit sandpaper
- Small (preferably half-round) file

Materials:
- PVC or CPVC of your choice
- Some sort of stopper or endcap

Techniques:
- Basic knowledge of how instruments and flutes work to generate sound
- At least an hour and a half of time

A $200 instrument and a $2 instrument

Additionally, using one of these Flutomat tools to accurately calculate the size and distance between the holes on your flute could be a huge benefit and help greatly in the long run:

http://iotic.com/flutomat/

http://11wall-west.com/~ph_kosel/flutomat.html



          The second flute I built was directly based on the "Plumber's Pipe" model, full writeup of which can be found here: http://www.markshep.com/flute/Pipe.html

          The instructions were quite easy to follow and it turned out rather well, although not as aesthetically pleasing as the others, it is a very robust design.


Steps to building your own PVC flute!


          First off, choose your type of pipe and the key.  Each size of pipe will work best with a length that only spans a few notes of the scale, so it's best to look that up before hand.  My 1/2" fife is in the key of B and works pretty well, the Plumber's Pipe and 3/4" PVC flute are both in the key of G and work very well.  Cut to the right length (this is where Flutomat comes in handy) and sand the edge smooth.


          Next, measure and mark where your holes will be placed.  Don't worry about marking up your flute at this point, any leftover marks will be sanded off soon.


          Pilot holes!  Drill small holes on each of your marks to have your holes centered and easier to drill.


          Next off, tuning and drilling.  If you've used Flutomat or a template, you already know what size to drill all your holes, which will be helpful.  Otherwise, it's tuning by ear and incremental drilling - which will be slow, but educational at least.


          Sanding!  Take your flute to a large sink, use wet or dry sandpaper, and clean it off and make it nice and smooth and pretty.  You can either use a medium sandpaper and get a more natural feeling matte finish (it will get dirty faster though!) or use steel wool after sandpaper to buff it back to mild gloss.

           You should also carefully deburr all the holes and make them smooth for the best tone, especially the mouthpiece.


           Stopping it up!  After cleaning it all out, now is the best time to permanently put in your stopper or endcap and keep it there.  The design I made for this flute was rather unusual, but I jammed 1/2" PVC inside the 3/4" PVC at the end, left some sticking out, then capped it with a 1/2" PVC endcap.  This created a lot of deadspace and made it flat - then I filled the small 1/2" section with plumber's putty to seal it off and put it back in tune.  Perhaps not the cleanest or best smelling solution, but it worked well and looks very nice on the outside all finished up.



Well, that's really all there is to it!  There are a lot of other instructions out there I know, so I glossed over some of the basics but I hope you find all my tips and tricks helpful in your flute journeys!

Feel free to leave a comment or pictures below of your own custom flutes as well!





6 comments :

  1. how long should the 3/4 pvc pipe be to make a G note?

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    Replies
    1. Depends based on where you have the mouthpiece hole, but my 3/4" CPVC pipe is cut to 15.75 inches and the 3/4" PVC pipe is cut to 16.75 inches, although at least an inch of that is past the mouthpiece as you can see in the pictures. I'd say to start a bit longer since you can always trim it back down :)

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  2. Hi! I guess you drill the embochure at 90° (normal) to the pipe; but what about drill the embochure hole with a 45° angle (blow attack) for a best blow cut and sound. I've seen that somewhere but, is that suitable? thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you're able to drill the embochure hole at 45 degrees and make a clean hole, go for it! It will be very difficult though and you'll risk cracking the PVC, so the safer course is to drill a straight hole, then use a file to get the angle.

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    2. I need diagrams with measurements in the instructions/diagrams.could someone help?

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    3. The link in the article gives very specific instructions for how to make the "plumbers pipe" model. For other models, Flutomat will generate measurements for anything you need.

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