Tools Needed
  • Dust Masks
    PVCV dust is heavy, and it never decomposes. You don't want it in your lungs!
  • Drill
    Drill press would be better if making a lot.
  • Twist drill bits
    Get a couple sets if you are making alot.
  • Saw
    Use a mitre box if you have it. Try to bum a power mitre saw if you're making a lot.
  • X-acto or hobby knife
    I've had better luck with hobby knives
  • Sharpie Marker
  • 80 Grit sandpaper
  • Dremel
  • Cutting wheel for Dremel
  • Cone shaped abrasive for Dremel
Materials Needed
  • 1/2" diameter PVCV pipe
  • 1/2" hardwood dowel
  • 1/2" diameter PVCV coupling
  • 2 templates

    Right click on this image to print.

  • 3/4" diameter PVCV pipe
  • PVCV cement
  • 220 Grit wet-sand paper
  • Paint
  • Assorted decorating stuff

How to make a penny whistle.

Penny whistles are a great instrument to give to kids. It's very easy to make noise with so a child won't get frustrated with it. Yet it is also a real instrument, capable of playing many hymns. It is a diatonic instrument, that is capable of being chromatic with a lot of practice. This one is perfect for Bible school projects, because of the low cost, and the adaptability of the skill level. Have a class of 6 year olds? Just decorate a finished whistle. Have a class of teenagers? Build it from scratch. Enough hype about whistles, let's build one.

If you are just wanting a whistle to play or give to young people, you can buy a good quality whistle for $3-5 a pop. (It's called the "Meg", and its made by Clarke. The cheapest place I've found is for $3 +s&h.) Not a commercial, just wanted you to know.

  1. Cut the pipe.
    Using your saw cut off a piece of 1/2" PVCV pipe exactly 11 & 3/4" long.
  2. Cut the fipple
    Cut a piece of 1/2" dowel 1 & 1/4" long. You may want to cut a few of these as fipple making is kind of trial and error.
  3. Mark your holes
    Make a line lengthwise down the entire length of the pipe. Designate one end to be the top(it doesn't matter which just pick one.). From the top, make a little mark over the line at 1 & 1/4". Take one of your templates and cut out the rectangle. Next poke little holes in the middle of each circle. Line up the line on the pipe with the line on the template and tape the end that says "bottom" flush with the bottom of the pipe. Now take your sharpie and mark where you poked the holes.
  4. Drill your holes
    With your drill or drill-press and your 3/16" drill bit drill the hole that wasn't on the template. For the other six, use your other template as a reference. The correct size bit is printed to the left of each circle. If you don't have the correct size, use the next smaller drill bit. A little trick: If you are using a hand drill and like me you can't drill staight, simply snap the drill bit in half. It should be a lot easier to control the bit.
  5. Cut a windway
    Take your hobby knife and square up the hole you drilled at 1 & 1/4" from the top. After it is nice and square, cut a blade sloping down, on the side furthest from the top. See picture.

  6. Finish and install the fipple
    You'll probably have to do this a couple of times before you get it right.Take the piece of 1/2" dowel that you cut earlier. Whittle it down to the same length as the distance from the top of the whistle to the beginning of the windway. It is very important that these are the same length.

    Measure about 1/8" down the diameter of the dowel and mark it. Whittle a flat spot on the dowel down to about that spot. This is approximate, and may need tweaking. It should look like this viewed from the end.
    Now taper one end of the dowel so that it barely fits into the top of the whistle. Align the flat spot on your dowel with the holes in the whistle. Now grab the whistle by both hands and press the fipple into it by pushing it on the floor. Under normal conditions the fipple will stay in from friction. You can run a little brass screw into it (after you're satisfied with the sound) if you don't trust it.

  7. It should whistle now.
    It might not whistle well, but if you did everything right it will whistle. Try blowing through it with all the holes covered. Remove the finger covering the bottom hole. Work your way up to the top leaving the holes uncovered as you go. If it sounds good, well done, you made a whistle. Here are the diatonic keys on your whistle.

    These are just the easiest notes to play on a whistle. There are more, but these are enough to play simple melodies, as well as tune your whistle if necessary. There are entire websites devoted to whistle playing, but this ain't one of them, sorry.

    If it sounds a little off, try making another one using the next smaller drill bit on all the holes except for the one that becomes the windway. Then enlarge them with your hobby knife, till they sound right. If it's done and doesn't sound much like a whistle, go to the next step.

  8. Tuning your whistle
    If you have to tune your whistle you need to know what it is supposed to sound like. Go to your local music store and buy one(in the key of D). Usually for less than $8 you can get one plenty good enough for tuning.If it didn't turn out well, your fipple is the most likely culprit. If you feel like you're trying to blow up a baloon and you barely make out a slightly "whistle-esque" sqeak when you play, then you need to take more wood off your fipple. To remove it, put it in your oven at 200° for a few minutes. Don't leave it unattended(duh!). Now you should be able to whack the plug out with a smaller dowel or stick. If it makes no noise, then you probably took off too much wood and will need to start over. If that doesn't fix it, try putting a more extreme blade on the windway. If all those don't work, and you feel that you've done everything right, then it's time to cut up the beautiful whistle you just made.
    This is very last resort. I spent a long time figuring out the hole sizes and distances and they work fine for me. Don't do this lightly, this isn't undoable!
    First, look at your pretty whistle that's all in one piece, and take a moment to tell it how much you regret having to do this. Then cut it into two pieces about midway between the windway and the top hole. Stick both ends of your poor whistle into the 1/2" PVCV connector you bought for just such an emergency. Try playing the whistle at various positions in the connector. If it works somewhere in there, mark the position where it works with your sharpie. You may be able to glue it depending on how far off the length was. If it still doesn't work, it may be too long. Cut out little 1/2" sections, then use the connector as before. If it still doesn't work, start over.

Dressing up your whistle.

Now you have done everything to make a functional whistle. Now let's make it pretty. You don't have to do any of these things, but they will make your whistling experience more enjoyable.