A Note on the Woods
[drying and aging boxwood]

My flutes are offered in African Blackwood, Boxwood, and Mopane. The choice of wood is a personal one, influenced by the inherent characteristics of a particular wood. The same flute model will sound different in different woods, just as each wood will sound qualitatively different when employed for different flute models. Please read these descriptions and feel free to consult with me to determine your combination of wood and flute model.

I have tried several other woods for flute making over the years, including Desert Ironwood, Cocus, Rosewoods, Olive, Fruit woods, etc. Some I will no longer use, such as Cocus and all of the American Rosewoods as my skin reacts to the wood shavings of these woods. The other woods are just simply not available all the time, or require long curing cycles. <--add more text re wood selection here and below-->

[fiddleback or curly boxwood]

Boxwood, commonly associated with topiary, takes several decades and sometimes centuries to grow to any significant size. Thus the prevailing practice for some makers, including myself, is to utilize as much of this precious resource as possible, treating minor flaws such as blue stain, small checks, pores and knots as features. Most of the boxwood I use is from Turkey. I prefer to use the wood in its natural state, instead of acid staining or dyeing the wood to darken it.

Very rarely, some of the boxwood has a little bit of fiddleback or "curly" figure to it, enhancing the visual beauty of the instrument. Curly boxwood is subject to availability.

[African Blackwood or Grenadilla]

African Blackwood, a rosewood from the savanna regions of eastern Africa (the majority comes from Tanzania and Mozambique) can be seen as a declining resource. The tree is hardly endangered - just the larger sized trees that yield highest quality instrument wood - the bulk of which heads to the big clarinet manufacturers. Some instrument makers of clarinets and wooden Boehm flutes, will refer to African Blackwood as Grenadilla.

A Note on Blackwood and CITES African Blackwood and all Rosewoods were recently classified under CITES (The Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna ) to protect these species from illegal harvesting and transport. Under the rules, you are allowed to travel with your flute as a personal item across international boundaries without any need for CITES permits or documentation. If you are ordering a flute from outside the United States, however, I am required to include with the export documentation a copy of my permits issued by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. All of the Blackwood that I use is pre-Convention, documented, and permitted under Master Permit 20521C, issued by the USFWS.


In testing less expensive alternatives to African Blackwood, Mopane, a tree widely distributed in Africa, was found to be an excellent substitute. This wood has only begun to be recognized for its similar properties to Blackwood and more makers are using it. Folk Flutes may have sapwood inclusions. Mopane sapwood can be quite light in color, providing a striking and beautiful contrast to the dark colored heartwood. In no way do sapwood inclusions affect tonal qualities or durability of the instrument. Through utilization of Mopane pieces with sapwood inclusions we improve our stewardship of this resource while providing beautiful, affordable flutes. We currently use wood cut in South Africa.

Unfortunately, Mopane was discovered as a good wood for all sorts of industrial and commercial purposes such as flooring, etc. In recent years this has resulted in overharvesting and now, ironically, Mopane is harder to get than blackwood in sizes suitable for flute making, although what remains on the market is still less expensive than blackwood. The tree is similar to our Black Locust and is in no danger of extinction fortunately. Its just that the larger trees are now all gone suddenly. As long as I can locate some cut for woodwinds and purchase it, I will continue to use it.

Page last modified:
August 23, 2007

     © Casey Burns 1981-2007