How To Whittle a Hickory Whistle

By | May 1, 2016
From Xplor: May/June 2016

When sap flows through hickory trees in May, it’s time to whittle some whistles. Here’s how.

Here’s what you need

  • Handsaw used to prune trees
  • Pocketknife
  • Two freshly cut hickory branches
  • An adult to help you with the sharp tools

Here’s what you do:

Find a hickory tree. Hickory trees grow throughout Missouri and are easy to spot if you look for two clues:

  • Hickory leaves are pinnately compound. That means each leaf is made of several smaller leaflets attached to a stalk in the middle. Hickories in Missouri can have three to nine leaflets on each leaf, but most have five to seven.
  • Hickory branches are alternate. That means they never grow straight across from each other. Ash trees also have pinnately compound leaves, but their branches are opposite, which means they grow directly across from each other.

Pick a stick.

Saw off a branch that’s a 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick and 8 to 12 inches long. Examine the branch closely before you cut. If it has lots of knots or scars, choose another.

Cut a notch. Trim one end of the stick so it’s flat. One inch from the trimmed end, use a pocketknife to cut straight down into the stick about 1/3 of the way through. Move half an inch farther down and shave a sloping cut that meets the straight-down cut you just made.

Cut a ring.

An inch down from the notch, completely cut a ring around the stick. Cut through the bark but not all the way through the stick.

Pound, twist, and pull.

Use another stick to gently pound the bark between the ring cut and the flat end of the stick. Keep pounding until sap leaks out of the cuts. Twist and pull the loosened bark off the wood. You want the bark to slide off in a single, unbroken tube. This is the mouthpiece. Set it aside.

Cut a plug. Use your saw to cut off a short section of the stick from the end to the notch. Turn this section on its end. Use your knife to cut down, going with the grain of the wood, to take off a thin sliver from the entire section. Keep your fingers out of the way! This is the plug. Set it aside.

Put your whistle together. Slide the plug into the mouthpiece. Make sure the flat part of the plug faces upward toward the notch on the mouthpiece. Slide the mouthpiece onto the endpiece.

Trim up the endpiece. Whittle the exposed wood that’s left on the stick so that it tapers gently.

The Moment of Truth

Blow on the end of the mouthpiece. If you did everything right, a clear whistle should sing out of the notch. To keep your whistle working, keep it in a glass of water or zip-top bag.

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This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White