3 surprises in making branch flutes

What surprises happen in making branch flutes!

The surprise of finding the right branch to become a branch flute

Although I regularly make branch flutes, usually finding branches for flutes is unexpected. I can be walking on the beach and discover branches washed onto the shore and rescue those branches before they become part of a beach party bonfire. I can be taking a walk in the neighborhood and see a pile of tree limbs on the curb where a neighbor has trimmed a tree.

The surprise is finding – among all the branches that are too big in circumference or too angled or too soft – a branch that has the potential to become a branch flute. I can examine a dozen branches before finding “the” branch that has the most potential. I wonder what key it will be and what it will sound like when I’ve transformed it from a branch to a branch flute.

The surprise of seeing how the branch transforms as I prepare it to become a branch flute

I either use a hatchet or my bandsaw to cut the branch in half. The approach I take depends on the shape of the branch. Either method requires reading the branch to make sure I can split the branch without breaking it and without cutting it so that one “half” is larger than the other.

I can be surprised at the beautiful grain that appears on the inside. When I recently cut open a mulberry branch, I found beautiful  streaks of purple in the grain. Not always is the surprise a good one. I’ve cut open what appeared to be a sturdy branch only to find it spongy on the inside or containing insects.

In reading the branches, some tell me that they need to keep their bark or at least some of it. In other cases, the branch will be better if debarked, which I do with carving knives.

The debarked branch can be a surprise with interesting grain and hints of color.

Some branches even surprise me with their smell. The mulberry and cherry branches have a sweet berry smell. When I split open the chestnut branches, I was reminded of the smell of roasting pumpkin seeds at Halloween when I was a kid.

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The surprise of how the finished branch flute sounds

As I make the branch flute, I decide what key I think it will be based on the length and diameter of the branch. But there’s an element of surprise in how it sounds when created.

And even more surprising are those flutes with unusual angles. Where should I place the sound holes to make it playable? What will the flute sound like?

What a pleasant surprise almost every branch flute I make gives me. A small flute can have a big sound. I can create a large branch flute to have a laidback low sound and fingering that doesn’t require uncomfortable stretching. A chestnut branch flute I just finished makes such a sweet little sound. I’m so delighted.

Several of the branch flutes play well with my kanteles, and I’ve enjoyed hearing them play together.

I’ll be selling my surprising branch flutes both at Flute Haven and the Art Festival at Thornebrook. Flute Haven is Sept. 15-20, in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The Art Festival at Thornebrook is Oct. 10-11, in Gainesville, Florida.

I hope I will see you at one of these events, and you can make one of these flutes your own. If you aren’t attending either event, you can contact me through email.

You can read more about my branch flute making:

Lessons learned from making Branch flutes

Making Dogwood Branch Flutes

Driftwood Branch Flute

Finding Wood for Musical Instruments (& more)

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