Introduction: Bamboozled- a Faux Bamboo PVC Flute

About: Huur... derrr.

Flutes are really easy to make and play. I discovered the Flutomat flute calculator and I went nuts making flutes in all sizes, scales and keys. My two favorite flute making materials are bamboo and PVC pipe.

PVC is cheap and quick and you can make several flutes in different scales and keys in an afternoon. You can paint PVC, but that's about it. It's kind of boring looking. The best thing about PVC is that it's rugged- shoved in a rucksack, jammed in your back pocket or bouncing around the bottom of a canoe, it will always be ready to play. A PVC flute is the Land Rover of musical instruments.

Bamboo looks awesome and feels nice to play but making a bamboo flute is time consuming. You have to burn out the nodes, bore it out and seal it. Bamboo likes to split after a while, so you need to bind it in several places to hold it together. Bamboo can also be tricky to work with sometimes- I've split bamboo flutes drilling the last hole after hours of work. That's not fun. Bamboo does look really classy if you take the time to do it right. Wouldn't it be cool to combine the toughness of PVC construction with the beauty of bamboo?
It would and it is. Here's how.

Step 1: Designing the Flute

As I said before, Flutomat is awesome! Just enter the dimensions of your PVC and tell it the number of holes, key and scale you want and it spits out the proper hole sizes and their distance from the open end of the flute. Once you have that data you can tweak the sizes of the holes to adjust their distance from one another. This is important! Draw out the hole distances and make sure your fingers will reach them comfortably. If not, make the hole bigger or smaller and try again. Flutomat gives the hole sizes as decimals so it's a good idea to open a decimal to fraction conversion chart to make the proper drill bit selection easier later.

I used Flutomat to determine the proper dimensions for a flute tuned to a minor pentatonic key in E4. The longest distance given is the distance from the open end of the flute to the mouth hole, or embouche. I ended up with 17 3/4". I decided to go with 20" total. I made a drawing with all the distances marked down for easy reference later.

Since the process of making the nodes in the bamboo shortens the over-all length of the PVC, the nodes have to be planned carefully to not interfere with the finger hole placement. I designed my flute to have six holes arranged in two clusters of three. I wanted a node between the emboucher and the first finger hole, one between the two groups of finger holes and one more between the last hole and the open end.

Having everything figured out on paper makes the build a lot easier and hassle free!

Step 2: Preparing and Shaping the PVC

I selected a piece of 1" PVC pipe about 2' long. It was painted black, so I sanded it down leaving just a tiny bit of black paint. I used a heat gun to slightly flare and distort one end. This will be the closed end of the flute, closest to the player's mouth. I wanted to make this look like it was cut off at a natural node in the bamboo. When it cooled I sanded the end flat on the bench sander. I cut a small scrap of Sentra, a vinyl sheeting used for signs. I sticks to PVC very well with standard PVC cement. I taped the scrap over the end of the flute and let it dry. Later I removed the tape and sanded the Sentra even with the Pipe on the bench sander. I gently heated the end to pucker the edge and made a slight concave indentation in the end, just like real bamboo.

Now I needed T make the bamboo nodes. I started out by marking the locations of the emboucher and the first finger hole. Since the area between these two points will shrink, the real first hole will actually be a bit further down the flute. I wrapped a strip of baling wire around the PVC about two thirds of the way between the emboucher and the first hole mark. I heated the area around the wire until it was soft and starting to brown. I rolled the pipe back and forth on two raised boards to insure even heating. When it was soft I compressed the two sides of the pipe, causing the soft plastic to flare out. The wire holds it in in the middle, giving it a classic bamboo look. I held it until it was cool and then removed the wire. Since the plastic was shortened I had to remeasure. This time I marked the position of the third and fourth holes. This is where the gap is between the upper and lower hole clusters and where I want to place another node. I repeated the above process. Finally I measured a third time and put a final node between the last hole and the open end of the flute.

When all the nodes were formed I cut the flute down to 20 1/16". I heated the end with the heat gun and flared it and deformed it a bit to make it look natural.

Step 3: The Difference Between a Flute and a Stick

A flute without holes is just a stick. Let's make this a flute. I started by laying a piece of masking tape in a straight line the entire length of the flute. I used a tape measure and carefully marked all six finger holes and the emboucher. I drilled pilot holes with a thin wire drill and then removed the tape. This part is tricky as it's easy to drill a hole the wrong size. Don't be tempted to 'do all the half inchers' at once. Start with the Emboucher and work your way down the flute, changing bits when necessary. I like to drill the hole out a size smaller and widen it the rest of the way with rolled up sand paper. I use a tuner program on my laptop and adjust each hole slaowly to bring it into tune.

Step 4: Finishing and Painting

I decided to try a different approach with the color this time. In my previous faux PVC bamboo instructable I used many thin layers of spray paint to achieve a believable organic coloration. This time I let the heat gun do some of my work by browning the plastic at the nodes and flared ends. I decided to try using some Minwax wood stain.

First I gave th flute a light sanding and sanded light streaks in the bamboo. I used some 50 grit sand paper to make long scratches and an old serrated knife to gouge long grooves in individual nodes, just like real bamboo. I gave it a final light sanding to remove burrs.

I set up a thinner piece of PVC pipe as a painting stand. This allowed me total access to the outside of the flute. I rubbed a very thin coat of golden oak wood stain over the whole flute and let it sit for about 30 minutes. I came back and rubbed light streaks in the surface and let it sit for another half hour or so. I came back and rubbed several more layers of stain, adding splotches and streaks for detail. I let the stain sit on the flute for several hours before wiping off the excess and putting it in front of a fan to dry.

Next I used a black paint pen to highlight the creases in the nodes. When this dried I rubbed the whole flute down with oil-based brown Rustoleum paint. I rubbed it in to the creases and low spots and buffed it off. I did this several times until the whole flute was just right.

That's it- now I have another flute! I may have to find someone to give this to at LameCon. Now go make some noise!

Before and After Contest

Participated in the
Before and After Contest

PVC Challenge

Participated in the
PVC Challenge