Make a Telescoping Tin Whistle
This design is inspired by the Laughing Whistle and Mack Hoover’s telescoping whistles. I’ve never actually seen either in person — this is derived from pictures and descriptions available on the Internet, combined with my own experimentation.
- Automatic center punch
- Dremel rotary tool
- Drill bits, assorted sizes
- Drill press
- Metal polish
- Needle files
- Long-nose pliers
- Propane torch
- Soft face hammer
- Sandpaper, assorted grits
- Slot screwdriver
- Tube cutter and a spare cutting wheel
- Copper Bearing Solder
- 1/2” Round Delrin Rod
- Telescoping Brass Tubing
- Cut the Tubing to Length
- Form the Joints
- Cut the Fipple Window
- Make the Fipple Block
- Form the Ramp
- Secure the Fipple Block
- Shape the Beak
- Solder the Stoppers
- Drill the Finger Holes
- Tune the Whistle
NOTE: I refer to the mouthpiece as the “top” or “upper” end of the whistle.
The whistle has three main sections:
- Top section: Cut a 5 1/4” long section of 17/32” brass tubing.
- Middle section: Cut a 3 3/4” long section of 1/2” brass tubing.
- Bottom section: Cut a 4” long section of 15/32” brass tubing.
Use a half-round needle file to remove burrs from the ends of each section. Be careful not to scratch the inside of the tubing.
Flare the ends that will slide inside another tube. Press your long-nose pliers, with the jaws closed, into the end of the tube, and rotate them. Test that the flared end will fit snugly into the other tube.
Reduce the diameter of the ends that will slide over another tube. You can do this by holding the tube at an angle and firmly rolling the edge along a hard, smooth surface, such as a piece of steel bar stock.
At this point, fitting a flared end into a reduced one may require some finesse and a bit of force. Once joined, the tubes should slide smoothly over each other, though they may be a bit stiff. Check for a good seal at each joint, especially at the reduced ends — there should be no visible gap, and the joint should have no play when the tubes are mostly extended.
Continue to flare and reduce the ends as needed until you get a good fit.
Round the edge of a spare wheel for your tube cutter. An easy way to do this is to place it on a bolt and tighten a nut down on it. Chuck the bolt in a power drill, and use emery cloth to grind the edge.
Install the rounded wheel in your tube cutter. Use it to make very slight indentations at the bottom ends of the top and middle sections. The indentation in the top section should be 3/8” from its bottom end. The indentation in the middle section should be 5/16” from its bottom end.
GO SLOWLY. It is very easy to make too deep of an indentation. You should barely be able to see the indentation on the inside of the tube. The indentation should hold a nested tube firmly but allow it to slide smoothly. The flared end of the nested tube should resist being pulled through the indentation.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of the techniques used in this step.
Cut a slot 1” from the top end of the top section. The slot should be 5/16” wide and 3/16” long. Start small and work your way up to the final size with needle files. You want the edges to be clean and square. Take care not to scratch the inside of the tubing with the files.
Be sure to clean out any debris before continuing.
NOTE: I have found that this design quickly clogs with condensation. I have resolved this in more recent whistles by using a cast brass fipple block that I solder in place. The key difference is that the windway is a little taller at the edges.
Cut a 1 1/2” long section of 1/2” delrin rod. File and sand the ends so that they are flat, true, and smooth.
Sand the side with rough sandpaper to create a flat that is 5/16” wide. Then work your way up to 600 grit or finer sandpaper to smooth it out.
Flatten the downwind edge of the window to form a ramp. Find a hard surface with a defined edge. Place the edge of the window along the edge of this surface. Adjust the angle of the whistle to match the desired ramp angle. Strike the whistle gently with a mallet or soft-face hammer. Don’t try to do the whole job with one blow. Use several light taps, and check your progress in between. Try to make the edge of the ramp perfectly straight from one side of the window to the other.
Assemble and extend all three sections of the whistle.
Push the fipple block into the mouthpiece until it is at the upwind edge of the window. The flat side of the block should face the window. Blow into the whistle and test both the low and high D.
If you have difficultly sounding either note, you will need to make adjustments. Here are some things to try:
- Push the fipple block further into the whistle or pull it out slightly.
- Sand the flat side of the fipple block to make the windway taller and wider.
- Pry the edge of the ramp up or down with a slot screwdriver.
- Increase the length or width of the window.
Ensure the fipple block is positioned correctly. With a center punch, dent the underside of the tube where it is supported by the fipple block.
Make additional indentations until you are satisfied that the fipple block will not move, even after material has been removed to form the beak. I like to make 6 indentations: two on the underside and two halfway up each side.
Use whatever tools you have to shape the mouthpiece of your whistle. A half-round file and sandpaper is sufficient, but a belt sander will make this task fast and easy. I’ve used a Dremel tool with a sanding drum.
Make sure the inside of the whistle is still clean.
Disassemble the whistle sections.
The middle and bottom sections require stoppers to prevent them from sliding too far in when the whistle is collapsed. The stopper for the middle section will be made from 17/32” tubing, and the stopper for the bottom section will be made from 1/2” tubing.
For each stopper, cut a 3/8” long piece of tubing. Lightly sand the inside of the stopper and the outside of the section’s bottom end with 600 grit sandpaper. Clean them thoroughly.
Slide each stopper onto the middle of its section. Then cover the bottom end of the section with solder paste. Slide the stopper over the solder paste, twisting it as you do so, until it is flush with the bottom end of the section. Wipe away any excess solder paste. Heat the stopper with a propane torch until the solder melts.
Scrub the solder joints with dish soap to remove any residual flux. Be sure to clean the inside of each section as well.
Lightly sand the outside of each section with 600 grit or finer sandpaper. Your goal should be to remove discoloration and surface blemishes that would interfere with collapsing the whistle. Slightly round the edge of each stopper as well.
Once again ensure that the whistle is free of all debris.
The measurements given here are based on an online calculator, but they’ve been adjusted through trial and error.
With the whistle fully assembled and extended, mark and drill the holes as indicated:
- Drill a 1/4” hole 1-5/8” from the bottom end.
- Drill a 17/64” hole 2-5/8” from the bottom end.
- Drill a 3/16” hole 3-5/16” from the bottom end.
- Drill a 3/16” hole 4-5/16” from the bottom end.
- Drill a 13/64” hole 5-3/16” from the bottom end.
- Drill a 13/64” hole 6” from the bottom end.
Don’t use a center punch to mark the holes — it will bend the tubing and prevent your whistle from collapsing and extending properly. Instead, use a spot drill bit to start the hole. In a pinch, a pointed countersink will do the job.
First drill small holes (around 1/16”). Then enlarge them a little at a time until you reach the final sizes.
Once you start drilling the finger holes, do not collapse your whistle until you have removed all burrs and debris from the inside of the whistle!
Get a digital tuner (I use fmit) and a half-round needle file. Be sure to warm up your whistle before you start.
Fully extend the lower joint. Adjust the upper joint so that the tonic note (D) is in tune.
Now uncover the bottom hole, and test its note (for bonus points, test the second octave too). You can raise the note’s pitch by enlarging the hole. Lowering the pitch is tough, so don’t overshoot.
Move to the next hole up the whistle. Repeat this process until all notes have been tuned.
Note that a tin whistle isn’t expected to be exactly in tune. In particular, it’s OK to leave the F# a little flat so that its hole can stay a reasonable size. This is corroborated by Brother Steve and Ian Law.
Take it easy in this step. You don’t want to mess up the fit of the joints.
Disassemble your whistle. Lightly sand all exterior surfaces with 600 grit (or finer) sandpaper. Clean the whistle so it is free of all debris. Cheesecloth or tack cloth works well for this.
Polish the whistle with a metal polish such as Maas. Use a dab of metal polish on a Q-tip to polish the indentations on the inside of sections A and B. Clean off all the polish. Use a pipe cleaner to clean the windway.
Now reassemble your shiny new whistle!
It won’t stay shiny for long. Scratches and tarnish will soon give it a bit more character.
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Photography by Set Apart Photography.