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Author Topic: Native American Flute Survival Kit  (Read 34258 times)
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Neil Garra
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« on: 25 Oct 13, 1255 hrs »

Survival isn't something you plan on doing, it's what you do when things go wrong. The best survival kit is the one you have when you need it, so the secret is to build one with the minimum essentials and carry it with you at all times. now sells a Native American style Backpack flute made from 3/4-inch PVC pipe.  It's rugged, costs just $20, and sounds pretty darn good--though not as good as his wooden flutes. I bought one for my nephew deployed to Afghanistan, and to give him the edge in a pinch I built a survival kit that fit inside.

Figure 1 - Completed Native American Flute Survival Kit. Laughing Crow's excellent  PVC Backpack Flute in the key of G is at the top. Below it is the tube containing the survival kit. When the flute isn't being played, the tube slides into the flute, and the cap secures it in place and protects the compass.

This is a musical instrument first, not a survival kit that can, when emptied, function as a flute. To play the flute, remove the cap and slide out the kit. When finished playing, slide it back inside. The survival kit is a single unit, consisting of a pace cord, a 3/4-inch PVC pipe cap, and  fourteen-inches of clear vinyl tubing capped at the top with a compass, and at the bottom with a nylon hole plug.

Remove the nylon hole plug to access the survival components, consisting of:
 - Polyester grosgrain  ribbon to eject the survival items.
 - 1.5 square feet of heavy aluminum foil. Useful for cooking or signaling.
 - Cardboard tube containing assorted fishhooks, three spinners, and five weights. Useful for catching fish, of course, and also small game.
 - Bundle with six feet of snare wire, twenty feet of fifty-pound Kevlar thread, and two sewing needles.
 - Four tinder bits to aid starting a fire, and a P-38 can opener to open canned food you might encounter. Also, the old P-38 is made from decent steel and quite useful to have around.
 - Magnesium block fire starter, #22 scalpel blade, signal mirror cut from a compact disk.
 - Gerber STL 2.0 pocketknife, another compact disk signal mirror, and a hacksaw blade segment.
 - 30 feet of 10-pound fishing line wrapped around outside of tube, with room for more.

Around the flute's body are Survival and Evasion tips, which you can download and print out for yourself. I also tied four meters of 550 pound parachute cord, fashioned into a sling. This cord has seven filaments which can be extracted and used for constructing shelters, fishing, sewing, etc.

This is useful kit, a good start, but it should be modified in the field to account for local conditions. For example, replace the fishhooks with water purification pills. Or remove everything and fill the tube with M&Ms.

Building your own.

1. Buy your flute at  Select "unpainted"  if you intend on a camouflage finish, and avoid the textured paints as the texturing degrades the sound quality.
Flutes come in four keys, defined by the note you get when all holes are covered. The "sound chamber" is the part of the flute with those finger holes, and is where you'll stuff your survival kit. As the sound chamber lengthens, the finger holes get farther apart, so get a higher pitched flute if you have smaller hands.

 - The C flute is the highest pitch and the shortest length. Orchestral flutes are in this key. Dimensions are unknown, but the sound chamber is less than 12 inches.

 - The A flute is lower pitch than C, 18 inches long, with a 12 1/2-inch sound chamber.

 - The F# flute is between A and G in pitch and length. Dimensions are unknown, but the sound chamber is between 12 1/2-inches and 14 1/2-inches.

 - The G flute is the lowest and longest, 19 3/4-inches long with a 14 1/2-inch sound chamber.

2. Parts and where to get them.

3/4-inch PVC pipe cap *
14 inches of clear vinyl tubing: 3/4-inch outside diameter and 5/8-inch inside diameter. *
13/16-inch rubber stopper *
5/8-inch nylon hole plug *
14 pony beads (they come in bags of a bazillion or two, and cost a couple bucks) **
30 inches of 5/8-inch polyester grosgrain ribbon. This isn't gift-wrapping ribbon, but the tough stuff used for sewing and crafts.**
Five yards of nylon 550 parachute cord. ***
20mm button compass. ****
Survival contents. *****

* I bought mine at Ace Hardware. Probably avail at Home Depot, Lowes, etc.
** Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, etc.
*** If assigned to a US Army unit, your supply room probably has a spool, otherwise Army surplus or sporting goods store.
**** Online at,, and many other places.
*****  Buy a ready-made survival kit at the PX or sporting goods store, or build one yourself from off-the-shelf components.

3. Construction Steps.

Flute. I started with an unpainted flute, masked a half-inch at the end (so the cap will fit), masked the flute's sound hole (the whistle part: too much paint here will distort the sound), and gave it three coats of Krylon spray paint.  If you bought a painted flute, you may have to sand the paint from that last half-inch so the cap fits.

While you're at it, paint the 3/4-inch cap to match.

Download and print the Survival & Evasion tips. I waterproofed these on both sides with clear Krylon matte finish spray paint, glued them to the flute with spray adhesive, then three coats of  Krylon matte finish over flute and instructions.  I used Elmer's All Purpose Spray Adhesive, then later had to re-glue the edges nearest the holes when they started to unpeel. Still unpeeling! Consider a different adhesive!

The Tube. My clear vinyl tubing came bent and kinked. To straighten it I eased it onto a 5/8-inch metal rod lubricated with soapy water, used a heat gun to get it uncomfortably hot, then cooled it in water and removed it from the rod.

Cut 3/16-inch from wide end of the rubber stopper.

Heat the last inch of the vinyl tube until soft, push the stopper in half an inch, then push in the compass before the vinyl cools. Leave a bit of the tube sticking above the compass to protect it. Gluing the stopper and compass isn't necessary unless you want a waterproof seal.

Note that the compass and stopper expand the tube, preventing its insertion all the way into the flute and wedging the tube in place. Tube's too long to insert it this far? Trim the open end of the tube so that it's flush with the flute's sound hole (the whistle part).

Pace cord. Remove the core filaments from two feet of 550 cord and discard. Heat a putty knife and cut/seal the 550 cord ends at a sharp angle: this prevents unraveling and makes adding the pace-cord beads much easier.

Drill a 5/32-inch hole through the clear tube and stopper. Thread the pace cord through it.

Drill a hole in the top-center of the cap, thread pace cord through it and knot.

Construct the pace cord as shown in the picture: nine beads at the bottom (100 meter increments), five beads on top (1 kilometer increments).
Using the pace cord.  Pace cords keep track of distance as measured by your pace, so to use them you must know the number of your paces per hundred meters (108 yards). Start with all beads pulled down. When you pace 100 meters, slide a bottom bead up. When all bottom beads are up, and you pace an additional 100 meters, you've traveled a kilometer, so slide one top bead up, and slide all the bottom beads down.  

3. Load the tube with survival kit contents.
- Insert the ribbon first so you can easily extract the contents.
- Use a rifle cleaning rod (or dowel rod, or knitting needle) to gently push items into the tube.  
- Cap with the 5/8-inch nylon hole plug.  Seal the plug with rubber cement if you want it waterproof.

4. Creating the survival kit contents.

Bundle the contents so they fit inside the tube without deforming it and preventing its easy insertion into the flute.  Easier to write than it was to do, believe me! Here are the trials and tribulations of the shown contents.

- 1.5 square feet of heavy aluminum foil. Rolls easily, piece of cake!

- Cardboard tube containing assorted fishing tackle.  These require more than plastic cling wrap! After numerous false starts, I made the cardboard tube from heavy-duty paper packing tape, then crammed in as much as would fit, including one large hook suitable for catching a deer. Yes, I said deer. A small deer.

- Bundle with 6 feet of snare wire, 20 feet of 50-pound Kevlar thread, 2 sewing needles. I wrapped the Kevlar thread on a plastic form cut from an old AOL CD, then looped the snare wire so the thread would fit inside.  Easy, as long as you don't try to put in too much.

Cutting a compact disc: Get the CD very warm, use very sharp scissors, and take your time. To preserve the shiny part for use as a mirror, use a commercial disc with a heavy vinyl label, not an un-labeled recordable disc.

- Four tinder bits and a p-38 can opener. P-38 had a protruding edge that needed filed, then I used plastic cling wrap to tightly bind the tinder bits to it. Tinder bits can be anything that will catch the fire-starter's sparks and begin smoldering, such as pocket lint.

- Magnesium block fire starter, #22 scalpel blade, signal mirror cut from a compact disk. I started with a standard magnesium block fire starter and used a hacksaw to cut off all but a 1/4-inch of the magnesium so it would fit into the tube. The compact disk signal mirror was cut to snug beside the fire-starter. I left the scalpel in its foil wrapper, and used plastic cling wrap to bundle these three items together. The compact disc mirror isn't quite as reflective as glass, and a slight bend will distort the beam. But it's thinner than glass, tougher, and you can cut a bunch from one CD.

- Gerber STL 2.0 pocketknife, another signal mirror, hacksaw blade segment. These are laced together with nylon string, and the mirror and blade are protected with tape. The Gerber pocketknife is an excellent addition to the kit, but had to be narrowed  just a tiny bit to prevent its insertion from expanding the tube. With the knife closed, I used a medium grit sharpening stone to grind the back of the blade and the back of the handle. Took forever! Next time I'll use the grinding wheel. A two-blade Swiss Army knife with toothpick and tweezers would be better, but they're just too fat.  I also considered skipping the knife and adding a container of the largest X-Acto knife blades, five for about $4 at Ace, and they come in a hard plastic container that fits inside the tube; however, the Gerber was cooler, and I'd just spent all that time grinding it down.

Other items to consider carrying.

- Iodine or other disinfectant. Very useful for skin cuts and purifying water, but I couldn't find a small bottle that I trusted to not leak or dry out.

- Water purification pills. Great when you have a water container in which to drop them. Otherwise, a survival straw is better . . . and the straws I've seen won't fit into the flute. Oh, well.

- .22  caliber pellets (Wal-Mart). One of these plus a blank round turns your M-16 into a relatively quiet small-game getter. A dozen, bundled together, takes up almost no room at all.

- Small, cheap laser. Ace has a $2 model that fits in the tube that could be used to signal an extraction chopper at night. I've found laser pointers very useful in the field for everything from staff briefings to directing my Hummer driver where to park. Sometimes carry one as an eye-dazzler when on TDY. The tiny ones, however, use non-standard button batteries, and for a pack-and-forget survival kit I'd rather not have something that can lose its charge.

- Tiny LED flashlight. Can be useful, but for a pack-and-forget survival kit I'd rather not have something that can lose its charge.

-  Cold Steel Scottish Spike,  a shorter version of the venerable Spike. It provides a much heftier blade than the Gerber STL 2.0, but it also takes up a lot more room.

- Duct tape.  If I decide to include this it will be wrapped about the outside of the flute so I can carry enough to make a difference.

Final word.

To celebrate my retirement from the US Army, my wife bought two Native American wooden flutes from Richard Maynard of Laughing Crow Flutes during his visit to the Sierra Vista, Arizona Art-In-The-Park craft fair. They were primarily gorgeous living room decorations until a few months ago, when I started to play them daily, usually at night, beside a campfire.  This type of flute produces a rich, mellow tone by simply blowing into the end, and within minutes beginners can make beautiful music simply by playing up and down the Pentatonic Minor scale, or they can boogie on the Blues scale. Native American flutes are generally crafted from wood, and rather delicate, so when I took my $200 key of A flute with me on a flight to Ohio, I first encased it in a padded PVC pipe. My key of D bass flute is much longer, beautifully finished, and decorated with elaborate gourd-stitch beadwork. I have no idea what it's worth, but it ain't ever going on an airplane!

Useful Flute Websites: - Huge resource site. Huge. - Lots of sheet music for flutes. Very useful, because these flutes have a limited number of easily played notes. - Not the only flute maker, but my favorite, and the only one I know of making PVC flutes.

Figure 6 - Two completed survival flutes built around Laughing Crow PVC Backpack Flutes: the top one in the key of G, the bottom in the key of A. The wine corks on the extreme left fit snugly into the end of the flute, and have a 1/4-inch hole drilled through them. They keep out the dust, and I find they sometimes make playing this flute just a tad easier.

* a1_IMG_1154_G-flute-w-kit-out_web.jpg (141.07 KB - downloaded 22969 times.)
* a2_IMG_1143_kit-components-extracted_web.jpg (144.71 KB - downloaded 9644 times.)
* a3_IMG_1151_closeup-survival-tips_web.jpg (28.95 KB - downloaded 6115 times.)
* a4_IMG_1150_view-of-end-w-kit-inserted_web.jpg (56.68 KB - downloaded 7088 times.)
* a5_IMG_1136_compass-cap-pacecord-detail_web.jpg (115.27 KB - downloaded 7189 times.)
* a6_IMG_1151_two flutes-woodland_web.jpg (130.44 KB - downloaded 16086 times.)
* flute_survival Info for flute_x7.pdf (167.91 KB - downloaded 646 times.)
« Last Edit: 25 Oct 13, 1348 hrs by Neil Garra » Logged

Neil Garra
Owner & Despot for Life
The S2 Company
Violence is my Duty. Discipline is my Honor
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