Today, we will cover the process of designing and making a two-tone wood whistle on a lathe. It’s an excellent project which doesn’t require a lot of time or investment and can provide hours of joy to you and your children. Furthermore, you can take the design we present a step further by practicing intricate woodworking techniques as well as try some of the wood finishing techniques we’ve covered not too long ago. Keep in mind that the finish for your whistle should be food grade as it does come in contact with your mouth and hands on a regular basis.
Materials for a Wood Whistle
Making a wood whistle does not require much in terms of materials. You will find the list of the materials we will be using below.
Mini Lathe – You may use a full-size lathe, but the whistle we will be working on is small.
Wood Blanks – You will need a 5″ by 1″ by 1″ piece of wood (12.5cm by 2.5cm by 2.5cm). These can easily be purchased as “pen blanks”. Here’s a link to a 10 pack on Amazon: Pen Blank 10 Pack.
Power Tools – To complete your wood whistle, you will need access to a band saw and a drill.
Food Grade Finish – You will need to apply a food grade finish to your whistle. We recommend a vegetable oil-based finish.
Wood Lathe 4 Jaw Chuck – We will be using a 4 Jaw Chuck to turn the whistle. You might be able to get away with a spindle, but a chuck makes the process much easier.
Prepare the Wood Blank
Before you start turning, you need to prepare your blank. It is much easier to cut out the tone generator as well as a hole for the lanyard before you begin turning.
Start by placing the band saw about 0.5″ from the side of the wood blank. Complete a perpendicular cut to the center of the piece. Complete a second 45-degree cut which meets at the end point of the first cut.
The tone hole will need to be drilled on the side of the whistle and reach the center only. The best way to approach this is to picture how you would be most comfortable controlling the whistle. Our suggestion is to base this on your dominant hand. If you are right-handed drill from the right side (based on the mouth of the whistle). If you are left handed, use the opposite side. Note: this step is optional, but is critical if you want to achieve the two tones.
For the lanyard, drill a hole depending on the thickness of your rope about an inch from the opposite end where you placed the tone generator.
Once you have completed the steps above, you will need to drill out the center of the whistle (unless you’ve purchased a wood blank which comes with one) with a 3/8″ drill bit.
Lastly, secure the wood piece into the woodchuck and press the tailstock securely against it. You are now ready to turn your whistle.
Turning the Two-Tone Wood Whistle
Just like many other wood lathe projects, your first goal is to get the wood into a round shape. This step can be completed by using a common woodworking tool: the roughing gouge. Keep in mind that you don’t need to shave off too much wood due to the hollow nature of the whistle. The diameter of the final piece should be slightly smaller than the starting distance of your wood blank (1″ or 2.5cm).
To create the lip, the portion where you will be placing your mouth, we will be using a skew chisel. On the side where you have placed the tone generator, create a narrower section. It isn’t critical to get this right, but it should be comfortable while you use your whistle. You can experiment with different designs here and include a bead formation right after this section.
The next step will be to detail the lanyard hole. This is another section where you can let your creativity shine.
Applying the Wood Finish to Your Whistle
While you still have the whistle mounted on your lathe, it’s time to apply a finish to seal the wood and give it a nice look.
Start by using sandpaper and slowly move down to a finer grit. Once that’s done, we recommend applying a vegetable oil-based finish. You may choose to use a different finish; make sure to use food grade finishes only.
Start by dampening a cloth in your oil (walnut oil looks incredible on these whistles). While the lathe is turning, apply the cloth to the surface of the wood. Let the wood dry for half an hour. Apply a second coat in the same manner. Subsequent coats may be applied if desired.
An optional final layer of wax may be applied as well. Simply use a cube of wax by placing it against the wood. Through friction, the wax will melt and penetrate the first layer of the wood leaving a superb finish.
3/8″ Insert Turning
We’re almost ready to produce magnificent sounds with our whistle. Part it from the wood blank and leave it on the side for now. We will create a critical piece which makes our whistle work as intended.
The piece in question is a narrow insert which creates the effect which causes this piece of wood to produce these sounds. In other words, the air enters through a narrower opening and expands in order to produce that iconic sound.
You will need to turn a wood piece with a 3/8″ outer diameter. This insert will go inside of the whistle flush with the perpendicular cut you’ve made earlier. This insert will have a small opening on one of the sides which will allow the air to flow through.
Once you’ve completed the piece above, insert it into the whistle and ensure proper operation. If you are satisfied with the result, use a small amount of glue to secure it in place.
At this point, you should be holding the final product in your hand. You should go back to the area you’ve parted from and sand it down.
Lastly, feed a nice looking lanyard through the hole you’ve drilled earlier. Wear your creation proudly around your neck.
These make excellent gifts. Make sure to experiment with different types of wood, finishes, and designs.
Once you have mastered the whistle, you can attempt a larger musical instrument such as a flute.