Cornwall, Ontario, Canada.
I've played the Irish flute since 1993 and have been making wooden flutes on a part-time basis since 1999 (you can hear me play the Irish flute in the Celtic music duo Greanstalk by visiting this site). I got into wood-work specifically because I wanted to make flutes. I am currently concentrating on instruments in the key of 'D' which is popular for traditional music from Celtic regions. These instruments are tuned to the modern pitch standard of A-440. By using cross-fingering techniques one can play in 'D', 'G' and related keys.
I have used a variety of wood types to make flutes. The favoured types among Irish players seem to be those of the rosewood family: Indian or Honduran rosewood, African blackwood and Cocobolo. I also make flutes from domestic fruit-woods such as apple and pear. At one time I believed that maple wasn't an ideal wood for flutes, however, I have since come-around on this perception (prejudice?). While good-quality wood does play an important role in flute making, I've heard enough nice sounding flutes made from unusual materials such as plastic, bamboo, cedar, ceramic and glass to convince me that the construction of the flute is more important than the slight differences imbued by the material used.
That said, rosewood and the traditional flute woods DO make awesome and beautiful instruments. This is a true and tested fact. I will certainly also continue to use such 'traditional' wood as long as it is a viable option.
All images and sound files on this web-site are copyright Brent Santin, not to be used without the expressed permission of the author.
I currently make flutes that are constructed in three-pieces (a head joint, a middle joint and a foot joint). This offers some advantages during the construction phase of the instrument (the long pieces of exotic wood needed for a two piece flute are harder to get). It also benefits the player by making the flute a little smaller to carry when disassembled (easier to find a case which will fit it) and offers improved tuning when extending the joints (both joints can be extended together for better intonation). The three-piece design was also inspired by the form of many 19th century flutes.
The flutes that I make are constructed using a variety of woods (featured on this web-site) and feature polished stainless-steel and simulated ivory ferrules.
The following three pictures show flutes made from African blackwood with simulated ivory ferrules (rings) at the ends and and custom made stainless steel rings at the sockets where the joints meet. African blackwood is well loved for flutes because of its rich, dark colour and high density.
Below is a flute made from apple wood with synthetic ivory ferrules. While not as dense as blackwood, apple makes a nice flute with a creamy brown colour. A positive aspect of using apple wood is that it grows quite commonly in North America and is not an endangered species (like some exotic hardwoods). Because of the way apple trees grow, however, it is sometimes difficult to find nice straight-grained pieces for flute-making.
Here are some examples of me playing this apple wood flute. Absolutely no effects were added nor was any equalization done to these recordings:
The flute below is made from Canadian Rock (or Sugar) maple. This is one of the hardest North American woods (although not as dense as African blackwood). I first tried using maple to make Irish flutes in 2004 and am happy to say that it is quite suitable. These maple flutes are very pleasant to play, with a wonderful loud and resonant sound. A true Canadian instrument!
(Opens audio on a new tab hosted by Soundclick.com)
The picture above shows the machined, polished stainless steel ferrules at the head & middle joints (where the stresses are). They are also an attractive accent. Metal ferrules are now standard on any of the flutes I make (regardless of wood used).
The interesting thing about the maple flute is that it dashes the notion that maple is not good Irish-flute timber. I find this flute sounds quite pleasant. Because maple is less dense than blackwood, the instrument is actually quite light weight (which may be an attraction to some). The sound of the maple flute can range from a "dusty" mellow tone to a more focused one that really "barks" (useful for matching the volume of fiddles or accordions) depending on your embouchure. But don't take my word for it, follow the link above to listen to me playing a few reels on a maple flute. The only thing someone owning a maple flute should be aware of is that (like any white wood - boxwood, etc.) it can show up finger dirt more easily and it is quite oil-hungry at first. Wiping it with regularly with oil (something you should do with any wooden lute) will both keep it clean and quenched!
extending or closing the joints slightly, the flutes can be tuned
range of a semitone in order to play with other instruments (button
etc. which cannot be tuned easily). The tenons are lapped with
thread to prevent water absorption and promote a good seal.
is a video demonstration of a couple of my maple flutes being
played alongside one of my blackwood flutes.
Below you can see some pictures of some two-section flutes I have made. Please note that I no longer make two piece flutes, although these design elements can be incorporated into my three-section flutes.
The following pictures are of two flutes that I made from Honduran rosewood. The top one has simple lines and metal (turned aluminum) rings. The bottom one is more elaborate, with thinner walls and turned wood rings. Honduran rosewood is a milk-chocolate coloured wood with a slightly sweet smell. It's often used for the fret-boards of guitars. This wood is lighter in colour and less dense than cocobolo or ebony.
The next three pictures all show a Cocobolo flute I made with turned aluminum rings. You can see the striking figure in the wood! Cocobolo is a dense, heavy wood that is variously striped with dark brown, light brown, red and occasionally black streaks. This is a really great wood for flutes and equal to blackwood in my opinion. Cocobolo darkens over time with exposure to air.
Here you can see the two piece flutes again in their dis-assembled state. The two flutes shown here are actually the same size, but the angle of perspective when this photo was taken made the top one appear smaller.
My Approach to Flute-Making
All my flutes are hand-made and many of the tools I use were also constructed by myself from scratch. My tactile and empirical approach to instrument making is based more on musical intuition and direct experience than scientific analysis (although precision does play a great role). I use a wood-lathe and turning tools rather than a machinist lathe and cross-feed, for instance. It's an older method that's not used as much by 21st century woodwind makers, but it's one that served some of the great flute-makers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries quite well. Reaming and turning flute parts by hand means I only produce a 'handful' of instruments each year, but this direct approach keeps things fun and interesting for me. I try to learn and improve my understanding of flute making with every instrument I produce. I am never ashamed to say there is always something for me to learn about flutes!
Because my flutes are hand-made, every one has its own character. Each one is slightly different. However the only flutes that leave my shop are ones that I would be happy to play myself.
Besides experimenting with other woods, I'd like to try making some flutes with a few metal keys and then adding a metal tuning slide. I hope that these are some things I can begin to try in the next few years. Please note that I do use Tung oil on the flutes. This type of oil contains no driers, and therefore is non-toxic. I'm not sure if this would affect someone with an allergy to nuts. If you are concerned about this, please let me know and I will use another type of oil.
As stated above, I am a dedicated but casual flute maker (I have a day job). I make a few flutes a year. I do sell flutes to people who ask. So if you're interested in a flute send me an e-mail and see if I have any ready and for sale. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brent Santin, Ontario, Canada
I have made several bodhrans (the Celtic goat-skin drum) and published an article on-line with instructions on how to make your own bodhran. You can read the article here.
I am fortunate to live in an area of Ontario where there is a quite a bit of interest and support for Celtic culture. Please check out the local Celtic culture organizations: