The Block, Bird, Fetish

Choosing The Right Fetish For Your Flute

horsehead1_lgThe fetish is every bit as important as crafting the Windway properly.  Without the proper fetish your flute simply will not play or play well.  The fetish is also a major part of the flutes character and story that is trying to be told through your work.

Raven_03_DSC0295There are basically two kinds of fetishes being crafted today.  One type of fetish not only creates an ornamental ambiance of your flute but it also contains the focusing channel.  Some flute makers craft their flutes where the focusing channel is cut into the bottom of the fetish rather than into the body of the flute.  Some examples of this are some of the High Spirits Flutes I have seen over the years.

swright7The way I craft my flutes is to cut the focusing channel into the top of the body of the flute connecting both the exit hole and the cutting edge of the flute.  I like doing it this way as I believe I have more control over the design of my flutes.  For example I like to have a longer looking flute and these aesthetics can be achieved by having a longer focusing channel and a longer Slow Air Chamber (SAC) area.  I can then design my Fetish to match the design lengths of my focusing channels.

DSC_0283Just to be clear if you are new to flute building what the fetish looks like has nothing to do with how functional it is.  For example you can use a simple block of wood as long as one side is flat and straight.  There does not have to be any design element at all for the flute to play.  But most flute makers have a vision, a message, or a story as to what their flute will reflect.

wdc_tatanaaxdog_sm_1Other than the design of your flute which most will agree has certain design limitations the fetish however can project a powerful statement as to your vision(s) for your individual flutes.  There is an artist in everyone even if you don’t know it.  What is important is that your fetish designs represent you and who you are.  As long as the bottom of your bird is straight and flat your flute should play.

For the rest of this post I will assume that you will like me be cutting your Focusing Channel into the body of the flute and NOT in the bottom of the Fetish itself.

Chimney (Wings) Or Not

If you look closely at many different flutes when you have the opportunity pay attention to the front area of the fetish.  You will probably notice that on some flutes the Fetish DOES NOT have a chimney cut into it while others will have a square chimney cut into the front of the fetish so that the wood wraps around the cutting edge area.

About half of the flutes I make will have birds on them that do not have a chimney cut into them and the other half will.   Because all of my flutes are mostly done by hand no two are the same.  The windway area which is probably the most critical area to get right  although they mostly all look the same they are not.  Each one is slightly different as the cutting edge in my case is always cut by hand.

307_poc2_iwinlay_1_2_lgThe results are that some flutes simply will not play right with a chimney cut into the bird while others are just the opposite.  For example one of my favorite fetish designs that I make and use on a lot of my flutes is my concept of the Otter.  This actually a very simple bird that does not have a place to craft a chimney even if I wanted to.

But there are times when the flute I have crafted with this fetish in mind does not seem to play the way I want.  For example some of the playing holes might want to jump an octave when I don’t really want it to.  If this is happening I will change to a fetish that contains a fetish and the chimney that wraps around the cutting edge.  This simple change will many time correct the jumping note.


Although most fetish blocks can be interchangeable it is important to note that when you do this is more than likely will affect how the flute plays.  When you are crafting your own flute the fetish block must meet some basic standards.  One of which it must fit flat and securely to the nest area of the flute (over focusing channel).  If it does not and you have air leaks the flute will play with an airiness to it.  The bottom of the fetish must sit flat and tight over the focusing channel.

Secondly, most people like to finish their fetishes with a coat of lacquer or oil to give it a nice appeal.  The last thing I do with a fetish that I have lacquered is to sand the flat bottom of the bird so that only the raw wood is exposed.  This will help with the moisture issue that is common with Native American Flutes.

A Word About The Chimney


So how big or small should the chimney area be?  Quite simply it should be no wider that the width of your focusing channel and no deeper that the distance from the front of the solid block area and the front of the cutting edge.

Make sure that when you cut the chimney area you are careful to get it square.  It is my view that for the chimney based fetish to work properly it must match the flute.  So chimneys that are too big or too small may not do the job.

Another tip here is that when you decide to take time to cut your fetish or maybe even multiple fetishes do not cut your chimney areas until your are ready to choose that fetish for a particular flute.  Then when you are ready you can cut the chimney on your band saw or even with a hand saw.  Just take your time when crafting this area and do the best you can to make the walls clean and smooth.

The front wall of the chimney is generally cut flat and vertical but like the simple fetish above you can adjust the angle of the front wall of the chimney by cutting a forward and backward angle depending on what pitch adjustment you want to achieve.

A Word About the Focusing Channel

I want to take just a moment to talk about the focusing channel area.  This is an area that many people new to building flutes seem to get wrong.  The channels purpose is simple – carry your breath from the mouth piece, into the Slow Air Chamber (SAC) and out of the exit hole into the channel.  This is what the bird/fetish is for – to direct your breath down the channel onto the cutting edge and into the flute bore.

The depth of this channel does not have to be very deep.  I tell people who are new to flute building to get themselves an old credit card and cut a strip that is just narrow enough to lay into your channel area.  The depth of this channel should not be any deeper than the thickness of the credit card.

If you make it too deep you will be out of breath trying to play and it won’t play right.  Too shallow and you will have too much back pressure and the same will happen.  You can tweak this  depth in order to get your back pressure just right.  Just make sure the surface area both in the focusing channel and on top of the flute where the fetish will sit are FLAT!

I hope that some will find this post helpful.  Learning to build your own Native American Styled Flute is an extremely rewarding venture.  But be careful…  you may get hooked.

Feel free to reach out to me with questions.  Send me a message via email to “” or even call me at (307) 690-0427.  If you are in the market to purchase materials for your flutes visit the links on this website or again reach out to me.  I have been supplying flute builders around the globe for more than 10 years.  Just remember… I am here to help.


%d bloggers like this: