Crafting a PVC Fujara
This web page was written by Peter Riley and edited by Charles Parker and Clint Goss. It first appeared as a monograph by Peter ([Riley 2006] ), posted to the Fujara Yahoo Group on November 5, 2006. Additions were posted by Peter ([Riley 2009] ) on January 14, 2009.
This web page contains the content of those two monographs, edited by Clint Goss, with additional materials and notes from various sources.
During the publication of this material on Flutopedia in 2014, I received these words of wisdom from Peter regarding ethnic wind instrument crafting … please read the this web page in the context of these thoughts:
I do have feelings about “measurements”. Folk instruments do not rely on micro-measurements. If they did they would have long since been lost and the instrument disappeared. …
PVC varies slightly in diameter from piece to piece, so measurements never quite fit. In a big bore like the fujara, the length can vary as much as a half inch, even if the window [the sound hole] is exactly the same size. I spent a lot of time working out measurements mathematically only to discover I had to modify by sight or feel anyway — so much for “measurements.” I hold a much more “try it and see” approach … —— Peter
Peter Riley at the 2006 Maryland Fujara Workshop.
Photo: Colin Varga
What follows applies solely to an instrument in the key of G2 to avoid confusion. The
G is a popular size and despite its five and one half feet is manageable. An
important aspect is that it will fit into an average sized room without hitting the
ceiling. With an F, a foot longer, this is not the case. The fipple dimensions and
voicing for the G will also drive both an A and an F. I have broken the design into
three equal pieces for convenience in transport and to minimize material loss in the
holes section if tuning does not go well. Only this section will need to be replaced
not the whole thing. I feel this encourages freedom and experiment.
Stuff you are going to need:
A ten foot piece of 1¼″ schedule 40 PVC pipe.
Cut this into 4′ & 6′ so you can get it home.
- A ten foot piece of ½″ CPVC--(the yellow stuff). CPVC is lighter than the ½″ PVC and weight is a consideration. How you cut is unimportant as it will end
up in a lot of short pieces i.e. mouthpieces.
- A can of PVC cement. Look for the small ones and opt for clear as the orange
stuff makes an ugly joint. The plumbing folks did not have aesthetics in mind
with their products.
- This next entry is problematical. You are going to need a 1½″ inch piece of
1½″ PVC. To purchase a whole piece of 1½″ does not make sense. This
piece can be made from a 1¼″ coupler by knocking out the ridge inside
with a chisel or prowl construction sites for scraps or simply ask a plumber
for left over pieces. While you are at it a 2’ piece of one inch might also be
useful though a piece of broom stick will do.
- A four-foot piece of Timbron® 1½″ closet pole (LTM 232). At first I thought
this stuff was wood until it melted under my saw. It is recycled polystyrene
and perfect for the fipple as it is inert and will not swell, shrink or split like
wood [a Timbron Premium Interior Mouldings catalog from 2006 is provided for convenience.]
- A 1¼″ pipe cap, two 1¼″ couplers-three if you can’t find a short piece
of 1½″, a ½″ 90 degree elbow, a ½″ T and two ½″ couplers.
- A small bottle of super glue preferably the stuff called GAP which has a gooey
substance to it.
- 10-minute epoxy, the kind that comes in two tubes.
- Sandpaper: particularly 200-400-600 fine for polishing the windway.
- A vernier caliper. A simple ruler is not accurate enough.
A round rat tail file for enlarging the finger holes (6″). This is not a chain saw file but a rough-cut file.
- A small C-clamp.
- A vise. It doesn't have to be big or good. Just so it will hold.
- A box knife with new blades and an Exacto knife with the very oblique
triangular blade also NEW = sharp. Sharp-sharp-sharp-or die!
- A ten inch piece of 0.062″ music/piano wire. This is to make the gauge to
establish the windway height. Again Prowl! Model airplane shops stock this
stuff and if you are lucky older hardware stores. Small Parts Inc. sells it, but
in lifetime supplies. The problem is you really need this wire. As if this were
not enough you can’t cut or file it. It has to be ground.
I think a tuning utility of some sort is a must. Digital tuners i.e. Korg® are cheap
these days and there are a number of these on the computer. I found TUNE-IT to
work the best for me. You can use it for 30 days free. If you struggle with tuning
for that long you will end up in an institution anyway.
Regular machine drills will work but a ½″ Forstner bit would be nice for the finger
Figure 1 below shows Clint's Peter Riley fujara crafted in 2006. I've painted it black and added a mount for a wireless microphone, but it is otherwise original. Note that the finger holes are an unusual layout (not easily seen in the photograph). The middle finger hole is rotated 180° to the back of the instrument.
Figure 1. Overall dimensions of a Peter Riley PCV fujara.
The Fipple — The Big Whistle
The word fipple is an archaic expression for a plug. It has become synonymous with
the entire voicing system of this kind of flute which includes the windway, window
and labium, terms I will use as I go along.
Cut a two inch piece of the Timbron® closet pole. This will be the fipple or plug.
You will see that it is a tad too big to fit inside the 1¼″ tube. This is good as it is
easier to shave something down to fit than to try to make it bigger. The man made
nature of the material allows it to be shaved or scraped. The box knife (new blade)
will scrape a very fine shaving almost like a plane. Put on some music and start
scraping. This will take about ¾ of an hour. Turn it end for end and periodically
sand it on a flat surface. The scraping takes out more in the middle than the ends
and sanding counters this. Carefully fit this into the piece of 1¼″ PVC you are
going to use for the fipple end. This piece is 22″ long-the other two pieces are 23″ (the pipe cap adds the missing inch to make the three pieces equal). The object of
the fit is that it fits with no force. PVC is more flexible than you realize and force
will spread the channel that will be the windway making it hard to fit the cover (top
of the windway). It should have just enough friction to hold the fipple in place so it
won’t slide down the bore but with not enough pressure to deform the PVC. The fit
should be tailored to each piece and end of PVC individually. As the absolute last
step the fipple will be glued in place with the super glue. (NOT NOW!)
Figure 2. Windway construction.
With the fipple fit it is time to cut out the windway. The windway is two inches
plus the window. The window is 13.5mm × 11mm (0.531″ × 0.433″). So the total is two inches plus
11mm. 13.5mm is the width of the windway. When you have measured this out
and marked it on the tube make two little impressions in the middle of what will be
the window. Use something sharp pointed or a tiny drill. This is so the next larger
bit will not skid. 3⁄16″ is about right for these two holes where the window will be.
The holes are so, when you have sawed to this point, you can get the resulting slip
(will be the cover or roof of the windway) out. Be very careful not the hit the sides
of the window when you drill or the dimension will not be 13.5 mm anymore.
You can now wring the slip out This leaves a ragged hole just in front of the labium
edge. With your box knife carve this straight. If you can keep the window depth
slightly small i.e. 10mm so you have a little slack (1mm) to cut the window larger if
required. At the same time cut the ramp leading away. Because the PVC is thin
almost any angle less than 45 degrees will work. At first keep the sides of this ramp
(width of windway) parallel. Latter you can fan the sides out concealing your
clumsy knife work rather than any acoustic advantage.
Now the tricky part!
Figure 3. Windway gauge.
With the fipple out and a new blade in your Exacto knife reach into the windway
slot and carve a small sliver from under the labium inside the tube. The object is to
raise the edge of the labium so it bisects the ribbon of air generated by the
windway. The ideal is 1/3 of the windway below and 2/3 above. The windway is
.062 (1⁄16″) high. The edge of the labium has a dimension of about 1mm so you
can see this is very close and you are going to have to guess at it. All I can say is
try to imagine the 1⁄16″ and what you are doing to it in your minds eye. The
labium edge has to have a dimension (not sharp) or the high notes may not sound.
Somebody once told me a “pencil line”. If you reinsert the fipple and tape over the
open windway the whistle will sound but will use a lot of air because it is
unconstrained The last step is the windway cover.
If you have been lucky the piece you cut out for the windway will also serve as
the cover or roof. It will be narrow by two saw kerfs. If you butter one edge of this
slip with epoxy this missing dimension can easily be replaced. If you sawed the
windway too narrow and had to scrape to get to 13.5mm you may have to make a
new cover. Again when fitting this cover do not force it! If you do it may spread the
windway sides and the fipple will drop down the bore. The cover should be sanded
to just sit comfortably in the channel. The height will be determined with a gauge
made from two pieces of 0.062″ (1⁄16″) Music/Piano wire 4″ to 5″ long. To make this
gauge I drilled two 1⁄16″ holes in a scrap piece of PVC that had an outside
dimension of 13.6 (the windway). They were glued with Epoxy so I could pull
strongly on the two pieces of wire in case they got stuck. This parallel wire gauge
rests inside the windway and supports the roof at a perfect 0.062″. With a small (2″)
C-clamp I put a gentle pressure on the roof to hold it all together. The gauge serves
two functions First it stops the epoxy we are going to apply from leaking down into
the windway and second if the wire is waxed it will serve as a release if it does.
Glue has a perversity that brings it always to be where you don’t want it Now glob
the whole thing liberally with Epoxy. This is only a temporary tacking job as epoxy
doesn’t stick well to PVC. The cover will actually be sustained with the epoxy
paste/putty fillet formed in a channel above the roof. This channel is a ½″ strip
cut from the mysterious 1½″ piece of PVC and snapped and glued over the
Once again remove the fipple but this time mark it’s position so it can be
replaced from whence it came. Cut a chip/wedge from the side of the fipple that
starts a midway (1″) and drops about a ¼″. This serves as an air compression
strategy on the way to the fipple. It will work without this wedge but it increases
resonance power dramatically. Sand with fine sandpaper the one inch area that will
be the floor of the windway. It should be shiny as possible. Look down the open
windway and check carefully for little globs of glue that may have found their way
there. Remove them. The one inch of windway should be aerodynamically perfect.
Two tiny chamfers remain, one on the cover of the windway where it enters the
window and the other on the edge of the fipple where it enters the window. These
are on the order of 1mm.Replace the fipple and you have a musical instrument!!!
Tube Tuning — Tuning the Tube
With the fipple assembly almost (note almost) complete the tube will speak. In
theory the overtone series is whole number multiples of the fundamental in a rising
series of intervals. The first problem is that in the “real world” this turns out to be
not quite true. I think with simple folk instruments that a small amount of pitch
variation (e.g. five to ten cents) is permissible. After that things are becoming
pitchy. Listen to the tube and become familiar with it before any holes are drilled.
When you blow very softly, a smoke rings worth, you may hear what is technically
the pedal tone. This is the lowest possible sound from a tube of given length. It is a
very low hooting sound that is almost inaudible. It will be a slightly flat G. Blow a
little harder and you are in the next octave up, also G. This is called the “mumble
rank” because the first four tones are very quiet and distinctly lack power.
Unfortunately a great deal of music dips down into these first four tones so they
must be there. It is four tones up in this second octave that the most used tones
start. This is the tone D. There is a third octave if you blow harder and it is here
that the G must be spot on if you are looking for accuracy of tuning. (International
standard of A=440 Hz) By the way the tube doesn’t care much about this standard.
The rules of tuning are:
- Shorter is sharper.
- Bigger is sharper.
- Flatter is the opposite.
So if you want to sharpen a hole raise it up the tube and enlarge it. To flatten a
hole move it down the tube and make it smaller. A general rule of thumb is that a
one half inch hole is about all that can be reliably closed with a human finger. This
can be stretched by making the holes oval. Study carefully how your hands will rest
on the tube and make the ovals match your fingers but there is a limit here and
now the hole must be moved (down).
Now that you are friendly with the tube itself and think it blows a useful G it is
time for the first hole (A). If the tube is flat cut a little off and if sharp add a ring of
PVC on the bottom. The first time I did this I found exactly where the A should go.
It was a strong, clean, robust tone and exactly 440 Hz. The problem was the E,
also required from this hole was wildly and unusably sharp. What I had stumbled
on was that the A overtone series was not in tune with itself! The only strategy left
was one of compromise. I had to move the lovely A down (flatten) to modify the
sharp E. I opted for an imaginary point at which the A is just as flat as the E is
sharp (about 10 cents). This anomaly appears in all my attempts. It may have to
do with the length of pipe below the hole. The next hole B is similar but easier to
correct. The third hole (C) turns out not to be C at all but E! E is a problem tone as
it wants to be chronically flat. E is the second tone asked of the third hole. If it is
slightly too high it will speak accurately but it’s resonance slips off and it stops. If
you find this move the hole down. Tune for the E as the C can be arrived at with
various fork finger configurations. At this point in the scale you have three open
holes available to make a C-use them. It is possible with patience to tune the PVC
solution very accurately and consistently.
Now for the last step. Stand the fipple section on it’s head leaning slightly and
put a few drops of super glue through the window. Roll the drop from side to side
sealing the area between the inside wall and the fipple. Do not get glue in the
windway! The idea is to seal and create a small acrylic wall so the fipple can not go
down the bore. It is unlikely that it will jump out at you.
The hole positions are:
From the top of the bottom 23″ section: 3-5⁄16″=C/E, 6¾″=B, 12⅝″=A. The
holes are all bigger than ½″. The total length for a G is 66 inches plus or minus a
tad. You have to listen for this length. You will have to enlarge each of these holes
with a rasp and undercutting to achieve perfect pitch. This last section is not
sacred. If you butcher it there is still left over pipe. Cut a new one and start again.
As you can see from the illustration the 1¼″ pipe cap fits onto a sort of
tenon above the 1½″ piece. This tenon is ½″ high. The roof of the windway
sticks up above the radius of the 1¼″ pipe by 0.062″ (1⁄16″). This must be scraped
down for the cap to fit. This is also why not to force the fipple or the windway cover
as this will not allow the pipe cap to fit. I have made this cap removable for
cleaning and hygiene reasons. Drill a ⅝″ hole, being sure to leave clearance for
the height of the tenon. This will accommodate a short piece of ½″ CPVC that will
reach clear across the inside of the cover touching the far side opposite the hole.
This takes some carving and be careful that it emerges at 90 degrees to the cover
or the blow tube will have to be bent to connect below. This is all to give the 90
elbow gluing strength. I drill a few holes that seem to equal the ID. of the CPVC on
what will be the TOP. When you look into the cap you can not see these holes. This
acts as a water trap forcing condensation back down the blow tube, keeping it out
of the windway.
Because there are no fibers in PVC fluted machine drills tend to grab. This
happens with surprising suddenness and you can drill clear through the other side.
Start with a small drill and work up to big with four or five steps. Put a 1″ piece of
PVC or the broomstick inside as a buffer. The drill that is recommended is the
Forstner bit but they are expensive.
To determine the height of the mouthpiece hold the tape measure in your
mouth and pull it down to your ring finger. The stretch should not be extreme.
Acetone takes the printing and codes off the PVC easily. Paint does not work
well on plastic as it tends to chip. Krylon® and Rust-o-leum® produce specially
prepared formulas that work well on plastic. It is primarily for outdoor furniture
and tough. You can finish your project from conservative black to florescent orange
if you choose. Anything is better than fish-belly white of PVC.
At the mouthpiece end is the PVC T fitting. The bottom of the T is plugged
with a ½″ plastic chair leg tip held by a piece of string. It is amazing how much
moisture this produces. In short this serves as a spit valve as in brasses. A 90 will
work but you will have to tip it to get the moisture out.
Cutting things square i.e. 90 degrees is nice but not absolutely essential. A
miter box either store bought or home made will help.
Take care when assembling that the sections are closed or it will be too long
and flat. A rap on the (carpeted) floor will do this.
If a hole is in the wrong place simply tape it and drill another. When satisfied
transfer what you have learned to a fresh piece of pipe. Holes can be invisibly
repaired by chamfering the inside and out to provide a flange to grip epoxy
paste/putty. Back the patch job with a well greased piece of 1″ PVC. For the difficult
holes I cut a tube section that had an ideal hole already in it. Above and below this
I cut a number of narrow slices. By exchanging the slices I could effectively move
the hole up and down. I taped this all together with scotch tape and transferred
what I found to a fresh piece of PVC.
Epoxy putty or paste is a two part product that comes in a number of forms.
One is a roll that looks like taffy candy. You cut a chunk off and roll it between your
hands to mix the resin and the hardener. It can be carved and sanded when it
sets. Epoxy paste is the same thing but gooier. Plumbers putty is also the same
stuff. These products can be found at the glue display in most hardware areas. The
high priced stuff is Magic-Sculpt.
Last, I have concealed this by putting it at the bottom, if the fipple does not
behave, it is a very finicky system, all is not lost. Cut six inches off the top of your
project and make a new six inch fipple and add another coupler. Actually I have
toyed with the idea of starting this way and simply making a number of fipples
searching for the “best” one. With musical instruments some work better than
others and offer no explanation. An interesting part of this project is the parts are
The following, omitted from the first file for brevity, is largely attributable to correspondences with
Ben Sorenson over the last few years. Ben bills himself as a folklorist but is also a trained musician
who has studied at length with premier Fujara players and makers in Slovakia.
The “Tali” system
This is the traditional system for locating hole positions on a number of different folk flutes. It probably
results from repeatedly folding a string, a lot of experiment and certainly not from calculator bashing.
Divide the nominal length of the tube, which determines it’s pedal tone, by fourteen resulting in
fourteen “tali”. Starting at the bottom, on the second tali add the inside diameter of the bore and place
the first hole. On the third tali up add the diameter of the first hole and place the second hole. The third
hole is four tali from the bottom. Notice this does not tell you what the size of the holes is only their
position. Drill the hole small and enlarge it gradually (sharpen) until it focuses. If it does not focus
(flat) and becomes too big you will have to move the hole. UP sharpens and makes the hole smaller.
Hole Repair (with epoxy putty)
Take a short piece of pipe the next smaller size of that you wish to repair and cut a slit out of it so when
compressed it will fit inside the bigger pipe. You can heat this short piece to shape it if need be. Tap it
inside and under the hole you wish to repair. This provides a smooth backing for the patch. Chamfer the
offending hole both inside and out to provide a flange for the epoxy putty to grab. Chamfering results
in a squashed hourglass shape of the epoxy plug that is locked into the pipe. It is possible to make
completely invisible repair, both inside and out. When the epoxy has set drive the backing piece out.
The beauty of epoxy putty, although expensive, is it sets hard in a few minutes allowing you to press
Evaluation of the Finished Product
Evaluation parameters for overtone flute:
- Plays E outright without jumping and sustains without dropping off.
- Trill second A.
- The “mumble” first four tones though weak must be musically useful.
- The next octave must be clean and in tune.
- The E in this octave trill-able from it’s hole or from top hole.
- The D in this octave has vibrato from top hole.
- The second octave must have a trill-able A, and a trill-able B&C.
- Both G’s have vibrato from top hole.
- The D&F vibrato on second hole.
- The last steps D–G chromatic without half holing.
- After this G there should be a strained D.
- Unused G () should equal G () with change in timbre.
These are rigid (take no prisoner) test parameters. Most instruments will have problems meeting all of
them. If yours does not do not despair there is more pipe.