Lay Out Playing Holes

There are two areas that give flute makers the most trouble which are the Windway, which we will address in another page in our education menu, and the placement of the finger or playing holes on the flute.  If you look hard enough on the Internet you will find information about placement of the playing holes and how to tune your flute.  Some place their holes based on a specific key in a pre-determined place on the flute bore and others use a method that allows the holes to be spaced more evenly giving a more balanced appearance to the top of the flute.  I am not going to talk about how other flute makers accomplish this part of the flute making process but I will share with you how it is I do it here in my shop.

It is important to note that most of the flutes being crafted that I see are done so in one of two ways.  The flute maker is either using a lathe or a rifle boring machine to make their flutes.  The advantages of a lathe is that you can use a micrometer and make sure that each flute type you are making has the exact outside dimensions thus being able to duplicate multiple flutes and have them come out for the most part exactly the same.  This is basically true as well when using a boring machine because these flute blanks are usually then turned on a lathe after the inside of the flute has been bored.  If you have read any of my blog posts you know that all of my flutes are hand shaped using a hand plane, very sharp chisels, and finished by hand sanding.  This does take longer to complete a flute in this way and you will never have two flutes that are exactly the same.


Laying Out Your NAF Flute

What I do to get my playing holes in the proper place is this…  I first glue my blanks halves together and let them sit in the clamps usually overnight.  This is not completely necessary as you can remove the clamps after a couple of hours if you wish.  But I do not do any work on the flute blank until 24 hours has passed.

Then I check to see if the flute plays a note of any sort.  Depending on the bore of the flute blank I usually have an idea as to what key I am looking for.  For example if I have a flute blank that is a 7/8″ bore I might be shooting for an F or an F# when I am done.

So the first thing I do is to decide if I want to include the 4 Winds Tuning Holes or not.  If I am going to add the tuning holes I will trim the bottom of the flute until I get within one key of where I want to be.  So if I am shooting for an F# I will trim the bottom of the flute to an approximate F.  If I am not going to use the tuning holes I will trim the bottom of the flute blank to within about (minus) – 10 -15 cents (using an electronic tuner) of the note I think I want.  This means that the note is to the flat side.  Then I leave it alone.  Keep in mind that I am still dealing with a square flute blank.


Usually people want to know why I keep the note to the flat side and not tune it fully to the key and the answer is that as I shape the flute the fundamental note is going to change.  As you shave down your flute blanks the fundamental note will start to creep up.  Keeping it to the flat side makes it easier to correctly tune it later.  Now you are ready to layout your playing holes.  The next thing is to decide if you will be making a five hole or a six hole flute.  We build both and as far as how we measure for each it is basically the same.

Measuring for Holes with NO Four Winds Tuning Holes

Assuming you do not want the Four Winds Tuning Holes then measure the distance between the end of the flute and to the very front edge of the cutting edge.  NOTE:  It is important to point out here that one my flutes when I cam trimming the flute to get close to the fundamental note I am shooting for and trim my flute bodies prior to shaping with a 15 degree rake.  This rate is top to bottom leaving the top edge of the flute longer than the bottom.  So when I do my measurements I am taking them from the top front edge.

So again, measure from the front of the cutting edge to the end of the flute (on top) and take the midpoint of this measurement and then mark the top of the flute.  Draw a mark using a square across the body of the flute.  This mark will be where your #3 playing hole will live.  For clarification I count my holes starting at the foot of the flute – the bottom hole is the #1 hole for me.  Now you can measure down the flute for the #2 and #1 hole from this starting midpoint.  A good measurement for a comfortable placement of your fingers is to measure on center 1 1/8″ from center point to center point.  So you should have your #3 hole at midpoint then 1 1/8″ down is the center of the #2 hole and the same for the #1 hole.

Next measure from the center of the #3 hole up the body of the flute towards the blowhole 1 1/4″ and make your mark.  This mark is where the #4 hole would be placed.  Then from the center of the #4 hole measure 1 1/16″ and make your mark for the #5 hole.  Measure again 1 1/16″ up the flute and make your mark for your #6 hole.  The top three holes are 1/16″ closer together than the bottom three holes.  And, the distance between the #3 and #4 holes is the farthest distance between all of the holes.  These measurements are important and for just about most of the flutes we make these work real well and the holes are at a comfortable distance for the player.  If you ever decide to move the midpoint #3 hole for any reason do it to the up side of the flute.

NOTE: If you are building a five hole flute you will not be drilling the #4 hole but you will still want to keep these measurements to locate the #5 & #6 holes.  When we make a five hole flute we many times will use the area where the #4 hole would be in a six hole flute to put a bezel set stone.  We do not always set a stone here but it adds a nice touch to the overall aesthetic of the flute.

NOTE:  There may be times when you want to adjust the placement of the #3 hole up or down the flute body from the midpoint measurement a bit.  Sometimes especially with shorter, smaller bore flutes you can end up with your #6 hole (closest to your mouth) too close to the cutting edge which can sometimes cause the #6 hole to over blow or jump.

Now that you have your marks on the top of your flute you need to also mark the midpoint of the width of the flute blank and draw a center-line down the center of the flute so you cross all six of your hole markings.  At this point we always take a very small drill bit of about 3/32″ or 7/64″ and drill pilot holes at each of the measured spots.  Now you are ready to go ahead and
start the shaping process.  You will want to shape your flute to just about the final shape before you start to tune you flute.  As you shape your flute down your fundamental note will start to creep up a bit and this is why you need to be to the flat side of the note.  Be sure to keep checking your fundamental note at you shape.  This is also a good way for you to learn how each thing you do to your flute affects the sound or pitch.

The picture above is a picture of a six hole flute we recently made for another customer.  Take a close look at the placement of the holes.  In this picture you can see we used the 4 Winds Tuning Holes for this flute.  When you use the 4 Winds Tuning Hole you will take your midpoint measurement from the center point of the top 4 Winds Hole (NOT THE END OF THE FLUTE) to the cutting edge.  The 4 Winds Tuning Holes is effectively the end of the flute.  The distance beyond these tuning holes is for aesthetics and it adds extra length to the overall flute.

If you are crafting your own NAF flutes please consider visiting Pre-Bored flute blank page as we supply many flute makers across the country with their flute making supplies.  All orders for pre-cut flute blanks ship with three proprietary schematic drawings (at no additional charge) that can help you in your flute making  journey.  For those who would rather start with a flute blank that is a bit further along in the crafting process we offer Pre-Glued blanks as well.

Finally I want to emphasize that as you become more proficient at building flute you will tweak how you lay your playing holes out and maybe even change the spacing between them a bit.  That is  perfect as this page is written to be used as a guideline and not hard and fast rules.  Enjoy your journey.

Award Winning Functional Art

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