The Mandala Patterned Native American Styled Flute wood burning

This is just a quick blog about the Mandala patterned Native American styled flute Todd and I recently did.  As usual Todd crafted the flute and I did the pyrography on it.  What was unusual about this project was the fact that I was given free rein to do whatever I wanted.   While it was a wonderful feeling to be free to do as I pleased, given the shape of the flute I was clueless on what to burn.  The flute measures 26” long x 1 1/8” in diameter, is round (mostly), and tapers at one end, so it’s doesn’t have any large flat surfaces on it.  Obviously I got over my art block and came up with a design to burn onto the flute.

How I created the design has a little story behind it that I will share.  (Yes, I’m babbling, but that happens on occasion).   I have a weekly meeting at work and sometimes the meeting gets pretty boring.   To relieve the boredom I doodle; a habit I started in junior high.  Instead of writing notes on whatever the teacher was lecturing about I would entertain myself by doodling along the edges of paper.  Now I wasn’t a bad student and I did take some notes, but some people are better at engaging the audience than others.   Anyways this bad habit of doodling when bored has followed me into adulthood and I find myself doing this in meetings if the topic gets too monotonous.   One day I was doodling and a pattern started to emerge and I liked how it looked.

I wasn’t thinking about the flute, but instead I was thinking about Christmas.  I know it’s only May so how could I possibly be thinking about Christmas?!  Well one of my nieces really likes mandala styled drawings, so I was contemplating creating a mandala styled piece of pyrography as a Christmas gift.  With pyrography I can’t wait until the last minute as the art takes time for me to produce.   Over the course of a couple of weeks I kept adding to the doodle and then it hit me that I could put a doodle on the flute!

With that epiphany, I started to work on the flute.   I thought I was on a roll as I had another brilliant idea that I could save time and just sketch directly onto the flute.  Reality stomped that brilliant idea into the ground very quickly!  A big problem was that I didn’t have a way to smoothly rotate the flute.  Plus I couldn’t keep my lines straight or even keep the shapes the same size.  Not to mention making sure they were evenly spaced around the flute.   Drawing on a round surface is far beyond my skill level.   To remedy this problem I got a piece of paper the width of the flute’s diameter and started sketching.   This worked out much better as I could determine the spacing for the different shapes.

Not only could I determine the best spacing, but I could also easily erase an area if I didn’t like the emerging pattern.  When I’m creating something like this I ink in the section that I like which allows me the freedom to erase without worrying about erasing areas I want to keep. 

Pattern in progress

 As you can see from the photo, my pattern has a couple segments done that are inked in along with where the finger holes are located.  There are some penciled designs, but when I took this picture I hadn’t decided if I liked it yet. 

Working on the pattern took 3-4 days and during that time I kept thinking about the fetish (carved piece that covers the wind chamber) and what would go along with the pattern.   I needed a theme.  Fortunately during another boring meeting at work a theme came to me; music notes.  I instantly loved the idea and given the item I was burning on it seemed rather apropos.

The flute is 26” long and I was about a 1/3 of the way done with drawing the pattern, but I starting to worry that I was making it little too busy.  Plus I was getting tired of trying to come up with new designs, so I decided to flip the pattern and repeat it down the flute.  Not only would this cut down on the new designs I had to create, but it would also add symmetry to the pattern.  


First pattern in place

After I finished drawing the pattern, I made two copies of it figuring I could work half of the flute at a time.   A major reason for this is because I have to tape the pattern in place and the tape will lift graphite off the wood.  So yes, transferring and burning the trace lines half at a time worked well but wasn’t without some problems. 

One of the first problems I had was that, while my pattern had the fingering holes mapped out, I didn’t think to cut out the holes to make sure the pattern lined up properly.  Why I didn’t think of something so obvious who knows, but it didn’t take me long to discover the need for this when my pencil tip went through the paper into a fingering hole that wasn’t where my pattern said it should be.  Oops.

I was close to the finger holes, but not close enough.  Without removing the pattern I cut out a couple of the holes and then moved the pattern around until things lined up.  This created a wonderful mess that I didn’t discover until I was done transferring.  The graphite smeared on the flute and some of the pattern lines were very hard to see.   The photo below shows a little bit of this, but not much.  The worst spots were on the back of the flute and I didn’t take a picture as I wasn’t thinking I’d want to show a picture like that.  

Smeared Graphite






Another problem was that the flute wasn’t the same diameter its entire length.  Where the wind chamber is located the flute is wider, so the pattern didn’t reach all the way around.  Lastly the flute narrows near the mouth piece, so that made things a little challenging too.   I did my best to get around these difficulties, but close examination of the flute will reveal the pattern inconsistencies.  Fortunately someone would have to be really bored or highly fixated with the flute to pay that much attention (at least I like to think so).    The two photos below show the side where the pattern worked (left) and where I had to fill in (right – pattern consistency problem).    After comparing the two you can see that the diamond pattern didn’t match up so I have a gap and there’s a larger gap in the repeating hills/curves. 

Proper pattern consistency






Bad Consistency – large gap between the diamonds








Once I got the trace lines burned in for both halves of the flute, things progressed much easier.  It was slow going as the flute is made out of maple, which doesn’t burn as easily as softer woods like basswood, and the surface is round.  Plus I discovered that it was pretty easy to lose the tone consistency.  I’d be working along and by the time I got to the backside of the flute, I wasn’t making each shape the same color/tone as the ones I started with.  At least that’s an easy fix.   

On the subject of consistency, I’ve always found that when working on a pattern where objects are repeated, it works best to burn all of the same objects before moving on.   For the flute this meant that I’d work on a section at one end of the flute and then flip it to work on the matching opposite end; slowly working my way towards the center.

Quite truthfully about 5-6 hours into this project and I was questioning my sanity for coming up with the pattern in the first place!!   Heck I had more time in on this flute that my previous two (almost put together) and I wasn’t close to being done.

Below are some progress photos

















Signature spot

This photo shows the wind chamber and it’s where I decided to sign my name.  





Fetish close-up

Close up of the back side of the fetish that covers the sound hole. 








After I finished burning the flute, Todd applied many coats of lacquer to seal it.  He also carved the fetish, in the shape of sheet music, to cover the wind chamber.   The wind chamber splits the air creating sound and the finger holes allow you to alter the resulting sound.

It takes Todd around 10 hours to create a flute and an hour to carve the fetish.  This particular flute only took 15-20 minutes for Todd to carve due to its simplistic design.   Each flute he creates is tuned to a specific key that is determined by the flute length, bore diameter, and finger hole placement.  The type of wood will also change the sound; softer woods produce a more mellow tone and a harder wood produces a brighter tone. 

This particular flute is 26” long, 1 1/8” diameter, tuned to the key of F, and is made out of maple.  

In conclusion the flute took me 17 hours to burn and Todd and I both liked how it turned out.   I have included the design pattern below and it can easily be adapted to fit other projects.  You can create a wider pattern by taping several together.  You can cut out segments and just use that portion of it.  Get creative and have some fun.

Mandala Flute pattern

Awards won on the flute

11/12/16 – – update

Just a quick update.  I entered this artwork into a wood carving competition in October of 2016.  This was my first competition and I won an award on this piece.    Best of pyrography and best of division in the novice skill level.  I was informed that I should have competed at the intermediate level, but I didn’t know that you could put yourself into any category you wanted.  I thought you had to work up the ranks, so to speak.


May 17, 2016

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