Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flutemaker Shows a Total Dedication to His Work

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Flutemaker Shows a Total Dedication to His Work

Article excerpt

A highlight of Timmy Abell's concert at Jacksonville Beach

Elementary School last winter came when he said to the audience:

"While I play this, I want you to close your eyes. It's amazing

how far your imagination will take you. Just drift along on the

sound of the music. We'll see you when you get back."

Timmy Abell then played Amazing Grace on his pennywhistle

flute. The audience fell into silent contemplation as the mellow

sound filled the room. Chris Abell of Asheville, N.C., made the

flute for his brother from African ironwood and silver. James

Galway also owns one of Abell's hand-built masterpieces. Timmy's

audience seemed absolutely mesmerized by the sound.

Chris Abell is the only maker of wooden concert flutes in this

country and one of only five in the world. He handed me a

"ingot" of the wood about 20 inches long and 2 inches square. It

felt like an iron ingot.

"This wood won't float," said Abell as he explained that the

next steps would include turning it on a lathe and boring it

with a drill bit just as a rifle barrel would be done.

Abell's shop, in a one-time textile mill, is next to the Grove

Park Inn in Asheville. He is one of a few select craftsmen with

studios next to a small museum that explains the history of the

mill.

"This wood dulls the [drill] bit faster than metal would. It is

full of minerals," says Abell.

The process begins after the wood has aged for several years in

neat stacks on a top shelf. The narrow shop houses the amazing

array of custom-built tools needed for the many phases of the

200-hour process needed to complete a single concert flute. He

has been building them for 20 years.

Custom silver sleeves must be shaped and mounted inside and out

to both ends of each flute section. Delicate silver valves must

be custommade for each sound hole and mounted on a slender track

connected the holes. Very precise sound holes are drilled into

the flute body.

"Holes must be right to within a tolerance of a thousandth of

an inch," Abell explained. …

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