One of the (many) great pleasures of being a
flute maker is
being able to work with the most wonderful materials - exotic timbers,
fine metals and
African Blackwood has become the de-facto
standard for Irish flutes, and with
good reason. The wood is very stable and water resistant.
strong and attractive, fine and dense - perfect for flute making.
have been some concerns raised about its continuing availability, not
use by instrument makers (who only account for a tiny proportion of
but because of use in charcoal manufacture. The
current evidence appears to indicate it is being acceptably managed by
African authorities. Exporters need licences and are issued
attention is turning to replanting to provide a commercial future for
Blackwood timber industry. It is not listed as an endangered
Blackwood is essentially black with some gray and
brown highlights when
strong light. Most of the images on this web site illustrate
6 key Rudall style flute in
I have vast supplies of excellent blackwood in
all the various
dimensions needed for my many models. Other timbers are
available too, but I can't possibly hope to keep adequate supplies of
timbers pre-prepared for all the flute types! So you can expect additional
waiting time for the coloured timbers, as well as slightly higher prices(mentioned in the price list).
Ebony looks pretty much like African Blackwood
but without the
highlights. It is similar in weight but not as naturally
water-resistant. Appropriate though for some early instruments.
During the 19th century, cocus wood became
available from the West Indies and
quickly became the standard timber for flutes and other woodwinds from that period.
Unfortunately supply was small, demand was insatiable and ecological
non-existent, to the extent that the timber came close to
Cocus is once more available, in very small quantities at a very high
price. Cocus starts as a yellow-brown and darkens to
a medium brown
6 Key Pratten's Perfected
model in cocuswood
Cooktown Ironwood is a very dense timber from
Queensland in Australia. It is mostly used for rough applications
fence posts and railway sleepers, being very resistant to rot.
becoming quite popular as an alternative to blackwood, I believe I was
to use it for flutemaking, in the mid to late 1970's. Makes a very lively
I have found however that it is a difficult material to
use for keyed flutes - the very open pores that I think are responsible
for its lively performance are a liability when it comes to making
airtight pad seats. We can inlay blackwood seats to overcome this,
but expect to pay more!
Rudall Perfected model in
Before Cocuswood became available in the 19th century,
flutes were often made of boxwood, a small evergreen tree which grows
across Europe. The demand for boxwood for musical and measuring
instruments, tool handles and other turned items has made it hard to
obtain and expensive. It is not a very stable wood, and not as
dense as most other flute timbers. It lends however a very sweet
tone and its light weight can be an advantage to some players.
Boxwood starts out a lemon-yellow and slowly darkens with time to a rich
Boxwood Rudall Refined model
with saltspoon keys, Rounded Rectangle embouchure
Gidgee is a native Australian acacia from the dry
inland regions of northern New South Wales. It is heavy and fine,
starting as a medium reddish-brown and darkening with time to resemble
19th century stained cocus. I'm not aware of any other makers
using Gidgee at this time.
Keyless flute in Gidgee (at
bottom), compared to 19th century flute in stained cocus.
The flute was quite new at this time and has now darkened to a medium
6-key Rudall Perfected model in Gidgee (new
Also known as Dead Finish, an abbreviation for
Dead Smooth Finish, a tribute to the working qualities of this lovely
Australian timber. It is quite silky and innocuous to work,
rather reminiscent of cocus.
Rudall model 5088, 6 key, in
An African timber, from the same general regions as
African Blackwood. A very good timber, making a flute with a
satisfying "firm" feel to hands and lip. The feeling of firmness
extends to the playing qualities.
Prattens style keyless in fresh Mopane
(will darken with time)
Polymers are attractive to players who fear
climate, camping activities or performance situations are just too
wood. I can make any of my models in polymer if requested.
I am not
interested in using polymers to make cheap flutes - I follow exactly
processes as I do in the fine timbers to produce a flute that achieves
top quality results. Black acetal results in an appearance resembling
African blackwood. The Du-Pont trade name Delrin is sometimes used
to mean acetal.
Grey Larsen Preferred in
sterling silver rings and tuning slide
Timber and its Treatment
Only the best timber available is used and spends
years seasoning before
use. The timber is turned and drilled when it arrives and is
wire baskets to permit unrestricted airflow for steady seasoning.
After roughing out, the pieces spend some time in an artificial
environment chamber to prepare them perfectly for whichever part of the
they are bound.
The rings (or bands) on flutes are not just
decorative - their
real job is to support the very thin wood at the sockets against
the outward pressure of the tenon lapping. Rings can be of
sterling silver or artificial Ivory. Most of the images on this site use
the silver rings.
Head with baroque style artificial ivory
Note also the slide cover on this flute is black acetal rather
silver. This flute was purchased by a player who was allergic to
MDT flute with plain artificial
Next, we look at the Head End
to McGee Flutes home