Making Simple PVC Flutes

Picture of Making Simple PVC Flutes
This flute design is a common one on the net, and for good reason. Not only is it simple to build, it's also relatively simple to learn and rewarding to play. It only took a month of on and of playing to be relatively proficient (meaning I could get a clean sound from the first two octaves without difficulty.) The flutes are keyed instruments and only play in one scale (without more complex fingerings) which is actually a plus when just noodling around since you can't easily hit a note outside of the major scale of that flutes key.

My G flute can hit about 2 octaves easily and 2.5 octaves if you push it. My D fife can hit 2 octaves. There are already a number of good sites out there on how to make flutes, but I thought I would add some of my experiences making my own flute collection that haven't been addressed.

For a primer of how to play a PVC flute check out my website: How to Flute
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Step 1: Design

I used tested designs for my flutes which I found with construction information on Pete Kosel's flute page.

I made a G flute as originally designed and a CPVC D fife to which I also made a modified version. The G flute works great as is, but I was having a lot more trouble playing the fife. It was very difficult to reach into the second octave. Part of the problem I found was to do with the thin walls of the 1/2 inch CPVC. To create for thicker walls with the same pipe, I decided to add a lip plate (like those used on metal flutes) made out of a 1/2 inch CPVC connector.

I also made some original flute designs out of the same material as the G flute but higher pitched in the keys of A and C. These are both easier to play in the bottom octave, but take more coaxing to push into the second octave, especially for the C flute.

To make your own designs or to adapt these designs to different PVC tubing or drill sizes, the flutomat is a handy tool that automatically calculates the hole placement from the tubing specs, drill sizes and key you would like to play in.
Ira71 month ago

Thanks for sharing. I was wondering if you could help me with my idea for a project:

I play guitar (mostly acoustic), and have a singing voice that can peel paint. I'm looking to be able to play a woodwind instrument SIMULTANEOUSLY while strumming my guitar, even for simple melodies. So...

Think of a seal at the circus that squeezes the horns to play a song. What I would like to do is create a similar instrument out of PVC flutes/pipes, each pre-tuned to a single note. (No fingering involved.) For two octaves starting at G and ending at G, it would require 25 pipes, and includes all sharps/flats. Basically, it would have a piano layout, clamped together God-knows-how. (I'll figure that out.)


Does this make any sense, or is it more logical and simpler to use pipe length to achieve the desired note?

2) I want to achieve maximum tonal quality, the best sound bang for the buck, so instead of PVC, should I explore using steel EMT piping, electrical mechanical tubing, that they sell at HD & Lowes? (It's the stuff they snake wires through.)

Thank you in advance for your ideas and experiences. I want to really think this through before getting started!


Jnkyrdguy (author)  Ira71 month ago

I think a pan flute would make more sense for you. They aren't made the same way as a side-blown flute and don't quite sound the same: They have a closed end on one side and you blow into the other end -- they're more like blowing into a beer bottle -- but they would be much easier to rig up and mount for hands free playing. There are a bunch of instructables on them too with them made from all sorts of materials including household items like pens and straws that would be easy to mock up and test. You could hold a small one in a standard harmonica holder.

I wouldn't worry too much about the material. Anything reasonably hard and airtight will work about the same. I'd be more worried about the weight of steel tubes.. even thin walled they could be pretty heavy.

Jakonator1 month ago
Here's some pictures of mine. It's 16 3/4" long, and I did a 28L4B Turks head in black and blue on it.
14, 8:35 PM.jpg14, 8:35 PM.jpg
Jnkyrdguy (author)  Jakonator1 month ago

Looks great.. I bet the braid makes it a bit easier to hold too. Thanks for sharing!

Ok this is verry NON-DETAILED. Like really... Just freaking tell us how long the pvc flute should be and where to place everything.

How important is holes alines? Am I getting it right that I need to cut inside the mouth hole on the other side, not where is blown ? I'm making something between fife and flute from aluminum rod. Drilling in angle on steel is very hard.
rod sides are 3mm thick and inside is 12mm wide.
Hi! For an event for Science Olympiad I am making a PVC flute. I have to be able to play the C scale. I was wondering how to put in the b flat thumb key. I play the flute in band and I know from experience that I have to have that key in order to play a couple of notes. Any ideas on how to put it in and where? I don't want to mess it up too much and make a big mistake. Any suggestions would be FANTASTIC!!!!!
P.S. It is in a low octave. The lowest C is a middle C
JstDoIt1 year ago
I attempted to create a PVC Flute in the key of C. For some reason instead of the nice flute sound I get an ugly, airy tone. I followed the instructions...any suggestions?
Jnkyrdguy (author)  JstDoIt1 year ago
The shape of the embouchure is critical for playability and tone, so that's probably the best place to start. Recheck to make sure the edge of the hole is burr free, sharp and at the right angle. Finding the best angle and shape may take some experimentation which is a great excuse to make a couple more flutes in different keys! Also look for air leaks. This shouldn't be as likely a problem with PVC as it is with wood, but any cracks or air leaks will make the flute impossible to play.

Overall, these flutes do tend to be on the 'woody' side compared to a modern metal flute that can get to the more pure sine wave sound that most people associate with the flute. If you're new to playing the flute it may just be a matter of practice.. it takes some chops to play well so keep at it!
lesizz2 years ago
I currently play a recorder, so this looks like a nice project for me to expand my skills. I suppose many of the principles described here could be used with other materials such as wood.
There are drill bits made specifically for plastic. They don't grab, and drill through smoothly. I've found that the type with the sharp point leave the smootest hole.
dung0beetle5 years ago
you can make a saxophone too, just omit the embochure and add a 45 degree angle joint and a tenor mouthpiece. (use larger stock for the sax and cut it a bit shorter sounds just like the real thing) I have a bamboo saxophone and it is awesome, just used red hot metal rods to make the holes. Nice instructable! Everyone go grab a saw! There are tons of pipes under the sink!
Brilliant! Now... could you perhaps MAKE a mouthpiece, ligature, and reed? From scratch?
You could, but it's so cheap to buy them. Unless you plan to make a lot of them, it isn't worth the cost of casting materials.
Great Instructable! And thanks for link. @dung0bettle: Do you have notes on how to make the "bamboo saxophone"?
I have a friend who makes beautiful self-tuned bamboo flutes with a similar method.
Is his name William Miller?
salomon19963 years ago
ok, so I made a g flute, and when i try to play it, I get REALY dizzy, any suggestions? thanks!
Jnkyrdguy (author)  salomon19963 years ago
You don't need to blow very hard or use much air to get a sound. You may just be breathing too often and/ or too deep and hyperventilating. This is easy to do when you start... you'll get more efficient with practice.

Breathing to play a wind instrument is not very intuitive in the beginning. Focus on where and how deep your breaths are and it will start to feel more natural in no time. And take it slow sticking to short playing sessions while you build up your stamina. It's a lot more work than you would think breathing in and out could be!
Thanks, that helps! :D
feralin3 years ago
Hi! Is it possible to make a good flute with only a saw, sandpaper, and drills? (and PVC too, obviously!). I do not have any needle files (or ANY files, for that matter). I really want to make a flute like yours, but I do not have a lot of materials!
Jnkyrdguy (author)  feralin3 years ago
It's definitely possible. You will have to be even more careful when drilling the embouchure hole to make sure it's clean and angled the right amount. A few practice runs in some scrap would help a lot to get a feel for it.
Capt. Kidd3 years ago
its called an embouchure plate. not a lip plate.
it doesn't matter what you call it all that matters is how it works. and calling it the correct name isn't going to make it sound any different.
I need a little help in drilling or cutting holes in a section of PVC pipe that I'm going to make into an umbrella stand (to sit next to the front door for umbrellas, not the kind used for outdoor patio umbrellas). I need to cut different sized circles all around for decoration. Is it possible? Do I need to go buy a vice clamp?
Kryptonite4 years ago
Wow that's awesome, I play flute and would love one of these for school or other places where I can't take my real one.
cdousley4 years ago
cool but a cant get sound out of flutes
Jnkyrdguy (author)  cdousley4 years ago
Here's a playing guide I made a while back. Hopefully it'll have some helpful tips:
ty. could i use 3/4 sckedule 40 pipe?
Jnkyrdguy (author)  cdousley4 years ago
It should work about the same. You'll have to adjust the dimensions from the "recipe" on Pete Kosel's page though since the walls will be thinner and the inside diameter larger. You can use this calculator to come up with the hole positions: (I think it defaults to the correct setup for a D flute with schedule 40 pipe so you may not even have to mess with the settings)
i made a small one out of 1/2 inch pipe today dosent work to well
sjoobbani4 years ago
HELP: so from what I understood, the pipe you are using is 1/2 in. I can't manage to find what the length of the flute you are using is, and which one can make the most variation, and best sound. what diameter? what length? where did you drill your holes when you made it? if you would care to give these examples.. that would be greatly appreciated.
Jnkyrdguy (author)  sjoobbani4 years ago
All the dimensions for the flutes I've built can be found here:

The G flute he describes is definitely my favorite. It can easily play 2 full octaves and sounds strong throughout that range.
i'm sorry, this isn't very clear to me, where do you drill the holes.. and how big?
Jnkyrdguy (author)  sjoobbani4 years ago
He gives the dimensions I used about 3/4s down the page in the table titled "G flute from 1/2 inch schedule 40 pvc pipe". (I'd rather not reprint it here to respect his copyright.) It lists the distances of the holes measured from the end of the flute and the hole diameters. Hope that helps! I'm not sure how else to explain it.

first off, thanks for this instructable its the single most informative flute making thing i've found! SOmething i've learned from my fiddling around; If you have a bench grinder it works superbly for shaping the wine cork the way you want it. It took was easy to control the removal and left a smooth surface area, give it a try next time your working with it i dont think you'll be disappointed! -Adam
germeten5 years ago
I've played with flutes and recorders infrequently, not enough to be proficient. One problem I've had with flutes is being able to purse my lips, get and maintain the proper angle to the blow-hole, while being finger dexterous with the others. Recorders are better IMHO because the mouthpiece establishes the air angle, leaving one less skill needed to master. So can you advise how to make and add a recorder's mouthpiece to your instructable? thanks.
I have played a recorder for forty years, myself. I would suggest looking closely at a commercial model, and measuring everything.
Jnkyrdguy (author)  germeten5 years ago
I haven't made a recorder or whistle, but this site has good plans and instructions for one: The 'Low-Tech' Whistle: How to Make a PVC Whistle.

And this site shows how to make a simple PVC clarinet: The $5.00 Clarinet.
Thank you for those other site links, Apart from the instruments, indicate how to make a whistle in a survival situation, easier than I thought.

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