Many branch flutes I make utilizes curvy branches. In such case, I split the branch and make the bore and all the chambers with a chisel. But when I stumble upon a nice, straight branch, I make the bore by drilling. No splitting means less chance for the branch to break. Also, its sound is better :).
To make drilled branch flutes, I have built a simple wooden jig, made of two parts – a sliding rail for the drill, and a wooden vice to hold the branch.
In this article, I provide you with photos, measurements and explanations of my jig, so you can build you own and use it to make branch flutes.
- If you’re a woodworker with many useful tools, I’m sure you can build a jig that looks far more professional than the one on the photos, built by me ;). On the other hand, if you don’t have too many tools nor skills (like me), these photos are a proof that you can build a simple jig anyway :).
- A word of caution – using long drill bits with powerful drill tool is dangerous. If you’re not careful, you may lose your fingers. Be very cautious.
A note, though: this jig won’t be useful for drilling solid lumber. Solid lumber, the one you get in store or on lumber yard, is cut in a specific way from tree’s trunk. Usually, you would drill against the grain’s direction. In most cases, the drill bit will bend and turn, exiting the wood on one of its sides. Being there, done that. To drill a bore in solid lumber, a special machine is necessary, like a “gun drill”.
In case of branches, we drill right through the middle of the branch, thus the drill follows the grain in a straight way.
- The first thing you need is a collection of long drill bits: look for Extended drill bits on Amazon – you can use normal drill bits or the bits with that flat thing in front of it – not sure what’s the English term :).
Basically, after watching countless YouTube videos on woodworking, I figured out it’s not hard to build a simple jig. All I had to do was some kind of rail and holding jig for my power drill, and some way of holding down a branch. And everything would have to line up.
But branches come in various sizes, so the center of the branch would always be on different height. I needed a way to adjust the height of the branch’s placement, so the drill bit would fit in its center.
The best way to do so, as I thought back then, was to make the vice adjustable.
I went to “home depot” kind of a store and bought lumber and screws – I already had wood glue back home. And I’ve built this:
On the left, you see a long rail for my drill tool. On the right, it’s a wooden vice to hold the branch for drilling.
- The slider is 100 cm, or 39 inches long.
- The vice is 40 cm, or 16 inches long. It’s also 20 cm or 8 inches wide.
- The vice is 15 cm or 6 inches high.
Let’s discuss it in details.
The vice is made of the following parts:
Two main pieces of the vice – first one is the bottom one, it’s just a simple frame with four screws mounted within it. On top of it, I place the upper part – it’s a frame with four holes to fit onto the four screws. Look at the photo below: the upper left part goes on top of the lower right part.
The photo below shows the upper part in details.
On the upper part of vice, I’ve glued and screwed the first holder (left). You can see six small dowels placed in the frame. The second holder (seen “stand alone” on the bottom of the photo) has two holes drilled on its bottom that fit onto the dowels. This way, I can place this second holder on one of three dowel pairs, matching the length of the branch. When the branch is short, I place the holder on the left pair of the dowels. For long branches, I place the holder on the right pair of dowels.
As you can see on the photo above, each holder is made of two pieces of wood. They are drilled through, and there are two screws moving through them. What I do is I place the branch within the holders, and I tighten the screws to firmly hold the branch.
I use the washers (photo above) to regulate the hight of the vice. I either add or remove the washers from all four screws. This way, I can center the branch’s axis and tip of the drill bit almost perfectly.
The Power Drill and Rail
To calculate the length of the rail, I just added the length of my drill tool and the maximum length of the longest drill bit. To this, I added some backup 20 cm and I was done.
Basically, it’s just a rail :).
As you can see on the photo below, I used a very simple method of mounting the drill on the jig :).
And to drill the branch, I use long drill bits:
Long drill bits are very dangerous. They are quite wide – if you’re not careful, and you accidentally power the drill tool with your fingers on the drill bit, you may actually say goodbye to your fingers! Drilling flutes is a very dangerous things, so you must be very careful when doing this.
Tips for Drilling Branch Flutes
Let’s get to the theory of drilling.
First, I do the math – I measure the length of the branch, and decide for the length of the sound chamber. I mark it on the branch, then I add some 2 cm of inner wall, and from that, I measure the length of the air support chamber. First, I’m going to drill the sound chamber, and then I will flip the branch to drill the air support chamber. I do the math to make sure there is a wall remaining between the two chambers – this is where I will build the nest and the sound mechanism of my Native American flute.
I take my measurements of the sound chamber and I mark them on all my drill bits with a duct tape. As I drill, I will see the duct tape on the drill bit so I will know when to stop drilling.
Basically, I place the branch in the vice. Then I mount the jig to my desk with woodworking clamps, while pushing it against the back wall at the same time. This way, when I push the drill into the branch, neither the desk nor the jig should move. This gives me enough stability to firmly push the drill into the branch.
When you center the branch and the drill bit, remember that it’s not about the middle point in the branch’s end, but about the center of its axis – if the branch is curved a little, we want to drill through the middle of the branch – this way, some walls will be thicker or thiner than others.
I start with a thin drill bit, usually the one 10 mm in diameter, and I drill the branch until I reach my target length of the sound chamber. Then, I replace the drill bit with a bigger one, for example 14 mm, and I drill the chamber again. I keep changing the drill bits and drilling the branch again and again until I reach prefered diameter of the bore.
- The widest drill bit I own is 20 mm wide. It’s enough to drill a flute and tune it to F#4.
I start with small bits and move to bigger ones because the small bit drills through the branch easier than big drill, there’s simple less material to drill through. Then, bigger drills can enlarge the chamber, while it’s still easy to drill through the branch, because there’s less material to deal with – after all, I’m drilling through the walls of the chamber, not through the whole branch now.
To make the air support chamber, I take the measurements of its length and mark it on my drill bits again – this time, I usually use small drill bits, because the air support chamber is rarely bigger than 10 mm in diameter and 10 cm in length – that’s all I need in case of most drilled branches. And I drill through the branch. Again, I take great care making sure I won’t make a hole in the inner wall that separates the chamber.
With both chambers drilled, the jig is no longer needed. I remove the branch from the vice, and proceed to other steps – I flatten the nest, make the holes leading to the sound chamber and air support chambers with small drills, and then I use diamond files to enlarge the holes and shape them properly.
Sometimes, the branch won’t cooperate, or my calculations go wrong – this used to happen when I just made this jig and I was learning to use it. The drill bit would drill through the branch, making a hole on branch’s side. Today, it rarely happens – I’ve learned a bit more stuff about drilling :).
Basically, to me it’s a proof that even an amateur can learn how to make drilled branch flutes. The jig itself doesn’t have to be nice, or perfect, but it should be:
- Solid – so that the branch won’t move, and the power drill won’t fall from it etc.
- Also, remember about the safety – long drill bits are very dangerous.
And that’s it – this is my simplified jig for making branch flutes. And it’s enough for me. If you want, you may try something more complex or advanced. If you make something like this, please share the photos via the comments. And if you have any tips for me, too, I’ll be happy to hear them :).
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