Wooden Flute (Aerophone), Buffalo Horn Ladle, Ceremonial Pipes, all Paleo-Art Items

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 02-05-2007 05:46 PM 21726 views 4 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch


This Curly Maple Flute is now for sale. To purchase it, visit my Shop by clicking here

All of the other items shown in the photos have been sold.


Project Story
Over the years, I seem to be drawn to hand made items classified as Paleo-Art. The crafting of an item, often with artistic imagery, that existed in the past for a specific purpose.

Examples of this are leather tanning, wooden bow making, arrow crafting, knife making, flint knapping, black powder shooting, scrimshaw, powder horn crafting, ceremonial pipes, Love Spoons, and flutes to name a few. I enjoy the historical research as much as the crafting itself. Sometimes people ask to buy these Paleo-Art items, and so occassionally I sell them, but that never starts out as the purpose for the “craft” in my life.

My purpose this morning is to educate a little on the making of Wooden Flutes, hoping that others will be motivated to try their hands at this unique craft, which has grown in popularity the last 25-30 years for various reasons.

Some use flutes in their spiritual life, others to hold onto old traditions, others for making music, and others for making money. I have found this hobby to be filled with as many “authorities” and “experts” as any craft I have attempted. For me, the fun was reduced from arguments over basic techniques, who owns the tradition, and who is suitable to craft a wooden flute. All of this controversy and arguing became such a drain on me emotionally last summer, that I removed all of the flutes from my website, and tried to turn the corner and move on.

Over the weekend, while taking a trip with my wife, away from the shop, kids, bustle, and stress, I decided to turn the corner back, hoping to help others continue the craft in all of its various forms. I am not an expert on history, tradition, or flute making, but it was a lot of fun to learn what I have about them.

For me, the Flute was a journey to understand something of my ancestry, and to create something cool in wood that played music. I have the woodworking skills and tools to tackle a lot of different crafts, and so Flute making was just another step in my journey.

An aerophone is any musical instrument which produces sound primarily by causing a body of air to vibrate, without the use of strings or membranes, and without the vibration of the instrument itself adding considerably to the sound.

There are many names for Flutes around the world, as they exist in several forms in different cultures. Their origins are deep, often spiritual, and museum examples show that their history is thousands of years old, and from all locations of the world. But, no matter what style of flute you make, it can be homogenously called an “Aerophone.”

Although some cultures take ownership of certain styles of wooden flutes, my desire was to use some small pieces of wood and some physics and learn about creating sound with wood. I don’t play my flutes well, but others have picked them up and nearly brought me to my knees, at least giving me chills.

At two times at shows, professional recording artists have drawn quite a crowd after picking up my flutes, getting permission, and then performing a small concert. Both times, these impromptu concerts grab people’s attention, and my “furniture” booth suddenly becomes much more noticeable and interesting to the public.

At the end of both of these “concerts” I have witnessed, the musician gently wiped down the flute, placed them back in their display stand, quietly encouraged me and thanked me for the chance to play my flute, and then silently slipped down the aisle while people were still talking and wondering who that person was. In both cases, as more and more people stopped to listen and wonder who was playing the flute the concert quickly ended, and the musician slipped away. It was obvious that they weren’t trying to sell CD’s, or promote their work, but simply loved playing flutes and couldn’t pass up the chance when a flute was spotted on a shelf in the back of my booth.

I can’t draw people with my playing, only sending them away, but other people more musicially inclined than I can really grab attention with an Aerophone. There is something soothing, beautiful, deep in the tones of an Aerophone that draws people together.

The style of music a person wants to play will depend on the type of hole pattern, the number of holes, and the specific notes that are selected for each flute. The flutes I made were in the Minor Pentatonic scale, based in the key of F#. This is generally the sound one is familar with when hearing Native American Style music. I’m 1/32nd Native American by birth line, and so I wanted to experiment with creating music in that heritage. Other cultures also use that set of notes, while other cultures use different notes.

Tuning a flute can get very mathematical, and electronic if one wants to use a tuner, or vibration measuring instrument. There are websites that offer mathematical formulas to every aspect of the instrument.

I chose to play a note on a key board, and drill holes until they matched to my ear, something I learned in all of those years of music training in High School playing the Trombone. The Trombone has a slide, and the only way it is in tune, is if the musician is able to adjust their arm length moving the slide until it is in tune with each note. It is a difficult thing to play correctly, especially when several Trombones are played together and the notes come and go quickly, but that early training helped me tune my flutes.

Aerophones are a lot fun, and I was able to take what I learned into also making train whistles in several different tones, including the coveted 4-note train horn sound. Once a person understands the physics and harmonics, there are many enjoyable ways to spend an afternoon making sound with a stick of wood.

Typical woodworking equipment is all that is required, although a good sized argument can be stirred up by pontificating whether flutes should be made with hand tools, power tools, and which hand tools, and in which scale and style, etc. It is really amazing how an instrument with such soothing and gentle tones can bring out such hatred and anger in some people. Those people are exceptions of course, but when they surface, they can really cause a stir. I try to stay out of those arguments, as I wanted to make music, not recreate something historical, or controversial, nor hurtful to anyone’s traiditions and culture..

If any of you would like to make your own Aerophone, let me know and if there is some interest, I will go back and post locations of where plans can be purchased.

Mark DeCou

P.S. As part of the Paleo-Art work I have been asked to do over the years, I have made several pipes. Here are a couple of photos of a Tiger Striped Maple Pipe, with a Catlinite Bowl. The pipe is shown in a display stand where the wood stem and stone bowl are not connected. Traditionally, a pipe is stored in a pipe bag, and only used privately. The twisted stem has a small hole through the center that smoke is drawn out of the stone bowl and smoked. I’ve not tried it, but I am told it works great.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

11 comments so far

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5177 days

#1 posted 02-05-2007 06:02 PM

Thanks Mark.
My Granddaughter plays the recorder. Would your flute be about the same as the recorder ?

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5283 days

#2 posted 02-05-2007 06:12 PM

Dick: they have different notes. Minor Pentatonic, versus the do-re-me scale (diatonic maybe it is called?). My wife doesn’t enjoy playing my flutes, as she is unable to play little songs in her hymnal book like she can with a recorder. An aerophone can be made to any base note, and any set of scale notes, just by playing around with the fingering, the tube diameter, and the size and number of holes used for fingering. I have a feeling that if I wanted to play with it, I could make a flute that would play do-re-me scale music. Maybe our discussion will prompt someone to set us straight if I am wrong. It can happen, and has in the past!


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 5192 days

#3 posted 02-05-2007 06:19 PM

Thanks Mark. Crafting flutes was one of the projects that convinced me I needed some training. I tried to build one without plans or instructions. I made some that were pretty and made a nice noise, but were too hard play. Building one following instructions is on my list so after my house is done and I figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up I’ll be in touch. Yours is beautiful.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 5177 days

#4 posted 02-05-2007 06:53 PM

Thanks Mark
I don’t know anything about music, but your answer was helpful. I just purchased plans for an Irish Lap Harp, which my wife has wanted for years. It’s Called an Limerick Lap Harp. If you want to see what I bought it’s at:
By the way your flutes are beautiful.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5038 days

#5 posted 02-05-2007 08:36 PM

firstly, your flutes are beautiful and the stand really adds to the spirituality of the instrument.
My daughter is a music teacher and I’m thinking that this would make a wonderful gift for her some year.(even if I don’t get it to sound right, it would definitely look beautiful in her classroom.)
hmmm and a Harp, too??

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View rookster's profile


67 posts in 5028 days

#6 posted 02-05-2007 11:50 PM

Mark, Those are a couple of beautiful wooden flutes. It certainly inspires me to put one on my list of projects. One question: when you are tuning the flute, how are you changing the note: by enlarging the finger holes incrementally? I would imagine initial placement is a big part of it? Thanks for anything you can say about this: the concept fascinates me…

-- Rookster, (

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5124 days

#7 posted 02-07-2007 05:08 PM

Could you give us a range in price if not here than privatly. I’d really like one.mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Karson's profile


35226 posts in 5278 days

#8 posted 04-23-2008 02:40 AM

Mark: I guess I missed this one. A great job. Looks fantastic.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Larry's profile


200 posts in 5089 days

#9 posted 08-05-2008 06:32 AM

I know this is very late but I just saw the flute – what a beautiful piece of art. If it plays like it looks – there is beautiful sounds about to be made.

-- "Have you hugged your pet today?" ---------- Larry

View Den's profile


91 posts in 4067 days

#10 posted 01-07-2010 02:54 AM

Mark, you did a nice job on your flute. I have a blog on making a flute on this site, (LumberJocks)

View Buffalo's profile


9 posts in 3247 days

#11 posted 12-03-2011 04:24 PM

Mark very nice work – and a well worded storie . I agree there are many ways to make a flute ,I carve – some turn – some do both ,there are dozens of ways and each is right for THAT crafter. keep up the work.

-- Ray- Janesville Wi.

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