Willow Whistle

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Introduction: Willow Whistle

Ah the good old days, when a kid could spend hours entertained by nothing more than a stick.

In this Instructable I will show you how to make the classic willow whistle. Make one for your kids. They'll be amazed to learn that cool toys can be made by hand out of a stick.

I made a short video of the whole process. It's only a minute and half long, and makes this Instructable much easier to understand. Highly recommended.



I think most people have heard of willow whistle, but how many people have ever actually seen one? I think the art may have all but died out a generation or 2 ago. Leave a note and let me know if you have had any previous experience with willow whistles.

Step 1: Get a Willow Stick

To make a willow whistle you need only 2 things, a knife and stick.

Get a willow branch with green bark. I am sure that plenty of other tree species will work. The important thing is that you need to be able to slip the bark off the wood without damaging the bark. Try to find a stick at least 1/3 of an inch thick.

Willows love water and are commonly found along streams and ponds. You might think of a willow tree, but bush shaped willows are probably even more common.

Step 2: Cut a Notch in the Stick

Cut a notch across the stick. Cut into the stick about an inch or so from the end. Make a shallow, V-shaped cut through the bark and into the wood just deep enough to leave a mark. Because of the curve of the stick, the shape of the notch comes out roughly eye-shaped.

Sometimes it works better if the front edge of the notch is actually more straight up and down into the branch as opposed to angled in.

Hint: In step 4 we will remove the bark from the stick. I find that the little buds on the stick which will later turn into secondary branches sometimes make the bark more difficult to remove. I usually try to place my notch so that I cut out one of these buds. By removing one bud, I usually have enough room to make the whistle without any additional buds in the way.

Step 3: Cut a Ring Around the Stick

Move back from the notch another inch and a half or so and cut through the bark in a ring around the stick.

Step 4: Remove the Bark

Remove the bark (all in one piece) from the ring forward.

I find that if I tap on the bark a little with my knife, it will loosen up. Grasp the stick above the ring with one and and below the ring with the other hand and twist. The bark should come loose from the wood with a satisfying crack.

Slip the bark of the end and set it aside.

Step 5: Extend the Notch

With the bark removed, extend the notch from step 2 straight down into the wood at the front edge and back maybe a half and inch or so.

Carve away at the notch until it is down to the center of the stick.

Step 6: Whittle the Air Channel

Whittle a flat plane on top of the stick in front of the notch. When the bark is replaced the air will travel into the whistle though this channel.

This is the final cutting step. The finished shape of the stick should look a like the photo.

Again, I think the video demonstration is much easier to follow. I recommend taking a minute and a half to watch it here.

Step 7: Slide the Bark Back on and Give It a Blow

Slide the bark onto the stick back into its original position.

The whistle is now finished. Just blow down the channel created by the removal of wood in step 6.

Sometimes you may have to twist the bark just a little to get the whistle to sound right.

Congratulations. You have just transformed a stick into hours of entertainment.


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    81 Discussions

    Your video is a bit unclear. Like its very glitchy. But good instructable. We're I live we don't have very many of those trees. What other trees work?

    2 replies

    You'd just have to experiment and find trees where the green bark can slip off in one piece.

    I used fresh cut aspen and it worked fine.

    I grew up in WA state and my grandpa who was born in MO used to make these for us when we would go camping. I don't think he used willow, but perhaps maple. Thanks for sharing this instructable, I needed to have all the steps in my memory bank.

    Ok , thanks!

    I've tried this multiple times but with thinner sticks, and it hasn't been working. The sticks were about 1/4" in diameter. Do you think it a bad thing that they're so thin?

    1 reply

    I have made very thin whistles, but they are a little more difficult to get just right. You have to make a much smaller nick mark in the bark. They also tend to be more finicky about getting the bark aligned back on the stick. You may have to play around a little, but it should work with thin sticks. However, it might be good to practice with some thicker sticks.

    I have no hickory trees near me, I cannot find any willow trees besides weeping which I don't believe is the one used in the video and elderberrys are poisonous I hear? Any suggestions on what to use or wish to correct me?

    2 replies

    I have used weeping willow trees lots of times. They work great. However, it might not be quite the right time of year for making willow whistles. It is best in the late spring when you have new growth that is still green.

    Oh that's great I know where a ton of those trees are! Thanks for the info!

    my stick has a TON of knots in it, is that bad? I have been trying to "twist" the bark off, and its not coming. any help?

    1 reply

    Spring time also makes the bark slip loose easier. As You say, near water is best. Thank You. G-G

    I live about a hour north of Houston and there is Bamboo growing in a few areas, you could probably find some near or around Houston, i have also seen it grow around Spring and the Woodlands so you might be able to find some there.

    Thanks for bringing back memories. My maternal grandfather made us wooden whistles one summer in Minnesota. He was a great tinkerer. Would have loved Instructables. :-)