Bear Whistles! Bird Whistles! How to Build Sculptures that Sing.

Picture of Bear Whistles! Bird Whistles! How to Build Sculptures that Sing.
Bear and Bird.JPG
There is something magical about taking a soft piece of earth/clay and making it whistle. This Instructable you will walk you through the steps of making a clay whistle.


You'll need clay and a few tools :

soft earthenware clay
Popsicle or other similar flat, wooden stick
sharpened pencil
palette knife or other small carving knife
needle tool; used to remove bits of clay from the airway of the whistle; scoring when attaching pieces of clay
round tool for making tone/note holes.
carving tools;  small ribbon tools and stamps for decoration/ texture.
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Step 1: Forming the Whistle

Picture of Forming the Whistle
Begin with a round ball of clay. The size will determine the tone of the whistle, the larger the piece of clay, the larger the chamber, the lower the tone.

Cradle the ball of clay in the palm of one hand, pressing the thumb of your other hand into the ball to open up the clay. Press until you  feel pressure against the palm of your hand holding the clay. 

With your fingers on the outside of the ball of clay and your thumb on the inside, begin pinching and turning the ball of clay, working from the bottom towards the top. Thinning the wall of the chamber as you go. The goal is to turn and pinch in such a way that the wall of the whistle is about 1/4" thick or thinner and even on all sides.  

Step 2: Closing the Chamber

Picture of Closing the Chamber
Alternating between pinching and smoothing, slowly work on the opening in the chamber until it is closed and the form is sealed.
Note: You can use a small piece of clay to fill the hole, if needed.
jill.warland3 months ago

I love the idea of this project and tried SO HARD with a class of 14-15 year olds to make working whistles but only 2 worked in the end. Even mine wouldn't make a tweet; I got it going once but lost the sound when trying to add features like ears and legs. Any more trouble-shooting ideas? I worried that the kids had the clay in their mouths so much because all all the health concerns with clay (dust).

SteffiG1 year ago

a question: Can this be made with air-dry clay?

Great idea! Can this whistle be made with regular red school clay? I don't have access to a kiln but my clay is airdry.
swisel2 years ago
wow this is awesome. I am trying to make one, but the sound is way to weak! i have tried your tips and helpful messages but they just doesn´t seem to work please reply
alaut (author)  swisel2 years ago
hummm...when the sound is weak, quite often there is a little clay blocking the airway; double check the airhole and airway and clean away any bits of clay you see. If that doesn't work...put the Popsicle back in the mouthpiece and make sure your bevel is cut at a fairly sharp angle...a weak tone means you are very close...:). Hope this could snap a picture of your whistle...and post it here, might help me guess what's going on...
saosport2 years ago
Great work. I will have to make one. You have my vote!
triumphman2 years ago
I meant the lower left creature across from the bird. It is not the bear. Maybe a pig or boar ? Can you help me with this ?
alaut (author)  triumphman2 years ago
That whistle is imaginary; a small, fanciful rodent would be my best description. Raku is another way to fire whistles, most definitely. Fun.
triumphman2 years ago
What is the creature in step 10 next to the bird ? I can't quite make it out ! Maybe a wild boar or pig ?
triumphman2 years ago
My brother just told me I could "Raku" the ones want to make from clay. Then I won't need an expensive electric kiln! Can't wait to try this method. He says I need a very hot fire too. Thanks again.
triumphman2 years ago
Very nice! The first two animals look like Aztec designs. The second ones look like eskimo type sculptures or carvings . Very nice. Wish I had a Kiln! Too big for Fimo or Sculpy.
alaut (author)  triumphman2 years ago
I haven't tried using Fimo or Sculpy; your comment makes me want to play around with some. It might work...keep in mind that whistles can be quite'd need to fashion a smaller flat stick, to create the airway; otherwise the process would be the same for a smaller whistle.
Mary Stone is a whistle maker who makes awesome, tiny whistles.
Thanks, I will try a smaller version with Fimo. Love the designs!
linrodann2 years ago
These are beautiful! I'd love to make one. I don't have access to a kiln; is it okay to not fire them? Will they just be really fragile then?
alaut (author)  linrodann2 years ago
Thanks for your kind words. Yes, it would be okay not to fire your whistle and you're right it would "just be really fragile". You might also want to try a "self-hardening or air-dry clay". It's similar to earthenware clay but was something added that makes the a bit more durable after it's dried; and you don't need a kiln...
linrodann alaut2 years ago
That's a great suggestion. Thanks!
caitlinsdad2 years ago
Nice work! I have a ceramic bird whistle but it is meant to be filled with a bit of water so that you get a warbling bird sound out of it.
alaut (author)  caitlinsdad2 years ago
Thanks....Glad you reminded me of this...I have an old plastic/bakelite whistle that warbles when you add water...i love the sound. Making one out of clay would be fun challenge...there is a book, From Mud to Music, by Barry Hall that includes directions and loads of information on making these warbling whistles along with many, many other types of musical instruments.
leeonn2 years ago
Cool turned out
WUVIE2 years ago
Where do I begin? I am infatuated. Intrigued. Impressed. Interested. Amazed. Curious. And envious of your talent. Bravo! Must read all about you!
Very cool! I remember making these in ceramics class senior year.

Kiteman2 years ago
These look great, but what do they sound like?

Could we hear a recording or see a video?
alaut (author)  Kiteman2 years ago
Great idea! I'll work on getting a recording or video made....
These are gorgeous!
These are amazing. :D