I was inspired by Mrballeng to make a whistle for the first time ever. I also took a look at the whistle made by Tool Using Animal and a general page on PVC whistles. Then I tried making a couple of whistles, one from brass hobby tubing with 1/4 inch wooden dowel pieces to make the ends of the whistle, and the other by drilling into 3/4 inch wood stock and using 1/2 inch dowels to make the ends. Both of these worked very well. I learned there is a great deal of latitude in the dimensions for making a functioning whistle. Just make the proportions about what you commonly see in a whistle, and it will probably work just fine. After showing my whistles to the preschool teachers at the church where I am the pastor, I began to wonder about helping the kids make whistles as a hands-on project. I thought drinking straws would be the perfect material to use.
The photo shows my finished drinking straw whistle.
A common plastic drinking straw
Some wood from a dowel rod or from a board
A fine tooth saw
A piece of 1/8 inch steel
A couple of twist drills
An electric drill
A scissors and/or a sharp knife
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Step 1: The Drinking Straws
These are three drinking straws I brought home last evening from our visit to a local Applebee's Restaurant. They are the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw widely available and are just under 1/4 inch in internal diameter. Slightly larger drinking straws often available at other restaurants are a little more forgiving when it comes to getting a good sound from the whistle, and the proportionate sizes of the various parts of the whistle can be scaled up accordingly.
Step 2: A Little Too Small
As you can see, the drinking straw is a little too small for a stock 1/4 inch wood dowel to work for the end plugs of the whistle. But, there is a way to remedy that.
Step 3: Twist Drills Solve the Problem
Insert the shank end of a twist drill into the open end of your drinking straw until you find one that just fits. Then choose a twist drill that is about 1/64 to 1/32 inch smaller in size than this twist drill.
Step 4: The Steel
Use the slightly smaller twist drill you have chosen to drill a hole in some 1/8 inch steel.
Step 5: Make Your Own Custom Dowels
Cut a piece of wood about 1 inch long with the grain running parallel to the length of the piece. It can be a short piece cut from a commercial wood dowel, or it can be a square piece cut from a pine board. With a hammer drive it through the hole in the steel. This is the process people used for making dowels before commercial dowels were available. It is also a useful process for making your own dowels in unusual sizes or from special woods that match the rest of your project. Larger sizes of dowels may require thicker steel for a stronger die.
I suggest using a twist drill slightly smaller than the internal diameter of the straw for making the hole in the steel die because the custom wood dowel will seem to be a little larger in diameter than the hole in the steel and will fit too snugly in the drinking straw, making it difficult to insert the wood dowel into the drinking straw without splitting it.
You may need to use a punch with a flat end to drive the wood completely out of the custom dowel die, but put something under the die to catch the custom dowel so you are not hunting it down on your hands and knees when it bounces out of your sight.
Step 6: Cut Your Custom Dowel
Cut a short piece from the custom dowel you have made to plug the far end of the whistle. The longer piece will be inside the end of the whistle that contacts your lips.
Step 7: Insert the Back Plug
Insert the short piece to plug the back end of the whistle. The longer piece for the other end of the whistle will need a flat piece sanded or sliced onto it with a knife. This flat removes only about 1mm of thickness from the dowel's surface. On many whistles this flat slopes upward so that it is narrowest at the "V" notch on top of the whistle.
Step 8: Larger Piece Flatted and Inserted
Cut the drinking straw so there will be about 1 inch between the internal ends of the plugs. Making the whistle too long makes it more difficult to get a sound. Here you can see the plug with the flat inserted into the mouthpiece end of the whistle.
Update: I recently enjoyed a chocolate malt with a hamburger. The plastic straw that came with the malt had an outside diameter of 1/2 inch. I decided to make whistles from the straw for my two grandchildren. The appropriate space between the wooden plugs worked out to be 1 9/16 inches or 40 millimeters.
Step 9: Cut a "V" Notch
Cut straight down into the straw at the very front end of the longer dowel. Cut into the drinking straw about 1/3 of its thickness. Then cut the other half of the "V" to make an opening so that this second cut is at about a 45 degree angle to the length of the whistle. Trim any rough edges that might disrupt the air flow. The "V" notch should align with the flat on the longer piece of dowel.
The whistle is finished. Put the end into your mouth and blow. Experiment with the length of the chamber between the internal ends of the wooden plugs for the most pleasing sound. Or, make the back end plug long enough that you can slide it in and out of the whistle for different tones.
Obviously, if you are making these for preschool children to do as a project, you as the teacher will need to do a lot of the preparation of the pieces and the children will simply assemble what you have prepared. The "V" notch would need to be cut into the whistles before the children begin to assemble them. You can squeeze the drinking straws flat and cut the "V" notches. Just allow enough length at the end for the flatted dowel. Also cut the drinking straws to the length needed for a whistle. As noted above, if the whistle is too long, it is more difficult to get a sound from it. The children will probably very much appreciate a toy they assembled that makes a sound. Their parents may not, but the kids will learn some things about whistles and how they work.
If anyone is concerned that a child might swallow this whistle, just push the short end plug far into the straw, keep the relative distance between the two plugs the same, and leave the far end of the straw too long for the whistle to be swallowed.