Toot, Toot, Tootorial #1: How to make a stick whistle

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Blog entry by Mary Anne posted 05-05-2010 11:02 PM 11835 reads 26 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Toot, Toot, Tootorial series Part 2: How to make a whistle on a lathe »

Whistle Tutorial #1: History and Prehistory




My first blog post.
Please bear with me as start it with a little story.

Everyone knows that prehistoric whistles have been discovered that were made from hollowed sticks or bird bones. Although I don’t go back as far as prehistory, my first whistle was also made from a hollow stick. I kind of like the thought of how long people have been making and using whistles.

I vividly remember the day I got my first wooden whistle – which means I probably imagined most of it. I was about 4 years old, and we were off on a family vacation visiting my grandparents’ farm. My brothers were out loading the hay wagon with Grandpa, and my dad, being the smart man that he was, decided it would be a good day to teach me, his youngest, how to fish. While my brothers were out laboring and sweating in the hot summer sun, Dad and I relaxed in the cool shade on the creek bank not catching fish. After a time, Dad reached into his pocket, drew out his knife, and went to work on a stick. Moments later, he handed me my very first wooden whistle. I can still see his smile now. Can you imagine the awe I felt when I blew into it and heard its sweet little toot? Probably about the same as any kid throughout history or prehistory who was given such a cool gift. My old man was a magic making god that day! I miss my Dad.


On to the tutorial:

This won’t be quite like the whistle Dad made for me, mostly because I have no idea how he hollowed the stick with just his pocket knife. I suspect it had something to do with the species of tree and it being a very green branch. Besides, I am a modern woman with Power Tools and technology.

First, I needed to fetch a stick. I couldn’t get the idea across to any of my dogs, so I wandered outside and Googled the yard for what I needed. This looked like a likely candidate.


I brought the branch inside and cut it to a suitable length for a whistle. About 4” for this one. 5” or 6” probably would have been better. Short = shrill.


I used the drill press with a 3/8” bit and drilled down about 3”. You can use whatever method you have at hand to make the hole. It doesn’t have to be straight or centered; just get it at least 3” deep for a good tone. The important thing is not to drill all the way through.


I sawed a notch to reach to about half, or a little less, the diameter of the hole I drilled. I made it about 1/2” from the end. The cut nearest the end should be vertical, and the other cut angled into it from about 1/2” away. I’ll bet one of those Japanese saws would work better than my little hacksaw. A bandsaw also works well.


Next, I rounded down a piece of dowel on my belt sander, sizing it down so it was a snug fit in the hole drilled in the stick. (It doesn’t have to be a dowel, just a piece of wood. And there are lots of ways you can do this; you could even whittle it.) It only needs to reach in as far as the notch. After I got a good fit, I sanded one side flat a little longer than the length it would reach inside the whistle. It is difficult to explain how much the flat needs to be sanded—it works based on the relationship between it and how deep you made the notch—somewhere between 1/32” and 1/8”. Trust me, it does not have to be all that exact. Start with only a little flat and sand it down further if necessary when you test it. I also recommend leaving a little extra length to use as a handle for glue up.


Now you get to test it. It is a little bit awkward with the “handle” on there, but the dowel (we’ll call it a “plug” from now on for confusion’s sake) gets pressed into the “tube” of the whistle. The flat side goes up and the inside end of the plug should line up with the vertical cut on the notch. Give yours a try! Blow through it and see what kind of sound you get. If it is too airy sounding or doesn’t sound at all, try adjusting the plug in and out by a fraction until you get a sound. If that doesn’t work, you might need to sand the flat a tad more. There is a bit of trial and error to it. An airy sound usually means you need to tighten things up; either the notch is too deep or the flat is sanded down too far.

We’re almost there. Once you get the placement of the plug that produces the best tone, pull it out and put a drop or two of CA (super glue) on the plug and hold it in place for a few seconds for the glue to set. Don’t use more than a couple of drops or it will clog the airway. Also, don’t get in a hurry to test it again. Do NOT put your lips anywhere near it until the glue is completely dry!! Trust me on this; you’ll either end up with a very painful lesson on glue or give the ER doc a good laugh as your lips are being surgically separated from a stick—possibly both!


All that is left is cutting off the handle and you have a whistle! You can whittle down on the bottom side of the mouthpiece or carve a heart and initials in it if you want. Whatever makes you happy. :)

Have a good time! Go on a toot!!


That was fun for me; I hope it was for you. Most important, I hope you can figure out how to make a whistle from these instructions. I’ll get busy on the other Toots shortly. Maybe even with precise measurements next time. And who knows, possibly a video.

This is dedicated to my dad and all the other men and women who take the time to share some magic moments with a kid that will be a happy memory they can carry with them forever.

Thank you

32 comments so far

View Abbott's profile


2570 posts in 3331 days

#1 posted 05-05-2010 11:08 PM

Sweet, I was waiting for you to post this. I didn’t know you would have it so soon.

-- Ohh mann...pancakes and boobies...I'll bet that's what Heaven is like! ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣

View Cher's profile


954 posts in 3121 days

#2 posted 05-05-2010 11:15 PM

Excellent blog and a lovely story. Thanks for your trouble Mary Anne. I am going to try this out tomorrow.

Looking forward to your next blogs.

ps Where do you get time for all the projects you have been busy with lately?

-- When you know better you do better.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4152 days

#3 posted 05-06-2010 12:01 AM

Awesome! I’m always looking for projects for when the neighborhood kids come knocking on the door, this is perfect for that.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile (online now)


18290 posts in 3703 days

#4 posted 05-06-2010 12:31 AM

Toot Toot, make a hoot!! :-)) I remember my first wooden whistle. I must have been about 6 or 7. The fellow who made it used green willow sticks. He took a piece about 5 or 6 inches long. He ringed it with his knife, tapped on the bark until about 3 or 4 inches slid off. He cut a piece off the round about a ¼ or 3/8 inch deep. Then he slid the bark back onto the stick and cut a “V” knock about ¾” from the end on the side with the piece taken off. He whittled the end off at a 54 to make the mouth piece. It took longer for me to type this than it did for him to make one. He was with us on a field trip form school. He turned out dozens of them that day.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View ellen35's profile


2738 posts in 3460 days

#5 posted 05-06-2010 01:02 AM

That was a wonderful story that makes these toots all the more meaningful for you and for us.
Thanks for the great tootorial.

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

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3323 days

#6 posted 05-06-2010 01:28 AM

This was tootrific !
This looks real simple,
I may give this one a go.
Toot on Mary Anne…


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View patron's profile


13608 posts in 3369 days

#7 posted 05-06-2010 02:11 AM

toot much !
and good toot see kids come in all sizes ,

and ages !

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3236 days

#8 posted 05-06-2010 02:30 AM

I look forward to seeing how you all do making stick whistles. I hope you’ll share some pictures when you do! Stories, too. I love a good story if you hadn’t figured that out already.

Having the time to do what I want is the trade off for being retired because of disability. I’ve got lots of time on my hands, but not always the health to use it as I would like. I’ve been feeling pretty good lately—and taking full advantage of it. There are just SO many things I want to do!

Until I moved to my current, more secluded corner of the world, my house was the place the neighborhood kids hung out. Opening my garage door was like hanging an open house sign! I suspect whistles will be a hit with your neighborhood kids, if not their parents.

I’m glad you appreciated the story. I almost didn’t tell it, but when I thought about it, it’s the stories that make these simple things special.

You got it. I was thinking that first little whistle of mine might have been willow. And like you said, it takes longer to describe one than the actual making. Same with writing a toot, a few minutes in the shop and a long time at the computer. I’m glad you remembered your first whistle, too. Thanks for sharing your story.

Oh yeah, simple! Otherwise this rookie wouldn’t be giving a Tootorial!

Heh, you have me pegged! I confess I have happily tooted my whistle all day.
Not that I am a kid. It was strictly research for this Tootorial.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3676 days

#9 posted 05-06-2010 02:41 AM

fantastic! definitely give this one a try when I get some shop time. thanks for the post, delightful!

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

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3323 days

#10 posted 05-06-2010 02:42 AM

Oops…I meant you made it look simple ; )
I have 2 1/2 acres of sticks ,
and now I must honor your challenge.
Stay posted…


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3236 days

#11 posted 05-06-2010 03:58 AM

I feel so much better, Lisa. hahaha

Since I am committed to making your quilt designs, I may have to challenge you to all three types of whistle. ;)

View Rustic's profile


3253 posts in 3624 days

#12 posted 05-06-2010 03:58 AM

looks toot sweet to me

--, Rick Kruse, Grand Rapids, MI

View RichardH's profile


295 posts in 3030 days

#13 posted 05-06-2010 04:12 AM

great job – I will definitely make a whistle! Parents all over the neighborhood beware :-)


-- "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it...It's the hard that makes it great."

View sras's profile


4812 posts in 3157 days

#14 posted 05-06-2010 04:14 AM

I enjoyed your story and instructions. Thanks for sharing!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View scrappy's profile


3507 posts in 3458 days

#15 posted 05-06-2010 07:36 AM

Mary Anne,
Tank you so much for taking the time to do this blog. I am sure my kids will hate you for it after I make whistles for the grand kids. hahaha Just kidding. I appreciate the story behind your first whistle also.

Thanks Again.


-- Scrap Wood's the best...the projects are smaller, and so is the mess!

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