How Flutes Are Made
Several factors contribute to the tone of a flute. The first is the type of wood used. Softer wood tends to absorb sound vibration. This can create a dull sound.
Flutes made from grenadilla wood produce a rich timbre that is both captivating to listeners and satisfying to play.
Firstly, choose dense wood that is suitable for making a flute. A flute can be made from a single piece of timber, but it is often more economical to make it in three pieces, with a head joint on the top and middle and the body of the instrument.
Then mark the locations for the tone holes on the body of the flute using a plan you have designed (or by eye). Then drill the holes, being careful not to go too far in as it could affect the sound of the flute.
Next, pad corks are cut to fit the tone holes and felt is cut to fit over them. A spring is attached to provide tension to keep the pads pressed firmly against the tone holes. All this is coated with a protective coat of polyurethane to help the flute resist moisture that would cause the pads to swell and no longer fit the tone holes.
The flute is a metal tube, so it can be bent and shaped in various ways. Any changes in the acoustic characteristics of the flute can affect its sound and playability, so it’s important to make sure all parts fit together properly.
The keys for the flute are made from a group of connected components that are soldered together. This is done with a solution containing chemicals that protect the underlying metal during soldering. The resulting keys are then buffed and polished to smooth out any rough edges.
Flutes used to be made from wood, but there were good practical reasons for changing to metal. For example, wooden flutes can develop a number of problems, such as bore distortion, which can distort the tone holes and create leaks. Metal flutes, however, do not suffer from these problems.
Stainless steel is a hard, durable material used in construction projects. It’s known for its corrosion resistance and aesthetic qualities. It’s also very cost-effective. Many manufacturers use this metal for their flutes because it produces a sweet, expressive sound that is similar to silver but not as costly.
Unlike wood, metal is also air-tight. It’s less porous, which is why metal instruments often have a more consistent sound than wooden ones.
A specialized end mill is designed for stainless steel to avoid work hardening and minimize the effects of heat on the material. These tools have unique helix angles and optimized flute geometry that allows them to cut the metal quickly without damaging the material. This is important for maintaining the quality of the flute’s finish. It also allows the machining process to be completed in a shorter period of time. Using a higher number of flutes will give you extra chip clearance but it’s still important to keep the feed rate reasonable.
The flute is traditionally made of brass, an alloy of copper and zink. This metal is pliable, durable and relatively inexpensive. It’s silvery-white and light in appearance, but can be plated with silver for a more mellow sound. Student and intermediate flutes are usually solid silver (sometimes called sterling silver) while professionals use gold and various combinations of these metals.
The modern flute was developed by Theobald Boehm in the early 1800s. He worked out the best size and position for holes and designed keys that made it easier to play. His improvements also led to composers including flute parts in their music again.
A short version of the flute is often used for classical music, the piccolo. This instrument is half the size of a standard flute and sounds very different, with an earthier undercurrent. It’s sometimes made of wood, but most commonly of silver or gold. All flautists will have to learn to use one of these instruments at some point.