Wooden flutes by P.G.Bleazey

Wooden Flutes hand made by P.G. Bleazey UK
wooden flutes hand made by P.G. Bleazey

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Wooden Flutes
Wooden Flutes have been used to play music all over the world for as long as mankind has had the ability to make things from wood. Earlier instruments were made of bone which often comes with the hole down the middle thus saving the difficult task of boring it out. Another technique used in early instruments and still used today by people to make instruments in rural situations for impromptu entertainment or for children's instruments, is to take the wood from the elder bush which has a soft pith which can easily be removed by burning with a hot wire. Early makers of wooden flutes overcame the problem of getting the bore concentric with the outside of the instrument by boring the hole in a log first and then cutting a square piece containing the hole. This square would be mounted in a simple lathe by the holes and then the turning of the outside became automatically concentric.

Later instruments required more complex bores which might have tapers curved sides to the bore and even complex tapers which required boring from both ends. The reamers made for this process have an equally complicated history, early ones being made as flat iron blades by blacksmiths whose expertise in making knives and other edged tools would have been most useful to the instrument maker. It can be seen from studies of renaissance recorders that the reamer was an item of great value which was difficult to source, the maker often achieved the double ended tapered bore using the same reamer from both ends of the instrument but inserted to different depths. Today's makers produce reamers from hard steel accurately ground to produce the required bore profile and sharpened to give quick cutting with as little pressure as possible on the wood to reduce distortion while cutting, sometimes multiple reamers are used to produce the bore for a single instrument. Manufacturing the reamers for a particular instrument can be a very long and expensive task as it is often necessary to modify or even remake the reamers in order to fine tune the finished instrument, accordingly instrument makers prize a reamer which produces a good bore very highly. This ability to create a bore to his own specifications and not just to use a parallel tube was the key to the early simple system flute makers technique. Parallel head joints combined with complex tapered bores gave the flutes from the classical era the quality of tone so keenly sought after by today's players of traditional music.

Like many modern folk flutes and whistles, the instruments were six holed and did not have any keys. Players of renaissance flutes will understand the difficulty of producing a chromatic scale from an instrument with only six tone holes and it this very technique which is practised by many of today's traditional musicians who choose the classical tapered bore instrument with its keys removed in order to achieve a sound unique to their music. In the early days of the current revival of traditional playing techniques musicians were known to cut off the blocks which mounted the keys on what were seen to be old instruments of little value to modern musicians. This technique was successful but later to be regretted when the rise of the early music world started to add value to those instruments many of which have been sold at auction for several thousand pounds. Several makers have consequently started to produce instruments based on those early classical keyed flutes but without the keys fitted thus saving the musician the trouble of cutting them off.

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The Old Furness Street Stables LANCASTER LA1 5QZ
Tel: 01524 849085 or 07955 607511      email phil at woodenflutes