Swanee Whistle


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Established Member
27 Jul 2016
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Bromley Kent
Has anyone made a swanee whistle?
What is the minimum of equipment I need? I have a graduate lathe with a patriot chuck and various bits, the only really long ones are either flat bits or boring bits, that an electrician might use. I’ve watched a couple of YouTube clips but it would be nice to hear from someone who has actually made some. How long would one have to be to get a full octave?
Never made one, interesting idea so do post something when you do make one.

Try looking up slide whistle, which is the same thing really but it's what they are called by more serious producers. Surprisingly they are called for in some orchestral music, normally played by percussionists.

Length for an octave depends where you start. Roughly double the length from the top note piston position, a contra bass swanee whistle would be unplayable huge, a soprano would fit in your top pocket.
Thank you for your encouragement Richard. Success, a full octave! Sometimes I wonder if what I want to do is as interesting as I think!

I followed the drift of what you said, suggesting that the longer the barrel the more chance of achieving an octave. I used a piece of Turkey oak (from a tree felled in our garden) a bit longer than the length of my longest bit, an 8mm auger bit, this let me create a hole to enlarge and as a guide at the end for the piston rod. I enlarged it, a little at a time, with several different sizes, ending up using a 12mm masonry bit the only one I have long enough, unfortunately this left the bore rather rough which need sanding with a bit of abrasive fitted to the end of a dowel. I then turned a piston to fit on an 8mm dowel, after a lot of easing it slid up and down. I then cut the notch for the reed and made the plug with a flat. At first I couldn’t get a note but after increasing the width of the flat on the plug I got one. The piston didn’t reliably change the note so I fixed a bit of leather to the end to create a better seal and managed a scale. After a bit more fiddling with the plug and filing the notch so it was very smooth I got a reliable scale. Turned the knob and glued it to the end of the piston rod. Because of the roughness of the inside of the barrel the slide action is a bit jerky. If I make any more I will need to get a better very long 12mm bit.

Length of barrel 190mm.
Bottom note Distance from “reed” to furthest position of the piston 133mm i.e. maximum extension.
Other end of a scale from “reed” 55mm .
Range from one end of the scale to the other 78mm. I have no idea what key this scale is in!
Overall length 215mm.


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Impressive. Thanks for posting.
Maybe a smear of vaseline or similar would help the piston slide, or might it just get all sticky?

There are plenty of free android and ios apps that will tell you what notes you are getting. I use "physics toolbox free" on android, that does far more than tuning but it's tone detector function will tell you both frequency and the note you are playing.