We’ve seen quite a few grenadilla Custom Powell flutes come
through the finishing department this year and were curious to know more about
They always look and sound
beautiful, but we wondered about the crafting process and what the challenges
After all, wood is very
different from metal, so how would one even begin to make a grenadilla flute?
We visited with our Wood Instrument Shop Manager, Tim Burnett, and asked -- “what are the biggest challenges to making
a wooden flute?” He simply said, “the
tone holes.” Really? Why would that be? Sitting down with Tim, it became much clearer
to us. He told us that piccolos are made
from a traditional construction process of reaming a piece of wood. The conical shape of their bore is common to
other woodwinds, and the process of making these instruments has been around
for centuries. To make a flute, however,
one must create an “accurately formed cylindrical bore with raised tone holes”
– and this is extremely challenging.
Tim shared with us that it is the size of the tone holes
that makes the process very difficult.
The size of the tone holes in relation to the bore, specifically, is a
tremendous challenge. As you can see in the photo to the right,
the tone holes are quite large relative to the bore, and they are also very
The tone holes must be
very carefully placed relative to the growth of the wood.
One must look at the orientation of the
growth rings of the wood to truly get an idea of where the holes should be
Issues that arise when tone
holes are not placed properly include cracking and the formation of tone holes
that do not have a stable seal.
and trill keys are particularly vulnerable to cracking because they are close
to the metal.
Because of the expansion
and contraction of the wood, spots where the metal and wood meet have
traditionally been at risk for cracking – although, Tim tells us that modern
adhesives used in the process allow for more movement of the wood.
So, the most essential part of the process occurs before any holes are drilled.
Tim begins by
inspecting a piece of wood and deciding if it is suitable for a flute.
The inspection requires skill well beyond looking for “blemishes” -- you have to be able to look at the piece of wood and visualize it as a finished flute body, footjoint, or headjoint. Tim looks at the wood from top to bottom,
going back and forth to determine what it may become.
Often times, it is not the entire piece of
wood that will be used.
Tim may look at a piece of wood and visualize a footjoint in one section of the
piece (he points out the footjoint section in the photo to the right).
This section would then be cut to
length, and the process would begin.
same could be said for headjoints.
flute body, the entire length of the piece of wood would be used.
As you can see, the process requires many skills – and
visualization of the finished product is key.
Wood is a material with many variables that must be considered before it
becomes a flute or headjoint.
to grain growth, one must also consider the age of the wood and the location of
the piece within the tree to determine whether it is suitable.
It has to be right from the beginning,
because with a wooden flute, you can’t go back and fix it!
|Tone holes are much larger than the small holes|
for screws that hold the ribs on to the body.
|The full length of this piece would be used for a body.|
|This piece (shorter than the one above) would be used for a headjoint.|