A tin penny whistle or feadog, is a traditional part of Celtic music. The sound is clear, high and sharp, giving music a light and almost innocent sound. Hollywood has used this sound in many movies. One of the most notable uses of the penny whistle is for the hobbits' theme in "Lord of the Rings." Penny whistles can be made out of many different materials including reed, wood, tin, copper, bronze and even PVC. There are two parts to making a penny whistle. The mouthpiece, or fipple, creates the whistle sound, while the body contains the tuning holes.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Pipe, 1/2-inch diameter
- Pipe connector for 1/2-inch pipe
- Punches, both fine tip and square tip
- Drill bits
- Metal files, narrow or rattail files
- Hardwood dowel, 5/8 inch diameter
- Digital tuner
- Non-toxic epoxy
- Masking tape
- Paint or polyurethane (optional)
Choose your pipe. Tin or brass pipe can often be found at model car or aeroplane shops. Copper pipe can be found at any hardware store.
Cut a 1.5-inch piece of pipe. Sand both edges. Lay the long piece aside for the body. Insert the short piece of pipe into the connector. Use the fine tip punch to pound an indentation into both sides of the connector to hold the pipe in place.
Measure 1 inch from the end of the connector opposite the pipe. Drill a 1/4-inch hole through the connector and the pipe. Use the file to shape this hole into a rectangle that is 1/4 inch long and 3/8 inch wide.
Punch a flat dent into the edge of the hole opposite the pipe. Make sure the dent is flat. File the bevelled dent so that it is thinnest at the edge of the hole. Make sure it is thick enough to support its own weight.
Sand the dowel to 9/16 inch in diameter. Make sure that the dowel slips into the pipe.
Cut 1 inch of dowel. Rub one side of the dowel on sandpaper to make a tapered flat area. It should measure 3/10 inch on one end and 4/10 inch on the other.
File a groove in this flat area. The groove must follow the edges of the flat plane and be 2mm at the widest end and 1mm at the narrowest end. Make sure this plane is smooth.
Slip the plug into the pipe. Blow air through the pipe. Using a digital tuner, tune the mouthpiece to D. Slide the wooden plug in or out of the pipe to get the correct tone. When the plug is properly positioned, use the fine point punch to indent both sides to hold the plug in place. Cut off any wood that protrudes from the pipe.
Cut through the pipe and wooden plug at a 45-degree angle starting just below the groove in the wooden plug. Spread non-toxic epoxy along the edge of the exposed wood. This holds the plug in place and makes the wood spit-resistant. Don't get any epoxy into the groove.
Place the remaining pipe into the connector. Tune to D with the digital tuner. If the sound is flat, cut a little bit off the end. If the sound is sharp, pull the pipe out of the connector just a little bit. Remove the pipe from the connector before drilling the tuning holes.
Place masking tape in a straight line down the length of the pipe. This helps cut down on burring and makes it easier to mark the places for the tuning holes.
Measure 1.7 inch from one end of the pipe. Drill a 3/16 inch hole. Measure 2.6 inch and drill a 9/32-inch hole. Measure 3.3 inches and drill a 1/8-inch hole. Measure 4.2 inches and drill a 7/32-inch hole. Measure 5.1 inches and 5.8 inches and drill a 1/4-inch hole at each spot.
Remove the masking tape. Gently file the holes to make them smooth to the fingertips. Do not change the shape of the holes.
Slip the side of the pipe closest to the two 1/4-inch holes into the connector. Blow through the mouthpiece and place fingers over different holes to create different notes.
Tips and warnings
- If the whistle is made from copper, you may want to cover all exposed surfaces with paint or polyurethane. Copper is affected by chemicals in the skin.
- Cut metal pipe is extremely sharp. Use gloves and sand cut edges quickly. Dispose of any metal shavings or grit properly.
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