Introduction: How to Make a Flute From an Old PVC Pipe and an Old Flip Flop
I've been learning to play the flute for some years now. On my first day of class in 2018, I was pretty excited because I thought my teacher was going to present me with a new bamboo flute. Imagine my disappointment when I was handed .. a pipe!! But then I played the pipe and found, to my surprise, that it was light and resonant and every bit like a regular, beginner flute. I was intrigued. I learned that my teacher had been hand-manufacturing these PVC pipe flutes for years now, as a way to provide a low cost instrument to a number of students. Once we came to a certain stage in our learning, and once we'd established our interest, we could then graduate to a more professional bamboo flute. But in the meantime, this PVC pipe flute was a simple, effective and inexpensive DIY solution which would allow more students to try out the flute and learn to love playing it.
When this "Trash to treasure" contest popped up, I thought that this PVC pipe flute project perfectly fit the theme. I asked my flute teacher for help in learning the manufacturing process. He helped me out most generously. I decided to take what I learned from him one step further by creating templates and measurement guides so that anyone with a few supplies can figure out how to make this flute. Our school shut down thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and so I had plenty of time to work on this project.
So: if you are a teacher and don't want to give your students who are just beginning to learn flute real bamboo flutes or if you are someone who is interested in learning the flute but doesn't have one, you can make your own by following these instructions. If you're not used to using drills and blades, you might need some help from an adult. There are three different scales of flutes that you can make. Here's what you need.
- An old PVC pipe with the following specifications, depending on the scale you want to make:
- C#: an old electrical pipe 17.5" + 2" (Inner diameter: 17mm Outer diameter: 19mm)
- D: an old water pipe measuring 18" (Inner diameter: 15mm Outer diameter: 20mm)
- A: an old thicker water pipe measuring 23" (Inner diameter: 19mm Outer diameter: 25mm) for the scale A
If you're drawing your own template, you'll additionally need:
- A4 size sheets of paper
- A compass
Once you have obtained these tools, read on!
Step 1: Finding the Pipes
Everyone has pipes in their house, most of which are all being used but there are usually a few extras and odds and ends here and there. Take a minute and look around you. Look in your garden or garage, your bathroom or even behind a cupboard. I found mine behind a cupboard! Of course if you really want to make a flute but don't have the pipe you could always buy one. Any local plumbing store or hardware supply store would have pipes.
Remember that even if you do have pipes, the length and thickness have to fit the given measurements.
Step 2: Cutting the Pipes to Size
You will need the hacksaw for this step. First cut off any sides that have jagged edges. Next, mark the length of the pipe according to the given measurements, and then cut. Be sure to cut straight and slowly so that you end up with nice, smooth edges. If you are making the C# scale flute, keep that extra 2" of electrical pipe (mentioned in the supplies list) and make one cut in a lengthwise as in the last picture above. Don't cut it into two halves!
If you do end up with jagged edges even after cutting, use sandpaper or a file to smoothen it out.
Step 3: Cutting Out the Corks
Now use an old, torn flip flop and cut off the straps using your scissors that is if there are any straps left. After you have done that, measure out the thickest area (1.5cm minimum). On my slipper the thickest part is the middle. Mark out the maximum area you can use and cut that part out. Next you're going to want to mark the size of your cork. Just press the circular area of the flute against the slipper and then trace out the circle. After you have done that, cut it out with a blade or a pair of scissors. See if the corks fit snugly into the bottom end of your pipe. If they don't then make any necessary adjustments by trimming it down with the scissors. After you have done that, keep the corks in a safe place because we will be needing them later.
(Note: it's not just waste pipes that this project is using, it's also old footwear!)
Step 4: Printing the Template or Drawing It Yourself Using the Given Measurements
For this step you're going to either have access to a printer (at home or in a nearby shop), or you can draw it yourself with the given measurements.
Option 1: Print the Template
If you have a printer at home or have access to a printer at a local store, it's pretty easy to save and print the templates provided. For at-home printers: you can either print the template on two sheets of A4 size paper (which you'll need to glue together width-wise to form the complete template) or one sheet of A3 size paper. To print out the templates below, you can either use Photoshop, Gimp or even draw it yourself.
Option 2: Draw your own Template
To draw your own template, you'll need two sheets of A4 size paper (which you'll need to glue together width-wise) or one sheet of A3 size paper. Choose the appropriate measurement guide for scales A, C#, or D given above. Note: the measurement guides given are not drawn to scale.
- Measure the length of the flute and mark it on the paper. Draw a rectangle if it helps you orient yourself, but this is not necessary.
- Draw the blowing hole with a compass, with the diameter shown, a minimum of 1" from the start of the pipe. Every measurement on your template starts from the center point of this hole, so try to be as precise as possible from here on.
- Now draw a light line touching the top of the blowing hole down the length of the paper. This is what I refer to in the images as the "top line." We need that to orient the other finger holes in next steps, on the Y Axis.
- Measure from the blowing hole center point the distance to the first finger hole. (Example: for Scale A, this would be 21.15 cms). Mark this point -- it is your X Axis position marking.
- Measure from the "top line" downwards to make the Y Axis position marking. (Example: For Scale A, this is 10mm).
- The intersection from your step 4 and step 5 marking is the center point of your first finger hole. Now use a compass and draw the finger hole from this center as precisely as possible.
- Repeat steps 4-6 until you come to the last and smallest finger hole.
- For the last finger hole, measure from the center point of the prior finger hole. (Example: For Scale A, 5.45 cms from the center point of the penultimate finger hole).
Remember that even if you're printing your own template, you can still use these measurements to double check the hole positions while drilling as slight movements and shifts can occur.
Step 5: Transferring the Template to the Pipe
Make sure your template is now trimmed to the length of your pipe.Gently roll it around the pipe until it is reasonably fitted, and secure with tape. Now remove the paper template from the pipe.
Get out the long piece of carbon paper and carefully roll it over your pipe. Holding this with one hand (you can get someone to help you hold this in place if you like), slip the rolled template over the transfer paper-covered pipe. If you are making the C# scale flute, first put the extra 2" piece of pipe on top as in the first picture above.
Note: I don't ask you to secure transfer paper with tape as it tears easily and may not be usable again! And we want to re-use things, not trash them...
Now taking your marker, draw over the holes firmly, but taking care not to shift the paper around while you are working. When you have finished, remove both the carbon paper and the template, and you will see your circles on the pipe.
Just to be safe, trace the circles on the pipe again using a marker. Then, read on!
Step 6: Drilling Holes
Depending on the size of the hole you will need to adjust your drill bit a couple of times in this process. Make sure you choose bits that are not too large for the hole sizes. Keep your measurement charts and a ruler handy to cross-check as you go.
Drill. Make sure to go perpendicular to the flute in order to get a more precise cut.
Also, go slowly so that you don't drill even a little bit into the other side of the pipe.
Step 7: Putting in the Corks
Bring out your flip flop corks now, and insert it into the flute from the blowing hole side. Push it in until it is touching the rim of the hole. It should look like the picture seen above.
Step 8: Sanding the Holes
This is the last, and easiest step. Use you piece of sandpaper or a file to smoothen down you hole edges so that when you're playing, you won't feel sharp, rough edges.
That's it. I hope you have found this useful. Please take a moment and vote for this project in the 'Trash to treasure' contest! Thank you!
Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest
2 years ago on Step 8
Hi Gautama nice project
Reply 2 years ago