Whistle Me This #1: Basic Whistle

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Blog entry by PurpLev posted 07-05-2012 02:29 PM 6995 reads 15 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I’ve decided to start a new series about whistles after my first attempt which was really fun and was posted here and about which this blog is about:
Click for details

I wanted to make a whistle for quite some time now, but just never gotten to it. I also knew I would like to involve my daughter in the making of… which worked out great!

Everything used (material wise) for this project was from the cutoff bin (ok, I don’t have an actual bin – it’s just pieces that were left on my workbench and I didn’t have the heart to brush into the trash). I took on this project with a rough idea of what I should do, and came out with a few new lessons that I hope to pass on in the following writeup so you might have a better start than I did:

Here is the process in a step by step:

Step 1: The Material
To start with, I picked a long piece of 3/4” cherry, I trimmed it to be 3/4” x 3/4” so that it’ll be square, and cross cut it to smaller parts about 4”-6” each. I also marked the center of the end grain, and a center line on each side about 1” long where the whistle work will take place. these are mostly rough measurements just to get me close enough as long as they are the same on all sides (you can see I’ve actually marked all 4 sides with a center line which is not necessary, but I figured since I’m in the ‘marking’ zone, I might as well put it all out there if I need to modify or make a mistake and want to flip it 90 degrees – which didn’t happen):

Step 2: The Hole
I had previously turned some maple to ~3/8” that I will use as the insert (will be discussed shortly). you could turn some material, or just get a hardwood dowel (make/buy) of a known size. Based on this size you should drill the hole.

I clamped the parts vertically, and using a 1/4” drill bit drilled a pilot hole. then using a 3/8” drill bit I finished it up. the hole depth is not critical as long as it is deeper than ~1”. the deeper the hole, the deeper/lower the tone of the whistle will be – play around with it and have some fun. make them of varying depths and experiment:

I drilled these to ~4” deep

Step 3: The Vortex Chamber (Wedging it out)
This is where the magic happens. an angled cut and material removed creates a chamber where air circulates and create a vortex of which one side effect is the production of sound – a whistle!

I marked a cross line 1/2” from the end (end with hole), and marked another slanted line that forms a V of sorts both meet at the center of the part (marked earlier). I did not measure this angle, but simply drew it with a ruler somewhat close (by eye) to 45. these 2 lines will be cut (handsaw is easy) to remove that wedge out. What I had found was that it was easier to cut the angled cut first and then make the vertical cut to meet it at it’s end as opposed to try to aim the angled cut to be straight, angled, AND meet the other cut at it’s end:

after both cuts are done, a little cleanup with a chisel wider than the part to smooth things out just a tad bit (don’t go crazy taking a lot of material off here since you’ll change the depth of this wedge which should stay centerline of the part:

Step 4: The Mouthpiece (the insert)
Other than the previously cut chamber, this is the 2nd part making the magic. the insert. the insert will block most of the mouth opening, and allow only a narrow passage of air into the chamber which in turn will circulate to make the tune.

The insert itself is a round dowel the size of the hole made in step #2, it should sit flush with the straight cut made in step #3, and should be made long enough to be able to grab and pull back out for working on the fit (will be trimmed to size later on)

To do this we’ll need to block the opening in my case – the 3/8” hole with a 3/8” dowel, but leave some of it open to allow some air to pass through. to do this I used a hand plane mounted in my workbench vise, and took a few passes with the maple dowel to create a flat:

In addition to the depth of the hole drilled in step #2, how much material you remove from the insert also affects the tone of the whistle, the more you take off, the lower the tone of the whistle will be, but don’t be shy – if you don’t take enough material, your whistle might just not make a sound at all… in my case, I took off too-little material off and one whistle is currently finicky.

you can fine tune it as you go by putting the insert into the whistle and trying it out:

you might be able to see that one insert has a much narrower opening than the other, and while it produces a higher tone when I tested it, after gluing it in – the opening got smaller (glue and wood expanded) – small enough so that not enough air passed through, and no sound comes out… :/ so make sure you open it large enough to avoid this.

Step 5 (Optional): Shaping/Carving/Turning
The whistle at this point is functional, and will work AS IS (after some final trimming of course) but if you wanted, you could carve it to shape, or shape it with a sander, or rasps, or what not. if you wanted to turn it to shape- now would be the time to do it with the hole on top easily mounted on a live center:

(might also want to finish it on the lathe while at it to keep it concentric)

Tip: the closer you turn it to the internal hole, and the thinner wall material the whistle will have, the better the sound it will resonate, but the more delicate it will be.

Step 6: Putting it together
A short but crucial step – glue the insert into the whistle. you can use CA glue to speed things up, but all I had at hand is regular PVA glue (gorilla wood glue) which is what I used. make sure that the flat on the insert is horizontal with the ‘top’ of the whistle (wedge cut facing up). if you turned the whistle, keeping a square end helps align it all:

(in this picture I’ve also trimmed the extra length of the inserts after the glue has dried)

Step 7: (Optional): Shaping the mouth piece
while the whistle is fully functional at this point, I find it easier and more pleasing to shape the mouth piece to a narrower size that will be more comfortable and pleasant to use. I held the whistle in the vise at an angle, and used a support block underneath to counter it and using a block plane created a slope to narrow the end of it:

this is planing diagonal to the grain, so while it’s not as hard as planing end grain, it’s also not as smooth as planing with the grain – so take light passes not to tear up the whistle at this point (almost done).

you can also use a drum sander or any other sander, rasp, or chisel to shape this up as well- be creative, but take light cuts… not a lot of material to remove, and it can be a delicate part (since the wedge is removed for the chamber and the hole in it as well – there isn’t much material holding it together there)

Step 8: Final Trim and Polish
At this point, since I’ve turned the whistles, and left a square end for holding it in the chuck, and working on it otherwise, I simply trimmed off the ends on the TS:

and finished the fresh cut ends (end of whistle, mouth piece, and chamber) which didn’t get finished during the turning process. you can of course finish the entire whistle now if you haven’t done so earlier:

I simply used beeswax for this as it is food safe, and well… you’ll be using it in a similar manner.

and there you have it. a whistle or two of your own making:

As you can see I tried to clean up the air opening in one whistle as the flat I made was just too narrow. I ran around the house not able to find anything that would fit in there until I came upon a paper pin that did the trick. the only problem is that this will clear the whistle for a few seconds, but then the fibers will rise again blocking the opening… just have to open it up some more next time around.

There are still a few more whistle designs I’ve been thinking about… but more about that in future blog entries…

Thanks for reading,

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

13 comments so far

View ellen35's profile


2740 posts in 3760 days

#1 posted 07-05-2012 02:47 PM

Very cool, Sharon. I love the part about indoctrinating… er… teaching your daughter about woodworking!
We need more women woodworkers on the site.

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Karson's profile (online now)


35166 posts in 4728 days

#2 posted 07-05-2012 02:59 PM

Very nice Sharon: And how much did your daughter do?

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View SPalm's profile


5332 posts in 4210 days

#3 posted 07-05-2012 03:02 PM

Even I could turn such an object.
I hope I get to try it out soon.


-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View PurpLev's profile


8550 posts in 3976 days

#4 posted 07-05-2012 03:06 PM

Ellen – I’m working on bringing at least 2 more into the circle ;)

Karson – my daughter did everything but the saw cuts (make initial blocks, cutting wedge, and trimming the ends once complete), that included drilling the holes, making the flat on the insert, turning the whistle, and planing the mouth shape… and of course using it.

Steve – I have hope in you ;)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 3184 days

#5 posted 07-05-2012 03:34 PM

That is very informative

I’m going to give it a shot on Mondays


Looking forward to seeing what else you

have thought up

Make a great collection for a kids music group


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View Mauricio's profile


7160 posts in 3479 days

#6 posted 07-05-2012 08:18 PM

Great post Purp. I love getting ideas for things to make with the kids.

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3326 posts in 4040 days

#7 posted 07-06-2012 02:00 AM

Great blog! Thanks for sharing your expertise.


-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 4048 days

#8 posted 07-06-2012 02:14 AM

Added to my favorites for future reference, sounds like something fun to do with my grandchild due to arrive Oct. 30!

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View jcsterling's profile


472 posts in 3913 days

#9 posted 07-06-2012 01:03 PM

made a fistful of these with my 6 yr old couple weeks ago. he enjoyed the process. I also set him up with some birdhouse “kits” . after posting the birdhouses on facebook he was contacted for his first ever commission. so far he has sold 3. he has a whole laundry list of his next projects. we also started putting together his toolbox . I would have never thought a 6 yr old would be so excited to start collecting tools.

-- John , Central PA , on facebook:!/pages/JC-Sterling-fine-furniture/104430802928776

View ChuckV's profile


3197 posts in 3855 days

#10 posted 07-06-2012 02:40 PM

This is wonderful! Thanks for the detailed description of the process

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4038 posts in 4392 days

#11 posted 07-07-2012 04:30 AM

Excellent blog and a great project. A few of years back I made some two toned train whistles and made a little pdf on the process.
Sharon, I hope you don’t mind my piggybacking on your blog, but this is obviously whistle central on LumberJocks.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View rance's profile


4271 posts in 3488 days

#12 posted 07-07-2012 04:50 AM

Cool. I still want to make some of these. This is another reminder to do the things I want to do.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View PurpLev's profile


8550 posts in 3976 days

#13 posted 07-20-2012 07:29 PM

I am expecting to see some whistles in the upcoming projects pages ;)

Douglas – no worries about piggybacking on this – the more the merrier. thanks for the link!

John – sounds like a great time with your 6 yr old – quite amazing seeing them so excited, and enthusiastic about making things isn’t it?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

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