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
- 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
- A sharp knife/boxcutter.
- LOTS AND LOTS OF BAMBOO! Green or golden, sappy or cured, depending on your preference.
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
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 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.
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.
Step 2: Bamboo Flute: End-blown Shakuhachi
Traditionally, the Shakuhachi is made from a piece of bamboo which includes it's roots. This is partly ornamental, yet it does also provide a piece of bamboo with a thinner bore. For some, root-end bamboo is only available through order, though the piece I used was simply a stalk I had ripped out of the ground. It covered in dirt and little shoots and runners, all of which we need to remove (fig.1,2). Begin by giving your root a thorough rinse-down (fig.3,4). Then remove any excess root so that only two "Root-nodes" are at the base of the flute (fig.5,6). Dry off your piece and bring it into the shop (fig.7,8). Cut of all the runners and roots using the cutting wheel on your rotary tool (fig.9). Leave only a ring of roots about 3mm high (fig.10). Then, place a sanding bit on your rotary tool and smooth out the ring of roots so they are all in an even circle (fig.11,12). It would be a good idea to now sand down the actual end of the bamboo, which is rough from the previous cut. I first used my sander (fig.13,14), and then the sanding bit on my rotary too to achieve a rounded, smooth end to the flute (fig.15,16).
Making the Cut:
Measure out 54.5 centimeters from the end of your flute and mark it with pencil (fig.17,18). I marked 5 centimeters beyond that to ensure I didn't cut into the place the future blowing edge would go. Saw here with a hacksaw, keeping in mind to beware of splinters and cracks (fig.19). So far, your Shakuhachi should sound like figure 20
The bamboo will be without a doubt riddled with nodes. Lets work on the non-root-nodes first. Find a drill bit around 1.5 centimeters in diameter, or whatever fits loosely in your flute (fig.21). Pull the bamboo back upon the drill, and the bit should tear open the node. If you lack a drill bit long enough, get a skinny piece of rebar (fig.22) and stuff it into your bamboo (fig.23). Use a sledgehammer or some other weight to carefully tap out the nodes (fig.24). This must be done EXTREMELY carefully, as the nodes may split if excess force is exerted. Now, let's move to the root section of the bamboo, which is naturally more dense. Find a drill bit that is about the size of the hole that is already in the bamboo (fig.25). Simply drill through the existing hole as far as you can (fig.26,27). Then, gradually use larger drill bits until you have opened the end of the flute to a diameter of 1.8 centimeters. I used a sanding bit on my rotary tool to clean up the cuts (fig.28). To make sure the entire Shakuhachi has been drilled open, I held it to a light to see through to the other side (fig.29). I also could push the entire piece of rebar through.
The Shakuhachi has 5 holes, 4 finger holes and one thumb hole. Before drilling them, you must measure out their distances from the end of the flute (fig.30) . The bottom hole is 12.1 Centimeters from the base, the second is 17.5, the third 22.7, the fourth 28.3, and the thumb hole is 31.9. Mark each with pencil, and for the thumb hole, make sure it is exactly on the opposite side of the other holes. Drill in the same manner as the other flutes, using progressivley bigger drill bits to widen the holes to their proper diameter (fig.31-39). Those diameters are, for holes 1,2,4 and 5, 1.1 centimeters, and for hole 3, 1 centimeter. Beware of cracks and splinters. Now all your holes are complete (fig.10,11)!
The Blowing Edge:
At this point, the blowing end of the flute should be 2 centimeters in diameter (fig.42). If you added an extra 5 millimeters to the blowing end, saw this off now (fig.43). Along the line that the finger holes run, mark with pencil either 2, 1.5 or 1 centimeters down from the blowing edge (fig.44). A 2cm long blowing edge will be very easy to play, but may be finicky to make. a 1.5cm blowing edge is more traditional, yet will be of medium difficulty to play. A 1cm long blowing edge will be the hardest to play, yet more durable and more traditional. I opted for around 1.5 long blowing edge. After I made the mark, I used a knife to begin carving the edge (fig.45). Every once and a while, I would use the sanding bit on my rotary tool to carve down the edge into a greater slope (fig.46). It should be around 30 degrees when complete. I continued to carve (fig.47,48) until I created a U shape at the top of the edge that was 1.5 cm wide and 4mm deep. I used my sanding bit on the rotary tool to even the U out to those proper dimensions (fig.49, 50).
The Blowing Edge Part 2:
Make a mark in pencil 1 centimeter from the edge on the opposite side of the blowing edge (fig.51). I chose to gradually sand down the rim of the bamboo until it is a slope reaching all the way from the blowing edge to the 1cm mark I made earlier, this will help direct your breath over the blowing edge. I sanded this slope into a smooth, round, and comfy edge (fig.52).
YOUR SHAKUHACHI IS COMPLETE! Now go play some beautiful, relaxing music! (fig.53)
Step 3: Bamboo Flute: End-Blown Quena
Preparing the bamboo:
As any of these flutes, you are looking for a nice piece of bamboo without any splinters, cracks, or suspicious holes. All of the branches must be cut off and their notches sanded down. Specifically, the bamboo we will use for the Quena will be 1.5 centimeters wide (fig.1), and the wall of the bamboo must be 3 millimeters wide (fig.2). A piece without any nodes is preferred, however it may be hard to find a piece of such dimensions without nodes. Determine at this point where you would like to place the end of your flute (not the blowing end) (fig.3). I placed mine right at a node, so I could have a long stretch of "node-less" bamboo to place my finger holes. Mark it with pencil.
Making the cut:
Measure out 40 centimeters from the place where you chose to place the end of your flute. Use pencil to mark this area (fig.4), and make sure it is not within 6 centimeters of any nodes or bumps. This will be the blowing end of the Quena. Use a hacksaw and carefully cut along the line all the way down through the bamboo, straight and even (fig.5,6). Hesitation while sawing or slowing down may cause the blade to catch and rip open the bamboo with splinters and cracks, so saw surely and with caution. This cut is rough (fig.7), but we'll sand and attend to it later. Now saw where you placed the end of your flute (fig.8,9). The body of your Quena is almost now complete (fig.10), now to just fill it with holes.
Whip out your drill and rotary tools. Now, because of where I chose to put the end of my flute, at a node, I needed to drill through it. This was done by using a small bit to start a hole, then using a bit that loosely fit in the bore of the bamboo to open it all the way(fig.11,12,13). I cleaned it up further with needle files. The other node, near the blowing end, was removed as well. I chose a bit that loosely fit in the bamboo and pulled the entire piece back upon the drill, which was enough to break through the node (fig.14,15). I cleaned up any splinters with a file and the drill. The bore was now entirely open (fig.16).
The Notch and Blowing Edge:
At this point, I attended to both ends of the Quena with a bit of sanding (fig.17). The end of the flute was rounded out with my sander and a few needle files, though the blowing end was only lightly sanded, as the notch had not yet been cut. First we must measure out the dimensions for the notch, which will be in a "U" shape, as apposed to the slightly more difficult to play "V" notch. First designate the "Top" of your flute, where your notch and finger holes will go. Once this has been decided, on the edge of the blowing end, measure a line 8 millimeters across (fig.18) and mark either end. These will be the upper tips of the "U" in the notch. Then, measure 6 millimeters down from the edge and make a mark there (fig.19). This will be the base in the "U" notch. Make sketch of the "U" onto the bamboo. It should be a parabolic-type curve with both ends at the edge of the bamboo. You can see an example in figures 20 and 21.
Carving the Notch:
This step is the hardest to describe. Everyone does this a little differently, but It is usually done by machining it with a rotary tool. Grab your rotary tool and use a small drill bit to start a preliminary notch. I used a 2mm drill bit and held it at around 45 degree angle to the bamboo, and began to let it carve a small preliminary notch (fig.22). I then moved up to a 5mm bit and repeated this process (fig.23). I then used a small, 5mm grinding bit on my rotary tool to carve out the rest (fig.24,25). Notice how the measurements correspond to the notch when viewed from the inside, in other words, the outline we drew prior should be carved out all the way through the bamboo. There should be a 4mm wide slope following the notch at around 30-45 degrees. View figures 26 and 27 to get a better idea. This slope should occur naturally if the the bit is held at a 45 degree angle.
I began with the thumb hole, which is on the back of the Quena. Determine at this point where the back of the Quena really is, on the opposite side of your notch. Once you have, measure 17.5 centimeters and mark with pencil (fig.28). This will be the center of the thumb hole. Drill as described previously, using progressivley bigger drill bit to reach the proper diameter, which for this hole, is .6 centimeters in diameter (fig.29-34). Then, measure out the distances for the finger holes, which must be on the complete opposite side of the thumb hole (fig.35). The first hole's center is 19.2 centimeters from the blowing edge, the second is 21.8cm, the third is 24.9cm, the fourth is 28.2cm, the fifth is 30.5cm, and the sixth is 33.6cm. Drill these holes similarly to their proper diameter (fig.36-39). The diameters of holes 1,2,3,and 5 is 1 centimeter, and the diameters of 4 and 6 are .6cm. Be sure to clean each cut with a file, or a grinding bit on your rotary tool (fig.40,41).
Finally, just sand down the blowing end so it sits comfortably on your lips (fig.42).
YOUR DONE YOUR BAMBOO QUENA! Now go and make some beautiful music!
Step 4: Bamboo Flute: Panflute
Please note: No Nymphs were harmed in the making of this Panflute.
Preparing the Bamboo:
For a compact and easy to play panflute, select a piece of bamboo that is around 1-2 centimeters in total diameter. Unlike length, diameter does not affect the pitch of the pipe, it only modifies the timbre. Also note that each pipe is closed at one end, which will be achieved using the existing nodes. Note also that as their are two "bumps" at each node, the one that is solid all the way through is always the thinnest. It is because of this I made each of my pan pipes by sawing slightly behind the wider "bump" to ensure the tube was always closed.
Cutting the tubes to Length:
As stated earlier, length is the primary factor upon which the pitch of the tube depends. Because I want to give you the option of building a panflute in any key, I won't just tell you the lengths I used. Instead, I'll let you know how to choose yourself.
First, here are the general tube lengths for any pan pipe at ''panflutejedi.com'' These lengths are expressed in inches, which is annoying for me, as I am an American who hates imprecise units of measurement. Use a calculator like this one at manuelsweb.com to convert them to centimeters. (I will add a metric chart as soon as I can. Notice that the higher lengths of the same notes are half of the lower ones. This is true with all closed tubes, so feel free to make lower tubes than shown here.
To begin the actual construction, get your bamboo (fig.1) and measure the appropriate length from the THIN BUMP at the node, which is where the solid end of the tube is (fig.2). Mark the length with a pencil (fig.3). Now, clamp your bamboo down and carefully cut with a hacksaw, as thinner bamboo like this is more likely to splinter than usual (fig.4,5).
Clean and Test Your Pipe:
Though it would make sense to blow on the pipe now to see if it must be tuned and trimmed, you must first clean out the inside. Thinner, higher pieces of bamboo like this often have a white, flaky, "skin" on the inside which must be removed before a tone is produced. Use a file or a drill bit to scrape it all out and off of the bamboo wall (fig.6,7,8). At this point, test your pipe and determine whether it is in tune or not. My first pipe was just sharp of what I needed, so I trimmed it and made it the next pipe on my scale.
Finish the Pipe:
Use either a sander or a sanding bit on your rotary tool to round out the blowing end of your bamboo (fig.9,10). Make sure not to sand off to much, as this may alter the tone. Now, make a mark with pencil just behind the wide node on your pipe (fig.11). Clamp your bamboo down again and make a cut with a hacksaw where you marked (fig.12). This cut will be, once again, quite rough, so it is suggested you sand this end in a similar fashion, also making sure to remove any "skin" that is still attached to the node. Congrats, you now have a finished pipe (fig.13,14).
As stated, you must repeat this process over and over until you have 8 pipes (fig.15,16). These 8 pipes will only make a full scale, spanning one whole octave. Because I wanted my pipes to be more versatile than this, I added four more pipes, still in the same key I had chosen (fig.17,18,19). With these extra four notes, I could now play in both the original key (G), and the key 3 notes higher (C). This is of course optional, but I feel is a great way to make your panflute more versatile without compromising portability.
Making the Cross Members
Find a piece of bamboo that is long enough to span your planflute and is around 1cm in diameter. Make a cut within both nodes with a hacksaw so you have a hollow tube. Hold the tube straight up on your workbench, and using a knife, simply slice the tube in half (fig.20). Not much pressure is required to split the bamboo, and usually is cuts like butter. Warning: If too much force is applied on the bamboo with the knife, you may just slice so quickly, you'll catch a few fingers instead (fig.21). This happened to me, so BE CAREFUL!!! So now, lay out your panflute and place the cross members over the pipes as pictured in figure 22. If necessary, trim the cross members so no more than 1cm of excess sticks out from the pipes. Now that you know where the Cross members go, it's time to tie them on.
Tying the Cross Members:
Get out a whole spool of a choice color string (fig.23). Begin by laying the first pipe diagonally over a stretch of string (the end of string going to the open end of the pipe), with the the upper cross member lying diagonally across the pipe (fig.24). Pull up both ends of the string up (fig.25, 26), and tie them in a simple loop knot (fig.27). Tie another knot above the previous one (square knot). Then loop the spool of string around the knots multiple times (fig.28). After around ten turns, loop the spool around so it is at the opposite corner of the X made by the pipe and cross member (fig.29). Loop the spool around in this direction for another ten turns (fig.37). Place the next pipe by the first (fig.30), and bring the thread over the cross member and the next pipe (fig.31). Wrap the spool in this direction for ten turns (fig.32,33,34). Then bring the spool across to the other corner as done previously (fig.35). Loop the spool in this direction for 10 turns (fig.36). Repeat until all pipes are secure (fig.37-43). Tie off the string in a square knot at the last pipe, securing them tightly.
For the bottom cross member, begin as you did before on the upper cross member (fig.45-49). Continue by brining the string over the second pipe as before, but only loop around ten turns in that one direction (fig.50). Then, bring the string over the second (fig.51), and loop the spool around for ten turns here (fig.52). Repeat this process until each pipe is secure. Tie the string off at the last pipe with a square knot, good and tight.
YOU'VE COMPLETED YOUR PANFLUTE! NOW GO ANY PLAY SOME BEAUTIFUL MUSIC! (fig.53,54)
Step 5: Vidstructables: Each Step in Video
If you are reading this text, I probably haven't uploaded any videos yet. Don't worry, it's cool, I just have to deal with all the editing and organizing first. I promise when I have the videos done I'll post them. For now, just sit tight and enjoy your instruments!
For now, enjoy the MP3s below. the recording isn't awesome, but they really do sound phenomenal in person.
Step 6: Playing Your Bamboo Instruments.
For links on how to play the specific instruments, look here:
How to play the Flute
How to play the Shakuhachi
How to play the Quena
How to play the Panflute
Step 7: Post Script: Extra Thoughts About the Project.
Warning: The following information describes methods to preserve and increase the longevity of your fragile bamboo instruments. I am sure that these instruments will make beautiful music without further modification, but if you are willing to try these extra steps, you are welcome to. I am not responsible for an instrument that was harmed by using this extra steps, however I will take credit for one that sings like an angel. Good luck!
Multiple Commenters have expressed their worry about the fact that my instruments are not cured. Cured bamboo is less suceptible to cracking, drying out and becoming brittle, damage by moisture, and of course has that familiar "tiki" golden color. While I have experimented several times with curing my bamboo, I felt that for this instructable, which was for easy bamboo flutes, curing shouldn't take up to much of the space. Curing at first can see very intimidating and dangerous, as it does involve nearly-burning your bamboo. Curing is very easy though, and it will weather-proof and child-proof your flutes pretty well. There are multiple methods.
In India, bamboo is usually cured by soaking it in water for ninety days, then drying it in the sun for two weeks. This is obviously inconvenient for the average maker, and risks various types of water damage and warping.
In Japan, the classic method is to drain the sugary resin from the green bamboo by heating it over a charcoal fire. The outside of the culm becomes very sticky and covered in sap, which it then removed with a wet cloth. This minimally waterproofs the material, burns out all bugs and imperfections, and after thousands of years, has earned it's Skyfinity seal of approval.
However, a charcoal fire may or may not be the best thing for an inexperienced bamboo flautist. It is important to never let your bamboo become black with soot. This will take a lot of scrubbing to get out, and will stain anything it touches. To avoid this, keep the bamboo turning, and don't let any one area spend to much time in the flame. Simply hold the bamboo in a place where the heat is just enough to get the resin popping and leeching though the bark, which is often accompanied by a sizzling sound. This level of heat can be achieved by use of a blowtorch or even a simple gas stove.
Once your bamboo is cured, cut, and is finally a beautiful flute, it may be important to "oil" it. Oiling wooded flutes and other instruments ensures their protection against humidity. There are many commercial oils that are sold to oil wooden recorders and specialty wooden flutes, but there has been so much argument over which of these oils is best, that for your bamboo, starting from scratch is better. Go to your local "health" food store, and scope out their selection of natural oils. Always avoid oils that mention being "boiled" and altogether avoid Boiled linseed oil. Your best bet is probably Flax oil. This type of oil will keep you flute oiled for longer than the "boiled" variety, and is perfectly safe to use with your flute. Oil using a soaked cloth, and run it in and out the body of the flute with a stick or bent wire. Roll the cloth up tightly to oil the finger holes, but not the embouchure, as droplets of moisture here could cause a shrill hoarse sound.