The ocarina is an ancient wind instrument, dating back nearly 12,000 years. Its beautiful, resonant sound has always charmed its listeners. With some basic woodworking tools, you can make your own ocarina, or family of ocarinas to create a whole ocarina orchestra. The ocarina can be small enough to be easily transported in your pocket or purse. There are different styles of wooden ocarinas, according to size, shape, tuning, the type of wood and the number of finger holes.
Cut your wooden block to size, 3 inches by 6 inches, using a table or hand saw. You can use any kind of wood, but birch or bamboo work best.
Mount the wooden block onto a wood lathe. Gradually round out the edges of the block to form an oval, by pressing gently against the wood form with your chisel. Take the wooden form off the lathe. The form should be perfectly smooth. Any inconsistencies or uneven spots can be smoothed with sandpaper.
Drill a 4-inch hole into the centre of the wooden form, using a 1/4-inch drill bit attached to your power drill. This forms the mouthpiece and air cavity for your ocarina. Use a chisel to widen the inside cavity to approximately 1 inch wide.
Cut a 3-inch long, 1-mm thin labium, also known as a reed, using a chisel. When you blow into the ocarina, the air hits the labium and produces the sound vibrations. To mount the labium onto the ocarina, apply a thin layer of wood glue to one side of the labium. Insert the labium, glue-side down, into the hollow part of the ocarina, about 1 inch from the lip of the instrument. Press down to set the labium in place. Let the glue dry.
Brush the ocarina with a thin, even coat of nontoxic wood oil. Let the oil dry.
Drill four to ten holes, 1 inch deep, one at a time, in the top of the ocarina, starting with a 1/8-inch drill bit. The holes should connect with the hollow portion of the ocarina. For best results, use a frequency tuner or a computer tuner program, to compare the frequency of each note as you go. Widen the holes with progressively larger drill bits to adjust the frequency. These are the finger holes, which you can cover and uncover to play different notes.
Re-sand the lip of the instrument so it fits comfortably between your lips. Add another layer of wood oil to the newly sanded area. Let the oil dry, and you have your handmade wooden ocarina.
If you choose to make more than one ocarina, you can adjust the frequency and pitch higher and lower using the tuner; then you can play your ocarinas in harmony. As with any wind instrument, the thickness, length and type of wood you use for your labium will affect the sound your ocarina produces. If you make more than one ocarina, try different combinations of these variables to produce a full range of sounds.
Always exercise proper caution when using machinery. Protect your eyes with goggles. Wear a face mask when applying the wood oil to avoid inhaling fumes.
Tips and warnings
- If you choose to make more than one ocarina, you can adjust the frequency and pitch higher and lower using the tuner; then you can play your ocarinas in harmony.
- As with any wind instrument, the thickness, length and type of wood you use for your labium will affect the sound your ocarina produces. If you make more than one ocarina, try different combinations of these variables to produce a full range of sounds.
- Always exercise proper caution when using machinery. Protect your eyes with goggles.
- Wear a face mask when applying the wood oil to avoid inhaling fumes.
Things you need
- Wooden block
- Table or hand saw
- Work bench
- Wood lathe
- Protective goggles
- Power drill
- Drill bits in assorted sizes
- Nontoxic wood oil
- Face mask
- Wood glue
- Frequency tuner
- "Making Musical Instruments by Hand"; Jay Havighurst; November 1998
- "Making Simple Musical Instruments: A Melodious Collection of Strings, Winds, Drums, and More"; Bart Hopkin; May 1995
- "Fipple Flutes: Recorder, Tin Whistle, Slide Whistle, Ocarina, Kuisi, Native American Flute, Pipe and Tabor, Low Whistle, Fujara, Txistu"; Books LLC