You should have your flute tuned by now. It is time to finish it. Finishing a branch flute, or any other flute, is all about final sanding, oiling, waxing and polishing. Not all of these things are mandatory. For example, most of my flutes are oiled, and only a few are oiled and waxed. Some of them are covered with natural laquer, and some of them are tie with a strong twine.
In this tutorial, I will teach you things you should know about finishing your Native American branch flute like oiling and preparing a special wax mixture.
This part of the series can be used for other wooden instruments such as recorders, bamboo flutes or didgeridoos :).
Part 7 was all about final touches for the flute’s body – but tuning the flute is explained in a separate series, as linked at the end of part 7.
This article contains a couple of Amazon affiliate links – purchasing stuff on Amazon via these links is a way to support FluteCraft :). Thank you!
This final sanding should be done with very fine sanding paper – you do not want to remove the material from the flute any more; instead you want to smooth the surface as much as possible. Beyond that, no further changes to the flute’s body should be made.
Now, what we want to do now is to protect the flute against moisture. To do so, we can either oil the flute, or oil and wax it. Also, we may laquer it. I’ll explain all these simple techniques now. I’m using natural finishes because the flute goes right to your mouth, and you don’t want anything toxic on the instrument.
The following techniques are basic – they will protect your flute, but they won’t make it shine, except when you use laquer. I’m not good with polishing wood.
Oiling the Native American Flute
The most important step is to oil the flute. You can use various natural oils. The oil sinks into the wood’s structure, thus disallowing water particles of getting inside as well. Also, oiling will protect the flute from drying out too much, which could cause cracks.
Water can enter the flute whenever you play it – as you breath into the flute, the moisture from your breath condenses and collects within the instrument itself. When the flute is well-protected, the moisture should collect itself within air support chamber, and in the air channel – it should not sink into the wood itself.
Here’s a tip – if you play your flute for 10-15 minutes and you can’t see any drops of water under the block, within the air channel, it means it’s time to oil or oil & wax the instrument again. But please not that if the flute’s body is cold, the water will condense faster; warm body of the flute causes water to condense slower.
If there’s too much moisture within the wood, it can cause fungus and mold to grow; and when the flute dries too quickly, the moisture within will cause it to crack. That’s why we need to limit the amount ot water entering the wood.
To do so, we can first oil the wood. Use natural, food-grade oils. Tung oil (aff) is recommended by most flute makers. Others suggest linseed oil (aff), which I personally use. Most nut oils should work – almond oil (aff) or walnut oil is good, too.
- Be careful! Food-grade oils are safe, but if you purchase tung oil or woodworking linseed oil, read safety instructions and never leave oiled rugs unattended – it can spontaneously combust!
- Oiling the wood will cause it to darken, this is quite normal.
The flute should be oiled on the inside and the outside. The best way to do so is to use some kind of vessel in which you can sink the flute in oil. If you can’t find such vessel or the flute is simple too big, just use a rug or paper towels to put a layer of oil on the outside. You can use a rug taped to a long stick to rub the oil on the inside, too. Or, you can tape all the holes on the flute, and pour the oil inside the chambers, then shake the flute, so that the oil gets everywhere on the inside walls.
- FluteCraft’s reader, Jonas, reminded me: remove the duct tape right after oiling, for the drying process. Don’t look at the photo below where I had duct tape still on a drying flute. Some tapes may leave their “glue” on the wood after removal and it will be hard to get rid of.
Basically, use any technique you can think of to accomplish the goal: oil the entire surface of the flute, both inside and outside. Then, leave the flute to dry for 24 hours, and repeat the oiling. Do this 3 to 4 times.
- A tip: if you want to make many flutes for sale, it’s a good idea to build a vessel of some sort for oiling purposes, put the flute in the oil for 24 hours, and then leave it to try for next 24 hours – repeat this 3 or 4 times.
When drying, the flute can be placed on a long stick, mounted in a vice.
Remember that the flute should be oiled from time to time, for example every month, if it’s in constant use, and before using if it wasn’t used/oiled for months.
Waxing (and How to Make Wax Mixture for Your Native American Flute)
If you want to add a second layer of protection, you can wax your flute. The basic way to do so is to use purea bees wax. Just put some on your flute and start rubbing it with a piece of fabric – due to friction it will get warm, melt and then it will enter wood’s structure.
Some flute makers create special mixtures of wax. Such mixture contains bees wax, almond oil and tea tree essential oil which can protect against molds and fungus. To make such wax mixture, you need a vessel, such as small pot. Place it on some kind of a heater. First, pour in some bee wax, then add almond oil, and finally some essential oil.
Grab the neccessary ingredients on Amazon (aff):
Here’s more detailed explanation:
- First, place a pot on a heater, for example on a stove. Pour in water – then, place smaller pot inside the bigger one. You need to do so, because you don’t want to heat the mixture too much. The water will get warm, and it will heat the smaller pot.
- After a minute or two, when the water is hot enough, put small pieces of bees wax in the smaller pot and let it melt. Think that if the mixture is 100%, then bee wax should be 30-40% of the mixture, and the oil should be 60-70%.
- Once the bees wax is melt, pour in almond oil and us a wooden stick to mix everything. Use disposable sticks (or anything else), because the wax may not be easy to remove from your kitchenware. Oh, you may also use a disposable pot, too ;).
- When the mixture starts to mix, looking like a uniform mixture, add 3-4 drops of tea tree essential oil and keep mixing.
Turn off the heater, and while mixing, pour everything into a glass jar. Let it cool down, and after a while, put it into the fridge. You’re done – when the mixture is cool enough, you can use it to wax the entire flute. You can keep this wax in your frige – I have one for about 8 months now in my fridge and it’s still OK.
I usually wax the flute with two layers.
Using shellac to laquer Native American flute
Shellac is a natural resin gathered from trees which can be disolved in alcohol. While buying shellac, make sure you buy natural resin, and not some artificial, chemical substance.
- Orange Flake Shellac (aff)
The best alcohol for the purpose of laquering a flute is 95% spirit which you, hopefuly, can purchase in your local grocery store. Such food-grade alcohol is often used for cakes or homemade liquors.
You may want to laquer the sound chamber before you glue the flute, but you should not laquer the air support chamber. There’s always a risk you won’t laquer the entire surface, and through the small holes in laquer the moisture may get inside the wood, where it will collect with no way to leave – this will cause the root to rot over time.
In the past I used to laquer my flutes with shellac, but no more. The reason is simple, I’m not very good at laquering :). To laquer the flute, use some kind of brush and skilled techniques to put small, thin layers of laquer one direction only. I was never good at this so smudges were common. In the end, the laquering did not look nice. If you want to laquer your flute with shellac, seek some tutorials online from people who are more skilled than me :).
Anyway, shellac should be placed on an oiled flute – oil will protect the wood and prepare the surface for laquering. Shellac itself comes in a form of small plates. Pour some alcohol into a glass or jar, and add some shellac plates next – be aware that you may not be able to clean the glass/jar after disolving shellac in it. Anyway, try to stick to the following rule: 1:3 – 1 part of shellac, 3 parts of alcohol.
Now, put this mixture away for an hour or more – the more shellac there is in the alcohol, the longer it takes for shellac to disolve. Also, mix the mixture from time to time. 1:3 should give you a good mixture, with good consistency. More alcohol means the mixture will be thiner, less alcohol results in thicker mixture.
Once shellac is disolved, you can use a brush to apply it on the wood. I used to add 2-3 layers of laquer for my flutes. Again, seek more detailed tutorials on shellac.
Many flute makers recommend to tie up the flute using strong twine. Often, it helps to protect the flute from cracking, especially due to sudden temperature changes. Also, using a twine helps to seal very small cracks once they occurs.
I suggest to tie the flute right after the mouthpiece, near the end and between the nest and finger holes. Use the photos to learn how to tie the flute.
First, make a small loop and secure it with duct tape.
Next, use your finger and hold the twine firmly, and start to twine around the flute’s body. Make sure the twine is very tight. Tie the twine 10-15 times.
To finish, put the twine through the original loop.
Remove the duct tape.
And pull the twine on both sides – the loop should go under the twine.
Use a craft knife to remove the excess of the twine.
You’re done :).
An important note: remove the twine before waxing and oiling. Sometimes, too much oil or wax may cause the twine to contract and actually cause cracks. You will have to tie the flute again after oiling/waxing.
If there are cracks in the wood, you can seal them using a simple mixture of wood glue and wood dust. Just put some wood glue in the crack, and then add a lot of wood dust, then let it dry. Again, you’re done :).
When you’re done with oiling, you’re flute is actually done.
This completes the tutorial series on how to make branch flutes in Native American style. One last thing you may wonder about is how to build a nice block/fetish for your flute. This will be discussed in a separate tutorial.