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Recently I have been hearing all kinds of criticism about the quality of flute blanks people have been purchasing lately. Believe me I have heard just about everything negative there is to say over the past few years but lately it seems to have gotten worse. I must say though that most of the criticism has not been directed at me and our products which in a way makes me feel better – I think. The truth is there are so many variables than can affect the quality of a flute blank and I thought I would take some time to address some of the concerns that have been expressed to me recently and then try to help you better understand the difficulties in crafting a quality flute blank ready for you to complete.
First I have to say the some of the criticisms voiced about some of the other suppliers that I personally know have not been well founded. Usually these types of complaints/concerns come from people who are fairly new to flute building – that is just he simple truth. This is not to say that their concerns are not well founded and at the very least they should be listened to but we are dealing with a wood product and no two flute blanks are the same.
The schematic at the top of this page is a general example of the two blank halves that make up a typical flute. It is important to note that in our shop we have always crafted our flutes in this manner. There are a few other suppliers out there that use the rifle boring method and then turning the blank on a lathe for final shape. Two different ways to craft a flute and both are correct. I have always crafted my flutes by hand – or as much of the process I can do by hand. The blank itself… we use power tools to create the main components of the flute blank for many reasons but primarily consistency and speed. But the signature shape my flutes have come entirely from hand planing the flute body to shape.
Although the components of the NAF flute seem and are fairly simple, crafting a consistently good flute blank is actually harder than it may look. First finding the right lumber to cut the blanks from is not only a journey in itself – it is time-consuming and expensive to get. Then any lumber we use here in my shop it is left to sit and acclimate sometimes for weeks or even months before it is cut. We hope to stabilize the wood as best we can to our local climate before we cut into it. Then there is the issue of warping or twisting which is fairly common. Some of the warping comes from the cutting process and other times it comes from weather changes.
The most common complaint I here is that the blank set is warped or twisted. One of the most common factors that can cause a blank set to warp is how it was cut. Secondly, the blank itself is only 7/8″ thick and 1 3/4″ wide. When you cut a matched set from a larger piece of wood-stock you are subject to the way the fibers unload. We try to cut most of our blanks from tight old growth vertical grain stock which helps eliminate this. Letting the lumber acclimate to your climate is very important. But we can ship a blank set from here in Jackson Wyoming at 6,475 feet in elevation, limited humidity and ship it to the coast or the south and the change in climate can and will have an effect on the blank set. If the warping is limited to a bow or reverse bow you should let it sit for a week and then you should be able to work with it. If the lumber twists then it can make building your flute much more difficult. But I am pretty sure that the guys I know that manufacture flute blanks do not intentionally ship bad stock.
I have always tried to use Old Growth stock or very old reclaimed lumber for my blanks. I prefer air-dried lumber over kiln dried AND air-dried is more expensive usually. There is the sheer cost to deal with as well. The cost of good lumber is very high – much higher that what you can find in your local lumber yard usually. The people I like to deal with know what they have and their lumber garners a fairly high price.
The actual process of boring the components of the blank takes a proper jig setup as well as time and skill. I have produced countless flute blanks both by using my proprietary jig setup and using CNC technology. After cutting a lot of blanks using both methods I have come to the conclusion that the hand crafted blanks – for me – are preferable. For some reason CNC cut blanks have more warping issued than the hand cut ones and I can actually control the cut better by hand. We use both crafting methods but for the most part most of the blanks from my shop are really pretty nice.
So when you shop for a blank set to for your next flute project keep in mind how much cost and work actually goes into the finished product. Our pre-bored flute blanks sets range from a low price point of $28.00 all the way up to around $70.00 depending on the wood. It is important to note that I do not use any exotics in my shop – only domestic species. Part of the reason for this is the Plains Indians did not have access to Cocobolo or Ebony or other exotics. They used what was immediately available to them in their region. You can make a Native American styled flute from just about any wood or plastic material, but when you have a nice piece of old growth wood properly bored you have the foundation for a really nice flute project.
Many of you have shopped with us before when we had our website Teton Marketing… After closing it last year to re-focus on flutes and not lumber we are now selling a limited supply of nice flute blanks with several bore sizes. Each blank has been hand select by me and those that are currently available can be found on our new website at www.JacksonHoleTim.com. If you would like to see what we are up to and what supplies we have ready to ship check them out…