How to Make a Kiowa Flute

Written by elizabeth sobiski
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How to Make a Kiowa Flute
Native American flute playing is not learnt but comes from the heart. (Indian Headress image by Stormy Ward from

Kiowa flutes, like other Native American flutes, are unique to the person who makes them. While this flute is designed to be in the key of F, traditionally each flute depended on the user, and the music they heard in their soul. This project can be made with a purchased flute blank or the flute can be made by hand; either way, some woodworking experience is helpful but not necessary.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • 2-by-2-by-28 inch piece of wood
  • Pencil
  • Saw
  • Router
  • Router bits
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
  • Glue
  • Files
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood stain or oil
  • Rags
  • Leather strip (thong)

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  1. 1

    Choose a piece wood from which to make the flute. Cedar or white pine are traditional, but almost any wood can be used.

  2. 2

    Cut the 2-by-2-by-28 inch piece of wood down to 24 inches. Keep the small block off to the side, as this will become a bird later in the design. Cut the 24 inch piece in half lengthwise; you should now have two 1-by-2-by-24 inch pieces.

  3. 3

    Make three marks on each piece of the flute with a pencil. The first mark should be 1.5 inches from the end; this end is now the head of the flute. Make the second mark 3 inches from the first one. The third mark is 1 inch from the second mark.

  4. 4

    Use the router, fitted with a 7/8 inch round bit, to clear out the interior of the flute. Set the router to a depth of 1/2 inch. That way, when the two pieces are fit together they create a hollow core for the flute. Use the router between the first and second marks. Leave the area between the second and third marks whole for now. Rout from the third mark to the end of the wood. Do not stop before the wood ends; the routed area needs to go all the way down.

  5. 5

    Sand the freshly routed sections with sandpaper to make the surface smooth.

  6. 6

    Use a drill fitted with a 1/8 inch drill bit to make sound holes on one of the flute pieces only. This piece is now the top of the flute. Drilling from the inside, drill a hole after the third mark next to the section that was not routed out. It is easiest to do this from the inside in order to get as close to the whole section as possible.

  7. 7

    Turn the flute top over and make a second hole. This hole is on the other side of the whole section, where the first section meets the second. On the outside of the flute, point the drill bit towards the head and make a hole at about a 45 degree angle.

  8. 8

    Glue the sections together. Use clamps or rubber bands to hold the pieces tight until dry.

  9. 9

    Sand the flute smooth, rounding the edges. Draw a long oval around the two holes that were drilled into the flute. Have a 1/2 inch buffer on either side of the holes. Sand this area flat.

  10. 10

    Use the drill and 1/8 inch drill bit and drill into the head of the flute from the end; this hole goes all the way into the first routed chamber. Enlarge the other two holes that were drilled into the flute. Change the one that was straight into the second open chamber into a slightly larger hole at a 45 degree angle. This angle is opposite of the other one drilled into the first chamber.

  11. 11

    Use a small file and slightly deepen the angle of the hold that goes into the second chamber. Test the flute by blowing into it. The sound can be changed by changing the size of these holes. Once the desired sound is achieved, use the small file to finish opening the area between the two holes. Later, the bird will cover this area, and the opening now filed between the two holes is how sound and air will travel down the flute.

  12. 12

    Make a fist with one hand. Place the fist on top of the flute, with one edge of the fist next to the second hole. Make a mark on the flute on the other side of the fist. Line up the first knuckle of the fist with the mark just made, and make another mark at the second knuckle. Using the same fist, measure up from the end of the flute and make a mark. Do the knuckle trick again and make two more marks. There should now be five marks for holes on the flute.

  13. 13

    Drill the holes just marked on the flute. Use a 1/4 inch drill bit, enlarging the holes slightly as needed. Sand the edges when finished.

  14. 14

    Make the bird from the scrap of wood. This is a stylised bird, and not intended to actually look like a bird. Looking at the block of wood from the side, make a mark that indicates where the first hole is mostly covered, but would not be completely covered by the wood. Sand or file to this mark from the opposite end. Not much has to be removed. Still looking at the block from the side, mark a line that angles towards the mouthpiece on the top edge of the block. This is the bird that sits on the flute. Sand everything smooth.

  15. 15

    Rub oil or stain into the wood with a rag. When everything is dry, tie the bird onto the top of the flute with the strip of leather thong. Make sure that the first hole is slightly uncovered, to allow air to move freely, but not too freely. Enjoy the flute.

Tips and warnings

  • Instead of making a flute blank in the traditional way, flute blanks can be purchased from supply houses.

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