Making Dogwood Branch Flutes

stages of a branch dogwood native american style fluteUsing branches from the flowering dogwood tree to make Native American style flutes has become a favorite activity of mine.

The dogwood is beautiful to work with — very cooperative and results in a clear crisp sounding flute.  Dogwood is a hard wood (Janka hardness scale 2150) but not as difficult compared to the Florida Live Oak ranked at 3200 on the Janka hardness scale.

heart shaped spalting

My first dogwood branch that became a flute fell from a neighbor’s tree. I made a video and the flute you hear playing is the actual dogwood branch flute that was made.  I recorded the audio track outside and the Carolina wren immediately flew in to accompany me.   The flowering dogwood you see in the video is the tree the branch fell from.

When I was making the flute and first split the branch apart, I found spalting in the unmistakeable shape of a heart. Or, you may think it looks like a butterfly.  Either way, I took the image to be a sign that I was meant to make this flute.

Indeed, making these flutes has become a great love of mine and I’ve made several more since.

Video also available on YouTube (has a clearer sound).

How to make a Native American Style Flute from a branch:

  1. Dry the branch. I remove the bark and let it sit in a protected place.
  2. Examine the branch to see which way will be the top of the flute. Note nuances of shape.  Be sure where the fingers will rest over the holes that it feels natural to hold the branch this way.
  3. Split the branch in half.  Use a hatchet for a natural split.  Use a bandsaw for less natural split.
  4. Carve out the insides.  I use a chisel and mallet, but it can affect your shoulders if the branch is large.
  5. Sand the insides to a smooth finish and seal with shellac or epoxy.
  6. Carve out the TSH (true sound hole) and work on the underside of the flue/nest (parts of a flute) to ensure a clear sound.
  7. Glue the halves together and leave overnight.
  8. Do all of the above steps in one day because the halves were meant to be together.  If you keep them apart too long, you will pay a price.
  9. From this stage, create the bird/fetish, attach it and get your clear fundamental note.
  10. Drill the sound holes.

There is a lot more detail for steps #10, but I’ll leave that for another post.