Finger Hole Placement
Where do I place the finger holes?
This is a daunting question for just about all builders of woodwind instruments.
There are many guidelines and tools available on this site to help answer this question:
Grandfather Traditional Finger Hole Placement
One of the easiest and most organic ways to lay out the finger holes and direction holes of the flute is to follow the traditional method typically called Grandfather tuning. Many makers still tune their flutes using this method.
Here's a description of this method by Dr. Richard W. Payne, from the DVD Toubat: A Journey of the Native American Flute ([Bee 2006]). Thanks to the Oregon Flute Store for permission to reprint it here. My notes and clarifications are shown in [brackets].
Toubat: A Journey of the
Native American Flute DVD
The flutes were made in the old days by the dimensions of the maker. The length of the flute was the length of the arm, from the axilla [armpit] to the tips of the fingers. And then the tone chamber [sound chamber] was from the elbow, the antecubital space [the depression in front of the elbow], to the end of the fingers.
The wind holes [direction holes] were placed a thumb's breadth from the end of the flute. There are four wind holes and they were placed to direct the song to the four directions. They also extend the length of the flute and, if you want to put an effigy at the end, it allows you to do that without interfering with the tonic note [root note, meaning the fundamental note of the flute, played with all finger holes closed].
Then, from the wind holes, the lowest tone hole [meaning finger hole] was place a palm's breadth up, and then the tone holes were a thumb's breath apart. Now this should have left a palm's breadth at the top, but if you do this, your octave is too high, so you make them with a palm's breath plus two fingers to the sound edge or fipple edge [splitting edge].
And here is another description from Chippewa Customs, from [Densmore 1929b] , page 167:
The length of a Chippewa flute was according to the stature of the man
who was to use it. Tom Skinaway said the flute should be two
“spreads” of the man's hand from the thumb to the end of the
second finger, plus one “spread” from the thumb to the end of the
first finger. The middle of the whistle opening should be a spread
of the man's thumb and first finger from the upper end of the tube.
The flute illustrated (pl. 76) is 19¾ inches long. It was obtained
on the White Earth Reservation, and the position of the openings
is different from the measurements described by Skinaway, who was
an expert worker.