Bamboo. Despite being a plant of prehistoric ancestry, this simple plant has "grown" to be a huge part of many cultures. Due to it's unparalleled growth speed, It's hollow construct, and widespread growing range, Bamboo has been used to make for a broad selection of items, ranging from watermills to limbo sticks and Tiki bars . In fact, at least one species of bamboo is native to each continent except for Antarctica and Europe. No other plant has influenced the growth and development of human society and culture more than the humble bamboo has, making it possibly the most important plant in human history.

As I stated earlier, bamboo is perfect for making a great variety of items, including musical instruments. The natural, hollow culm of this giant grass makes it perfect for making woodwind instruments. Over time, various cultures have developed a variety of bamboo flutes, pipes, whistles, and general noisemakers. Partly due to the simplicity of the plant itself, bamboo instruments are extremely easy to make, and make well at that! In this instructable, I'll teach you how to to make 4 bamboo instruments that will only cost you the time to make them.

We'll make a bamboo...

  • Traditional Transverse flute
  • Japanese end-blown Shakuhachi
  • Andean end-blown Quena
  • and a Panflute

You'll need to have in general:
  • A drill.
  • An assortment of drill bits ranging in diameter from 2mm to 1.5 cm.
  • A rotary tool (Dremel) with a cutting wheel and various sanding and grinding bits.
  • A general purpose hand-held sander with various sandpapers ranging from at least medium to fine
  • String.
  • A sharp knife/boxcutter.
  • LOTS AND LOTS OF BAMBOO! Green or golden, sappy or cured, depending on your preference.

Details of what is needed for each instrument are included in their specific step.

Just because bamboo doesn't grow naturally in your area, probably doesn't mean you can't find growing as an ornamental plant or by the roadside. All the bamboo used in this instructable was either found being thrown away by my neighbors, or was growing by the side of the road and needed to be cut down. I live in relatively temperate Pennsylvania, but still I found natural, growing bamboo. Check around your neighborhood before heading to the hardware store. After all, If you can find it, it's free!

These instruments have simply amazing sound, as the timbre of each is mellow and natural, much more than if you made them from plastic of PVC. They are free, they are easy, and they are a LOT of fun, so why don't you give them a try?

This instructable will be the first in a series of other instructables about other bamboo instruments, so stay tuned!


Step 1: Bamboo Flute: Transverse Traditional

The Bamboo Flute is an intrinsic part of Eastern culture, with nearly every country that can grow the plant having developed its own particular version. In India, it is known as the Bansuri, in China, the Dizi, in Japan, the Shinobue, and in Korea, the Daegeum. Though each of these versions are different in their tuning, size, and playing technique, they are all made from a hollow piece of bamboo with tuned holes drilled or burnt into them. Their popularity is to no surprise, as the availability and hollow construct of bamboo makes it the plant perfect for such an instrument.

First of , before any construction can begin, remember: Safety First! Though making these instruments doesn't require many large, dangerous power tools, be aware that accidents can still happen. Be sure to wear saftey glasses (fig.1) and never touch the blade or cutting edge of a tool that is powered on. I am only responsible for teaching you how to make a rockin' musical instrument, not for making horrendous injury.

With that out of the way, let us begin constructing our flute.

Preparing the bamboo:
First, find a nice piece of bamboo. You are looking for one with a mostly rounded body of moderate diameter, without any suspicious holes or splintering, injured patches (fig.4). To prepare the bamboo, remove all the branches by using a hacksaw (fig.2). It is a good idea to sand down the notches from which the branches were cut to create a more sleek instrument (fig.3). Also, note that the piece of bamboo you chose for your flute must have at least one node, which will serve as the "cork" that is situated close to the embouchure, or "blow hole". This node must be solid and not have any bumps or holes on the outside or the inside of the bamboo, as this node will be crucial in achieving proper tone.

Making the cut:
From the node that you have selected to serve as the "cork", measure 2 cm out (fig.5) and mark a line there with a pencil. This will be the one end of your flute, nearest to the embouchure, separated by the node. Use a hacksaw and carefully cut along the line all the way down through the bamboo. This first cut will be rough (fig.7), and it will take some sanding (fig.8) to make it pristine and smooth (fig.9). This cut has revealed the node, and will give us some Idea of what the inside of our flute-to-be looks like. As we will need to know the inner diameter and the wall thickness of our flute for calculations and cutting the embouchure, measure them now using this hole (fig.10).

The Embouchure:
The general rule for the placement of the embouchure is that it's center should be "one inner-diameter length from the cork". Measure one length of the bamboo's inner diameter from the node (fig.11). Mark this place with pencil, as it will be the center of the embouchure. To calculate the proper diameter for the embouchure, among other measurements, use the Flutomat, an absolutely brilliant Java calculator for flute-making (fig.14). Input your flute's inner diameter, wall thickness, and select a key for the flute to be in. The app will calculate the exact placement and diameter for the embouchure and the other six holes that complete the 7-note western scale. Once Flutomat has given you the proper diameter for the embouchure, begin to drill. Clamp the bamboo down firmly with the embouchure mark face up. Begin by drilling at the center using a small drill bit. I first used a 2mm bit to start the hole, then progressed to a full centimeter with about 3 other bits in between. Figure 12 shows the drilling process, with the bamboo clamped down and the drill carefully but deliberatley being thrust through the bamboo. It is EXTREMELY important that the drill is perfectly perpendicular with the bamboo, that the cut is deliberate and forceful (no resting on the pre-cut hole), and that the drill is held steady and sure. Without applying these guidelines, the bamboo will rip, splinter, and crack. In general, BE VERY CAREFUL. When the hole is cut to the proper diameter, feel free to file and sand it to make it smooth and perfectly round (fig.13). Test the embouchure and make sure your get a familiar, mellow, "flute-like" tone. If further adjustment is needed, you may need to use a file to bevel the playing edge of the hole (opposite the player) so it is at a downward slant away from the player. My flute did not require this alteration, and if you feel like no adjustment is needed, play it safe and don't make any.

Making the cut, Part II:
Flutomat gives the length between the edge of each hole and the open end of the flute, so to cut this end, we must measure out the designated distance from the embouchure, the only hole we've cut so far (fig.15). Once you've measured the correct distance, mark it with a pencil (fig.16) and cut through the bamboo as described earlier (fig.17). Sand the opening down and clean up the gut with files and sandpaper (fig.18,19)

Knocking out nodes:
Chances are that while making your flute, you have chosen a piece that will have more than the one node that is serving as the cork. This node has to be "Knocked out" and completely gotten rid of before the flute can make any sound at all. The method I used to knock out the node was using a piece of rebar that fit the inside of the bamboo fairly well, and tapped it multiple times with as sledgehammer until it broke the node out from the rest of the bamboo. Be warned that THIS CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. I tried this method a second time and the bamboo split right in half. Instead, I would suggest using a drill bit that fits loosely into the diameter of the bamboo and drilling it through. You need to push a little more to drill out the node, but it will go through with a much smaller chance of damaging your flute. Figures 21-23 cover how I removed the nodes with rebar, though it isn't suggested.

At this point, your flute should look like the one pictured in Figure 24.

Hole Drilling:
Believe it or not, this is the easy part! The Flutomat calculator gives the diameter of each tone hole and the length between them and the open end of the flute. Measure the given distance from the end and mark it lightly with pencil (fig.25). Keep in mind that this mark indicates the edge of the tone hole, not it's center, so before you begin to drill make a mark one hole radius up from the original mark. This will be the center of the hole. Now, like the embouchure, each hole must be drilled in successively larger drill bits. I usually started each hole with a 2mm bit (fig.26), then moved up to the calculated diameter (fig.27). After each drilling, with each size bit, I cleaned up the cut, removed any splinters, filed it circular with needle files and took great precaution to prevent cracking. Also, be aware that some parts in the bamboo are thinner than others, usually where branches are growing, and are thus more susceptible to breaking. The first hole I drilled (fig.28) was over such a spot, and was very close to a node, but this didn't seem to affect the tone at all. If you find your hole e is over a node, don't fret. Try to drill it as best and as carefully as you can, and clean up the node on the inside really well. I continued to drill all six holes (fig.29-33) and kept them in a straight, even alignment, though technically, the placement of the hole around the outside diameter of the bamboo is not as relevant as it's distance from the end of the flute. Once you have that sixth hole cleaned up, YOU'RE DONE! Now go and enjoy your instrument (fig.34-37)

To clean up my holes, I decided to try and burn away the splinters using a candle (fig.38,39). This worked... somewhat. It left my flute with the brownish gold blotches around the holes that you can see in the first picture. Some people try to "jump-start" the gradual fade from green to gold by taking a blowtorch to the surface of the bamboo, which changes it instantly. This can also be blotchy if not done correctly, and you can damage your instrument. For the average bamboo-flautist, I would suggest skip;ping this.

This is awesome I made the pan flute and quena. I'm still trying to play the quena
So am I correct in saying you should leave the node in the end as the cork? Or does it get knocked out also?
I prefer thr native american style flute personally and all woodeinds are good.i made a flut today with pvc and its doing ok.its tuneing it thats gona be the deal breaker lol.i incourage you all to build a style best suited to you and dont be close minded.no bamboo then look gor any tube that will work.improvise.just be carefull.this is oddly addicting work<br>
<p>I am planning to make a pan flute with my son, thanks for the fantastic instructions! We have lots of bamboo growing where we are. Ideally, if I can get my hands in some or repurpose an old garment, instead of using string going round and round the pieces, I will use some leather strips which have been wet, as this would be much faster. When dry, I imagine it would shrink and hold the flute together even tighter. :)</p>
<p>My flute isn't producing a sharp sound at all. I'm confused on the instructions for creating the embouchure. What exactly does it mean to bevel it away from the player?</p><p>Also, is the very top node supposed to be knocked out or left in?</p>
<p>This is great! I just realized this was posted years ago and I was hoping there were and still videos out there somewhere. Please advise.</p>
i have a question. where the hell am i suppose to get a bamboo trees in north europe????? love the idea it is great but can u make same flutes from other trees? if not then i would be happy to get advice where can i get a bamboo trees if i am in europe?
<p>Check the garden department of large stores (Hardware &amp; variety stores). Sometimes they sell bamboo for gardening stakes. You can use PVC pipe too - though small diameters are not as common. Look at toys in a dollar store too - useful tubing is out there if you're creative.</p>
<p>&quot;Asian Grocery Stores&quot; All large cities have them</p>
<p>Very true. We have a bunch of them here (Federal Way, WA).<br>H-Mart is a really big one (Korean), and a Chinese oriented store (no pun intended) just opened about 1/3 mile from our house.</p>
you can to use pvc
You may be able to get some bamboo online. Maybe there is a Botanical gardens near you. Bamboo grows quickly and needs to be pruned back a lot. if you befriend someone at a Botanical garden, they may give you some trimmed off pieces. I live in the Great Lakes region of the Northern US. To get bamboo, I can sometimes trade other flute makers for wood that they can not get in the South. Perhaps you cold find a flute makers forum online. Not all bamboo is suitable for flute making. Try for pieces about 20mm to 25mm in diameter with walls between 3mm and 5mm thick.<br><br>Alternatively, a type of wood I know you can find that is good for flute making is elderberry. It has a soft, styrofoam-like pith that you can clean out easily with a sharpened metal rod. Hopefully, you can find some with the center, hollowed out area at least 15mm-20mm diameter, but I have made tiny flute with a 5mm bore. Native Americans from this region used elderberry to make flutes.
Really nice flutes. <br> <br>I have a question. Does bamboo get all brown and dried up? I found some (it was green) but then when I put it on the shelf for a few days (it was not in the sun), it got all brown and dried up and brittle. So is it bamboo or just something that looks like it?
Bamboo is a grass, and turns brown as it dries out.
<p>I bet you could soak it in water based varnish to preserve it in the green state.</p>
Without a reed how does the blowing end work?
<p>You blow across the hole, like blowing across the mouth of a coke bottle.</p>
<p>can i ge bamboo in nearby stores like home depot...? maybe near the great lakes region? (i know this may sound stupid, but yes, that is my question.)</p>
<p>I grow a lot of bamboo on my property and am always looking for interesting ideas for it. It seems that curing bamboo is a concern for many here. To start with, never choose fresh, new bamboo. It should be 3-5 years old. If it withers and becomes brittle, it was harvested too early. You can usually tell the young stalks by how green and fresh they look. Look for ones with a dull and even yellowish tint. The leaves might look faded. The skin should resist your fingernail, with no give. Once you've harvested an older stalk, keep it out of the sun and it will last forever. There is no need to cure bamboo if you follow this advice. </p>
One of my favorite ibles ever! It took many tries but I finally made a decent sounding 5-hole native american flute. I sand my bamboo to give it a smooth surface and nice color.
how you put your holes....teach me...did you sanding the inner part?
please make an instructable about your flute....
<p>Lol, I can try. This flute broke last year and I need to make a new one.</p>
when you make a new one...make sure you make a instructable or vid about it..... :)
<p>Inner part usually peels away, you don't have to sand it.</p>
You may have already said this somewhere, but what is the diameter of the inside of the bamboo? Thanks
And what is the smallest diameter that you could make one with?
I made a bamboo flute with &quot;switch cane&quot;. Outside diameter is less than 4mm. Inside is about 2.5mm. It is super high pitched and loud. I could only fit three tiny finger holes on it. Anything is possible. To make the holes, I used a red hot piece of sharpened coat hanger rod and burned them in.
the size of holes are same or not
love this instructable.... can you teach me how to make it in vid?... i not really understand how to make it....exspecially how to make holes n calculate it.....please
Step 2: Bamboo Flute: End-blown Shakuhachi <br>I heard this really cool song on youtube, and I wanted to make a bamboo flute so I could play it. I wanted to make it but I don't know the exact instructions. Could you please add text so I can make this? Thanks!
Hello Sir!<br> I recently started to make these for a school project, and while I haven't made the Shakuhachi or Quena yet, I have made the Traditional flute and am working on the pan-flute, and I was wondering if there was any way to connect the pipes other than the method listed as I do not want to spend over an hour tying them together.<br>Thank you!
Just hot glue 'em together
Also (Sorry for the double post, but I just remembered this question), do you need to use a root end for the Shakuhachi? It seems to me like you can use a regular piece of bamboo to get a somewhat similar effect (Just asking :P)
The Shakuhachi is traditionally made from a root for a reason: the Shakuhachi is it's own type of flute. It's a weird, end blown, mellow instrument that has an odd traditional Japanese scale and distinct tone. Part of that tone comes from the unique bore of the inside of the flute. The root section of the bamboo used in the Shakuhachi is dense, unlike the hollow areas of the upper sections. This allows the flautist to carve an inner bore that is less wide than that of the opening. If you do not use a piece of root-section bamboo, you will not be able to bore the base out to the correct diameter, and will thus compromise the intonation. If you would like to make an end-blown flute that is not like the Shakuhachi, all you would need to do is apply the flutomat program to your end-blown design.<br><br>Do what you want, but I suggest a root.<br>Thanks,<br><br>Schuyler.<br>
Well, I'll try the root, but my major issue At the moment is how to knock out the nodes, as I don't have a piece of metal long enough and none of my drill bits can make the cut (No pun intended)<br>I figured I'd have to make one smaller. but the issue is the dimensions; intonation isn't too important right now, but is very nice to have, If you know the right placement on them I'd appreciate it for it :P (I'm guessing about a 13&quot; (Sorry bout using imperial, I'm just a dumb American :P) piece? Maybe 15-18?<br>Thanks!<br>~Kasres
Take a piece of long metal rod (1/2 inch dia) and grind a point on the end like a pencil. Heat it with a propane torch until it is red. It will burn through the nodes nicely. Get a piece of rod that is as long as necessary to reach more than halfway through the length of the bamboo. You can also use a burning rod to make the finger holes. The nice thing about that is it leaves no splinters, whiskers, or cracks.<br><br>Regarding location of finger holes: Every flute is different. Measure your flute from the sound hole to the end and divide it in thirds. Try to keep your finger holes in the middle third or you may have problems with the top and bottom notes jumping octaves (called nodal interference). Make your holes about a thumb width apart. Make them smaller than you think they should be. The notes will be flat. Make them larger a little at a time until you get the desired notes. Use a keyboard or electronic tuner to check your progress.<br>
Wow! This is the first I've heard of someone making these for a school project! <br>Good Luck to you!<br>I would love to see what you've done so far with the traditional flute. Does it play well? Could you post pictures?<br><br>As for connecting the pan pipes, my method was using very fine thread looped around each tube over and over again, which was, as you've predicted, an arduous task. Keep in mind that these flutes were the very first I made, and I have since then learned from my mistakes.<br><br>Unfortunately, I still feel the best and most secure way to get the tubes attached to one another is to tie them. I suggest you use a thicker twine, not thread, and tie each cross over only once. Make sure it's good and tight, and you should be fine. You probably were interested in using glue to join them, however If you use a thick twine and only loop once for each tube, you should be fine.<br><br>Also, I didn't make this clear in the instructable, but it is very important to cure your bamboo. Have you done that? These flutes were quick, dirty, and uncured, but if you want a lasting instrument to be proud of, you should cure your bamboo. If you haven't, there's still time to cure the transverse flute you made.<br><br>Anyway, please tell me what you think, and I'd be happy to help you in any way I can. Thanks,<br><br>Schuyler.
Thank you for the prompt reply, that is alway nice :P<br>We are going to cure the bamboo very soon, and once that is done we are actually going to superglue the support rods onto the tubes, as it doesn't need to be perfect, just to last long enough to get to second block :P<br>Also, I would love to tell you how my traditional came out, but I am no flautist and I cant even make one tone on that bleedin' thing '_' (I plan to have one of the lases play it and tell me how I did :P) and I will upload pictures at some point (And I did cure the transverse, but I made it look more wooden which I like more than straight green (using the Japanese method and a backyard grill :P))<br>Thanks again!<br>~Kasres
You could try a woodburning tool to brown the edges
The flutometer doesn't work. Is it possible to give your exact hole distance placements from the top down?
Another way I heard of to knock out the walls at the nodes was to use a red hot piece of rebar, and burn through them. I would be afraid of hitting the side of the bamboo on the way down however.
Skyfinity, does the calculator work at all? I cannot seem to enter any data into it. What was the source for the calculator (i.e. formulas as I could just create my own in Excel). <br> Besides this excellent tutorial. I would really like to know how to make flutes in different keys so I need some sort of calculator.<br><br>
I found a good calculator here;<br>http://twjcalc.sourceforge.net/2.10/TWJCalc2.10.html
I have read that it is better not to drill bamboo, as it may split later on. What I'm doing for my flute is heating the end of a metal rod (or drill bit for the holes) with a blowtorch and burning the nodes and holes out..
That is the best way to do it. It is easy to do and gives you a nice clean hole.<br>
I have heard similar things. It isn't something that I myself would ever try though, but if you want to, go right ahead!

About This Instructable




Bio: Hello! I'm a young Noise-Maker from Philly, whose life is helplessly entwined in music, engineering, art, design, and writing. My current endeavor is to ... More »
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