Ken's relationship to each instrument begins with the search for cedar from the Pacific Northwest. The painstaking discovery of the rare pieces of clear wood with the exceptional grain and color for a flute is met with surprise and gratitude. The wood is taken home and the project begins by making a perfectly sized and matched set of blanks. The rest of the process is to employ an intent and tools to bring the flute from inside the wood. Flutes are made in small groups and the process takes most of a month to complete, from layout to carving the inner headpiece and resonating chambers, next to the windways, finger holes, and sound producing mechanism. Inside each flute is Ken's signature, flute number, and date. Next the two halves are mated, more holes are cut, more carving, and then the careful hand shaping of the flute begins with carving and shaping tools and lots of sandpaper. Ken does not own a lathe, or a boring machine, or a C&C. Amon Olorin flutes are handmade.
The flute then spends a week or so in the finish room, where an all-natural oil from Germany is rubbed by hand into the wood. The finish is then left to air dry and harden before being hand-buffed smooth. The process is then repeated as necessary until the wood glows. Next, the flute is waxed to make it shine. Finally, it's time to build the little mini-sculpture hardwood block, get out the jeweler's saw and the needle files to cut and shape the silver plate and adjust and set the voice, wrap bees-waxed linen thread onto the flute, and cut the tie for the block from traditionally brain-tanned and smoked buckskin.
After final assembly and more playing, careful listening, and even more testing, the flute is finally done. "Thank you, it was a pleasure making this flute just for you." Nakai calls Ken's flutes "acoustic sculptures".
Photo credit Chris Autio
Photo credit A. Podrasky
The Flutes from Amon Olorin