March 18, 2021

How to Carve A Whistle: An Easy To Follow No Nonsense Guide

No matter your level of skill or the number of projects you have under your belt, carving a whistle is quite easy. It is not all that different than using other power tools like an electric or manual drill. All you need is the proper hardware, which can be purchased for under $10 from any hardware store, and some wood. The best part is you can do it with a carving knife or with some power tools.

3 wooden whistles on a purple surface

What You’ll Need:

  • A knife or ax (or both) to carve it.
  • A woodblock that is soft enough for carving.
  • Vice to help hold the wood in place, but can be omitted if you’re really careful.
  • Carving and finishing tool (sander or sandpaper) to smooth out edges and round the whistle once finished.

The Process

First, get some wood. The best type of wood to use is something that’s soft and easy to carve, like pine. See our post on the best wood for carving.

Prepare the wood

For the first part of this process, you can follow the above pictures as a guide to making your own wooden whistle. Using a knife or ax (or both), start carving into the woodblock in any way your heart desires. A word of caution: Be sure that you’re using a relatively soft type of wood for this step and that all of your cuts are made with a downward motion.

Secure Your Block

Once you’ve finished your block, get it into the vise. The vice is optional, but very helpful if you want to be 100% safe and sure your block is secure while carving. Using rounded hardwood like maple or cherry can help provide a better grip on the block, and will assist in creating a more uniform hole over the length of the whistle (as opposed to making deep, uneven cuts).

Managing Time

After you set everything up, begin to carve the block until the whistle begins to take shape. Make sure to cut for around 10–15 minutes before taking a short break. This will ensure that you don’t over-exert yourself and hurt your hands or fingers. Try not to use too much pressure with the knife or ax; let the tool do most of the work as necessary.

Shaping the Block

Now that you have completed carving, it is time to finish out your whistle. Try to follow the shape of the block you carved with your knife or ax, but use a smooth motion to create a finished whistle. Remember to do one side before moving on to the other.

Sanding it down

After you are done, rub it down with sandpaper and polish it as necessary, being careful not to glue or otherwise seal the woodblock to ensure that you get a clean whistle. If you use too much sealant, your whistle will be really hard and shiny instead of soft and toothpick-like. That’s not what we want.

Sometimes people carve whistles with a diamond file, which is an excellent method to quickly rough out a whistle. This is especially useful if you are working from a larger block of wood.

Decorating it

When the whistle is finished, decorate it however you see fit. You can add some extra details to your whistle or make it straight-up plain with no decorations at all. A lot of people will paint their whistle. Using leather dye can provide an excellent way to color a wood block in two or three colors. Some people choose to paint their creations, but some prefer to keep the original look of a woodblock and let it naturally fade over time.

Whistles are absolutely amazing pieces of art that allow you to truly customize your own unique instrument. They’re cheap, easy to make, and they’re pretty darn easy on your hands when carving up wood blocks with a knife or ax. If you are a lover of art and music, then you really owe it to yourself to try a whistle. You’ll have an amazing instrument that you can play for your friends and family or sell on eBay or Etsy, and the process of making them is a lot of fun too.

Which wood should I use to carve a whistle?

For a carved wood whistle, the wood should be fairly soft so that it carves easily. This is to ensure that your hands will not be injured while carving out your whistle.

Is cherry hardwood best for carving a whistle?

Cherry is not the best wood for carving a whistle. You can use it, but it’s very hard and will require a lot of cutting and sanding to achieve the proper shape and smoothness to play a good tune.

Is maple hardwood best for carving a whistle?

Maple is also not the best wood for making a carved wood whistle. It also takes a lot of effort to carve to get the desired shape and smoothness. However, if you are looking for something that is really hard, then it would be ideal in that case.

Is pine good wood for carving a whistle?

Pine is an excellent choice for carving out your whistle. It’s very soft, so it will carve very easily and requires practically no sanding to achieve a nice smoothness that is required for whistles.

Are there other types of wood that I can use to carve a whistle?

There are many types of wood that can be used to create a whistle. However, if you are looking for one that is easy on your hands, then you should stick with pine. There are a lot of other woods that can be used, but you should take a little bit of care before deciding to use them to carve out your whistle.

How do I sand the whistle down?

You should sand down your whistle for a few hours once it’s completely finished and is ready to play. You can use a hand tool like sandpaper or an orbital sander to accomplish this task, or you can hand-sanding if you’d prefer.

How do I make an end-plug for a whistle?

Making an end-plug for your whistle is a simple task and can be done in a couple of different ways. The most common way would be to drill a hole at the bottom of your whistle, make sure it’s big enough to carry sound into the wood, then slide in the cork. However, there are other methods to accomplish this task as well.

Would you recommend making a willow whistle?

Willow is a great option for making a whistle. There are so many ways to make willow into a whistle and it can be used in many different ways. There are many designs that you can follow through with, and because it’s quite light and doesn’t take much effort, it makes the carving process pretty fun for beginners.

How do I attach my whistle to the neck of my instrument?

Whistles are attached by using a lacing cord that’s made out of nylon or some other synthetic material. The cord itself is strong and works well to hold the whistle to your mouth. You can choose to either tie it into a knot or use a special self-locking device known as a lanyard lock.

How do you attach a whistle?

There are many ways to attach a whistle. If you’re looking for one that has been specifically designed to be used on instruments then it will have some sort of locking mechanism that you can use to secure it in place.

How do I clean my whistle?

You should clean your whistle about once or twice a month, depending on how often you use it. To clean your whistle, you can use a dishwasher and put it in the top rack, or you can use white vinegar and baking soda to make a paste to rub over your whistle with some steel wool. You can also soak it in water for a small period of time.

Can I use a dowel when making a whistle?

Yes, you can use a dowel to make a whistle. You will need to use a flat drill bit so that the hole is the same width as your dowel, so that your whistle becomes symmetrical. You can also use sandpaper to smooth out any rough sides.

Is there a way to make my whistle louder?

Yes, you can make your whistle louder by putting it in a wooden box and wrapping it in felt or wool. This will make your whistle louder, but if you use this technique for too long, it will flatten out the pitch of your whistle.

How long can I expect my carved whistle to last?

This is a very difficult question to answer because it is dependent on the exact tooling that you used and the material used. If you use the correct tooling with very high-quality material, your whistle should last as long as any other carving. A few years; decades or a lifetime in some cases. If you make a wooden whistle that has less than .010″ remaining thickness, it will begin to break down in about 4 years after being carved. I would recommend taking your whistle in for an annual tune-up to be sure that it still works properly.

Video Resources

Books Resources

Whittlin' Whistles: How to Make Music with your Pocket Knife
David D. Hughes
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