How to Make a Sumac Pocket Whistle




Making a functional whistle that can fit in your pocket can be a difficult process that takes some practice, experimentation, and tuning, but I hope that this guide will well inform you in how to create a Sumac Pocket Whistle.


  • straight branch of staghorn sumac (or any other wood with a soft pith, such as willow), 3-4" long with a 1/2" diameter
  • a few twigs, stripped of bark, with a 1/4" diameter


  • hand pruners
  • hacksaw
  • small, sharp knife
  • drill
  • 1/4" drill bit


Since this Instructable deals with power tools and knives, work with caution and wear safety equipment when necessary.

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Step 1: Hollowing Out the Sumac

Using the pith in the middle of the sumac as a guide, drill a hole lengthwise through the sumac using the 1/4" bit.

Keep the RPM of the drill high while you are drilling, but don't apply too much pressure. Take your time to decrease the chance of splitting. Be sure to keep the bit in the middle of the sumac as best you can. If the bit is shorter than the sumac, drill from one side and then the other.

Step 2: Stripping the Bark Off the Sumac

Strip all the bark off of the sumac until you reach the wood. If the sumac is fresh, there will be a thin green layer coating the wood, which can be easily scraped off with a knife, or even one's fingernails.

Using fresh sumac is the easiest when it comes to stripping bark.

Step 3: Cutting the Notch, Part 1

Using a hacksaw, cut halfway through the sumac. This cut should be made half an inch from one of the ends.

Saw slowly to keep the cut clean, straight, and precise.

Step 4: Cutting the Notch, Part 2

Measure half an inch from the hacksaw cut and mark this point with a pencil. Using a knife, slice out a notch from this point towards the hacksaw cut. The angle should be anywhere from 35° to 45°.

Cut carefully, making sure not to slice past the cut made with the hacksaw.

Step 5: Making the First Plug

Cut one of the twigs to 3/8" in length.

Cutting down this plug to be the right diameter will take some patience and a few tries. This plug should fit very snugly in the end of the sumac opposite the end with the notch.

Be very careful when cutting the plug to the right diameter. Cutting such a small object requires caution, precision, and a very sharp knife (my knife of choice for this project was the Buck 102 Woodsman).

Step 6: Making the Second Plug

Follow the same procedure as the previous step to create the second plug, but make sure this one fits snugly into the opposite end of the sumac (the end with the notch).

Once you have a replica of the first plug you made, slice 2/5 off of the plug, lengthwise. This will create a small slot for air to travel through when the plug is inserted and air is blown through the notched end.

Step 7: Inserting the Plugs

Insert each plug into their respective ends, ensuring they are flush with the end of the sumac.

The mouthpiece plug should be inserted so that the gap is on the same side as the notch.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Carve down the notched end of the whistle to create a more comfortable mouthpiece.

I kept this whistle simple by only carving down the other end and carving a ring around it.

Feel free to personalize this whistle by carving patterns, which, unless they are carved too deep, will not affect the functionality of the whistle.

Experiment by using different sizes of mouthpiece plugs and different overall lengths of the whistle in order to adjust the tone and pitch.

If you make this whistle, please let me know in the "I Made It" section. I'd love to see what you make! If you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Thanks for following along through this Instructable. I hope you were able to create this whistle with little difficulty.

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32 Discussions


Question 1 year ago

Any ideas on how to make it a lower pitch? Mine came out to make a pretty high pitch.

Peter Hardcastle

Question 1 year ago on Step 5

Hi Aaron, I have not heard of the wood you are using. I live in Australia and perhaps you can recommend an alternative wood or perhaps the wood you are using is known by a different name here?

When fitting the second plug into the notched end, should the flat side (created by removing 2/5 length ways) be positioned to line-up with the notch itself - eg the flat side is the same as the side the notch is?



3 answers
MikeB150Peter Hardcastle

Answer 1 year ago

Many years ago I made these whistles using Willow branches approx 5/8" in diameter with reasonable success

Yes, you are correct that the flat side should be on the same side as the notch is. I should have been more specific about that. I used sumac because it has a soft inside (pith) which is easy to hollow out, but any wood should work.

Eric T

1 year ago

is it an option to drill part way through and not make 2 plugs? does adjusting the solid plug change the pitch?

1 reply
Aaron Van DykenEric T

Reply 1 year ago

If you don't drill all the way through, it will be difficult to remove the scraps of wood from drilling. The shorter the solid plug, the lower the pitch, I believe.

spark master

Question 1 year ago on Step 8

When I was young and skinny and hair on my head, I made a bunch of whistles w/o trying very hard. Then I grew up, and lost the abilty to get a peep out of a stick. This was ad as I never made them for my kids, but as a teen I gave away a bunch of them.

Now my issues, your pictures are so dark there is not enough detail to tell.

1) does the plug extend past the vertical notch?

2) does that plug need to be more of a ramp?

I had carved a really nice alligator and could not get the thing to peep. I tried a dozen plugs, I made some more wedier then others, I pushed them in far so they were half way into the notch. I felt I was cursed. I gave up. I did not know another whistle maker/flute maker.

If I can make them I can only hope to live long enough to have grandkids to make them for.



1 answer
Aaron Van Dykenspark master

Answer 1 year ago

1) No, the plug should not go enter or go past the notch.
2) The plug should be as flat and smooth as possible. I didn't use it, but maybe try sandpaper. It took me a few tries to make a plug that worked well.

Try different lengths of whistles as well, but be sure that the notch is proportionate to the length of the whistle

Aaron Van DykenSherifR2

Reply 1 year ago

I was photographing in low-light conditions, so I had to keep the photos slightly underexposed. If you turn up the brightness on your phone or monitor, the pictures should be easy to see.

StephAdamsAaron Van Dyken

Reply 1 year ago

SherifR2, if your brightness is turned up, the pictures should be sufficiently clear


1 year ago

Hi, Aaron Could you include a photo of the plant, with leaves and fruit, please?

I'm assuming you are using staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina L.), but common names for plants are always tricky. You certainly wouldn't want someone to use poison sumac -- poison ivy's even nastier cousin [Toxicodendron vernix (L.) Kuntze].


PS Googling turned up this 2007 Instructable on how to make a willow whistle.

And, while you're scouting your staghorn sumac tree, remember to pick some of the fuzzy red fruit to make sumac lemonade/tea:

1 reply