How to Build Native American Flutes Out of PVC

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Flute playing is a proud part of Native American heritage.
Flute playing is a proud part of Native American heritage. (Image: Photo by Tina Keller (License: Creative Commons Attribution))

Native American flutes are made in a style known as end-blown flutes, or "fipple" flutes. It is called a flute because it does not contain a reed used to vibrate air to make sound. In its most basic design, a Native American end-blown flute is a pipe with five stops and a fipple flue, with a block that sits at the top of the flute above the fipple that helps direct air flow. Traditional designs use hand, fist and forearm measurements to create the size of the flute and the position of the playing holes. Following these simple steps, you can make your own craft Native American flute out of readily available materials.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 2-foot-long section of 3/4-inch PVC pipe
  • Saw
  • Pencil
  • Metal file
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch drill bits
  • 3/4-inch wood dowel
  • 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch PVC adapter
  • Sandpaper
  • Decorative materials (yarn, glitter, markers, etc.)

Cut the PVC pipe so that it is equal to the length of your own forearm, from the elbow to the tip of your middle finger. Fit the PVC adapter over one end. Use your pencil to mark where the end of the PVC adapter fits over the PVC pipe. Remove the PVC adapter.

Take the metal file and file the round outer shell of the PVC pipe on the side you marked, thinning the rim slightly to just past the marking for the end of the PVC adapter. The filed outer section should be from 3/8 of an inch to a half-inch wide.

Create fipple. Take the 1/4-inch bit and drill a hole about 1/8 of an inch in on the flattened edge of the PVC pipe. Fit the PVC adapter over the flattened edge and use a pencil to mark the end of the PVC adapter on the flattened PVC pipe. Take the 1/8-inch bit and drill two adjacent holes directly above the first drilled hole at the marking for the end of the PVC adapter, creating a rectangular hole about 3/16 of an inch by 5/16 of an inch. The end of the PVC adapter should sit halfway over this hole. This will be used to direct airflow.

Create the stops, or playing holes. Take your pencil and mark where the stops should be. Place the mark for the first stop by measuring the distance of your fist, thumb tucked against palm, from the second fipple hole down the flute. Make a mark with your pencil to mark the stop. Find the second stop by measuring from the first stop the distance between your index and middle knuckles. When you have marked off both stops, drill through the PVC pipe using the 1/4-inch drill bit.

For the bottom stops, measure the distance of your fist, thumb tucked against palm, from the end of the flute going up. Make a mark with your pencil to mark the stop. This will be the fifth stop. Find the fourth stop by measuring the distance between your index and middle knuckles, again going up the flute. Mark this with a pencil. Find the third stop using the same procedure. When these three bottom stops have been marked, drill through PVC pipe using the 1/4-inch drill bit.

Cut a section of wood dowel small enough to fit comfortably as a plug between the two fipple holes. This will direct airflow up the first hole you drilled and into the second hole, creating the flute's sound. Sand the wood plug piece if it won't fit into the PVC pipe.

Place the PVC adapter over the end of the flute containing the wood dowel piece and fipple holes. Remember that the PVC adapter should hang halfway over the second hole.

Use any decorative materials you wish to customize your flute. You can glue strings of yarn around the outside of the flute, being careful not to cover any of the playing stops. Use glue and glitter to give your flute a bright shine. Or use colored markers to create decorative shapes on the outside of the flute.

Tips & Warnings

  • Traditional Native American flute designs do not account for tuning. Many detailed instructional designs exist on the Internet that can allow you to build a flute tuned to your specifications.

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