I am frequently asked to provide a description of the various timbers
which I use in the production of my flutes as regards the appearance,
weight, maintenance requirements and, most importantly, tonal
qualities. I have compiled some observations here which will
hopefully satisfy the enquirers curiosity. Included are notes on
sourcing, preparation and seasoning.
It will help to have an understanding of some of the terminology
is given as a number
indicating how many times a given material is heavier or lighter
than an equal volume of water, the higher the number the denser
and and probably, harder the wood. Figures are approximate
content and rate of growth of any given tree can vary widely. For
example a slow grown tree surrounded by others competing for
nutrients will be more dense and harder.
is in this instance the sound we hear
when an instrument is played, this sound is made up of "partials"
of different frequencies which together we hear as one sound.
Partials can be added or removed from a sound to alter its
quality although the pitch of the note remains unchanged to our ears.
An example of this is the treble knob on the Hi Fi system which
adds in or takes out the higher frequency partials, we hear a change
in quality but not in pitch.
Unfortunately wood suitable for
instrument making is not to be found in every timber yard by the
tonne. One snatches up small quantities as and when they come
available, sometimes from the most unlikely sources. I have a
reputation in the area of France where I live in the summer months
as a worthy artisan and local farmers often offer fruit trees when
they have to be grubbed out. Regular calls round the dealers turn up
small amounts from time to time and the grapevine brings in the
occasional good lead. I avoid placing orders with large cutters
of exotic woods as these are all too scarce and will disappear soon
enough without my encouragement.
Fresh cut timber has to be dried
for many years before it is ready to be used. I reduce this time
by cutting to size and rough turning and boring before drying,
thereby eliminating the need to dry the sawdust which will be
discarded later anyway. For this reason I cannot always offer the
customers first choice for some time, if at all. The only virtue is
Some of the less attractive woods
benefit from staining and some of the early ones require it for
authenticity. I sometimes fume with nitric acid, authentic but
dangerous. More often I use finely filtered pigments to mix the
required colour but I do not offer a custom colour service.
is the most popular
flutemakers wood although it is becoming rarer and I try to use
less of it, encouraging the choice of mopani instead. The quality
of this wood gets less as stocks are used up, recently cut material
having more grey/brown stripes. For this reason I seek out blackwood
which has been in store for many years, which is better for the
preservation of the species too. A heavy wood S.G. 1.2 Favouring
the low partials and giving good volume as well as a solid tone.
Oiling is almost unnecessary although I recommend it in the playing
6 KEYED FLUTE IN
is a light brown wood with little
figuring, light in weight S.G. 0.45-0.5 requires frequent oiling
to maintain tone and pitch, Apple produces nice recorders and not
too loud, or aggressive whistles.
A pale yellow with light
figuring or sometimes grey/blue veining when the timber has been
poorly stored, occasionally with astounding ripples which appear
to move in changing light. Woodwinds in box are sometimes acid
stained. Box is the densest of all European hardwoods S.G.0.85-0.9
and makes a wonderful mellow sound without too many high partials
nor the solid low tone associated with African blackwood. Requires
oiling infrequently to protect from moisture rather than to improve
is a creamy white in colour with light
figuring which can sometimes give a ripple effect as seen in violin
backs, often stained, requires frequent oiling at first. A light
wood, S.G. 0.5-0.6. Maple gives a soft sound suitable for early
A non endangered African
hardwood similar in appearance to the rosewoods, (that is to say a
reddish brown with varying degrees of dark brown figuring) many of
which are becoming quite rare and for this reason I do not use them.
Some people, myself included are allergic to the rosewoods and
Mopani offers a non aggressive alternative. A very dense wood
S.G.1.1 mopani favours the high partials and is the choice for
musicians who want to be heard in loud sessions or outdoors. Requires
little oiling and maintains a brilliant shine.
Pinkish brown when first cut changing
quickly to a darker brown on exposure to sunlight, often with
attractive stripes and "flaming" SG. 0.6 giving a soft sound with
good volume popular for whistles and early recorders.
Just on the pink side of grey, little
figuring, requires a lot of oil to achieve good results in the early
stages. Many mass produced recorders are made from pear which has
been impregnated with paraffin wax - yuk. SG 0.5 produces a soft
tone suitable for recorders.
The second densest wood from Europe
white through grey sometimes with light figuring plays like boxwood
giving good volume and a mid range mellow tone. Requires little
oiling. SG. 0.8
SOUTH AMERICAN OR CASTELLO BOXWOOD
Often called lemonwood,
pale yellow in colour with little or no figuring requires regular
oiling gives good tone and volume similar to the fruitwoods SG 0.7
A yellow wood with stunning dark brown
figuring requires regular oiling to produce one of the best mid
range tones for any woodwind instrument with lots of volume SG 0.8
Surprisingly, for a softwood, this
attractive light weight timber gives a good soft tone which I
have heard described as "creamy" sufficient volume but would get
lost in a session. Colour is a light brown with good figuring in
some pieces Sg 0.5, requires frequent oiling. Instruments in Yew
are best described as parlour pipes and they are lovely.
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Last Updated November 2022