Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gun Drills for Whistle Tube Boring

Hi all! It's been awhile sense I posted, I'm having trouble coming up with new ideas! If any of you out there in "Blogger Land" have any ideas or subjects related to whistles you would like me to try to cover, let me know.
I have had several folks ask how I manage the long straight holes for the whistle bores. The answer is "Gun Drills". The drills are used (as the name suggests) in the drilling the bores for rifles/shot gun barrels.

The 1st photo shows the 1/2 inch drill that use in the construction of E, Eflat, D and C whistles. The drill is shown mounted in the lathe tail stock drill chuck. The ruler/scale shown is 12" in length. The photo also shows the air hose that supplies the high pressure air required in the use of this drill.

The need for such a drill comes from need to clear the chips, generated in the drilling
of long holes, without having to repeatedly remove the drill from the hole to do so.
The gun drill accomplishes this by sending the high pressure air (85 psig in my usage) down a hole in the center of the drill shank. The air exits at the drill face sending the chips back down the drill shank via a large 90 degree clearance section removed and running down the length of the drill shank. This air hole and 90 degree removed section can be seen in the second photo of the drill cutting face.

The 3rd photo shows the different sizes of drills that I use. Due to the need to increase the bore size as the whistle basic pitch is lowered, different size drills are required. As mentioned earlier, I use a 1/2" drill for my E, Eflat, D and C whistles. My A and B whistles use a 9/16" drill, my F and G whistles use a 5/8" drill and my low octave D whistles use a 7/8" drill. They are shown, bottom to top , 1/2', 9/16", 5/8" and 7/8".

The 4th photo shows the 1/2" drill mounted in the lathe tail stock and a whistle tube mounted in the lathe headstock 3 jaw chuck. While not too obvious, it also demonstrates the limitations of my equipment in the maximum allowable length of whistle tubes.
The required length of the drill, the length of the tail stock drill chuck and the maximum length of the lathe bed, limit the length of the whistle tubes I can drill to about 10". This means I have to build the lower pitched whistle (which require longer tubes) with 2 part tubes. Photo 5 is a shot of one of my Octave D whistles. The
tube is separated between the F sharp and G tone holes. The time,
materials and effort to bring all of this about really runs up the cost of a whistle and has really limited my desire to build them.

Well, that's about all I can say about gun drills. Well again, if anyone has anything they would like me to discuss let me know. If you don't like commenting on blogs, send me an email at!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

PVC Whistles Cases

Hi All - Recently, to protect whistles during shipment ( I've had a couple damaged even with what I thought was adequate packaging), I came up with an inexpensive and extremely sturdy container. The more I have thought about it, the more I have come to realize that it is an excellent way for folks to protect their whistles during travel or even at home or during sessions.
The container consists of nothing more than 3/4" PVC pipe and associated end caps that can be purchased Home Depot, Lowes or most hardware stores.

The picture shows what is involved in building one of the containers. The bottom of the shot shows a length of the 3/4" PVC tube/pipe and two 3/4" pipe caps. The piece above this shows the pipe with one cap installed ( I use PVC pipe cement but acetone or other solvents seem to work) and the whistle partially inserted. I mark the second cap with the key of the whistle. The marking also serves as a way of knowing which cap to remove for access. Obviously you don't want to glue the second cap in place! The top piece is the tube closed.

In my thoughts concerning possible problems with using this tube, the only thing I could come up with is storage of a "wet" whistle following playing. This tube arrangement is pretty air tight so I would recommend that the whistle be dried out pretty well before longer term storage. This air tightness would be a plus for very long term storage in a dry climate as it should prevent the whistle drying out and splitting.

Well, if you care to try to make one, be prepared to spend up to $1.50. Give it a try!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whistle maintenance

Well, time for another post. I have had several requests recently for my thoughts on whistle maintenance, so will try to do so today. I should point out that I am the new "kid" on the block when it comes to building whistles so my procedures may not follow the methods of the more established builders.

The need for whistle maintenance comes mainly from moisture buildup in the whistle from playing. A secondary need may arise from the opposite direction, drying out from long term storage. The answer to first need is drying the whistle bore following a playing session where you can observe moisture adhering to the whistle bore. To see what I use to dry the bore , I'll refer to the lower right photo. The high tech device consists of a rolled piece of soft cloth attached to a length of string. Just drop the string thru the tube bore and pull it thru several times.
To address the long term needs of protection (including the less likely drying out issue), we need to apply a sealant to the whistle bore. I apply the sealant with the second high tech device shown in the photo. It is a shotgun swab (.410 gage for my 1/2 inch bore whistles) attached to a length of wooden dowel. If interested in using such a device, the swab can be obtained from the following online: "". This application need not be performed following each playing of the whistle and the frequency of application is up for grabs. I feel that once a month for those that play a lot and once every 3 to 4 months is adequate for those who play less.

To cover the sealants I use, refer to the upper 2 photos. The second photo shows the type of sealant I use. They are simply the bore oils sold at most music stores who handle band instruments and are used for such instruments as clarinets. . There are many brands out there, the 3 shown here are somewhat representative of what is available. I use the middle bottle (made by LeBlanc) and provide one with each instrument I sell if the buyer cares for one.

The bottle of "Butcher Block Conditioner" shown the top photo may prove a little more problematic to some but it is what I use as the final step in coating the whistle bore after building. I wanted something that was a more long term coating for the first application of a sealant. The conditioner is food grade so it offers no health issues and is quite odorless. I feel it provides a more long lasting seal than the lighter instrument bore oils. I apply it using the same high tech shotgun swab.

Having outlined all of the above, I will offer an even more arguable solution to the moisture problem. Don't play wooden whistles! As I have stated in an earlier post, I feel that the material used in the construction of the whistle (excluding metal whistles) has very little, if any, effect on the sound of the whistle. While as a builder of stringed instruments and furniture, I am a great fan of the beauty of exotic woods but feel they are less than ideal for whistles because of the moisture retention problem. I feel that whistles constructed entirely of Delrin polymer (the material I use for all of my mouthpieces) or with a Dymondwood tube and Delrin mouthpiece are pretty much free of any moisture problems. Dymondwood is wood/polymer composite consisting of many layers of very thin wood veneers and epoxy cured under high pressure and temperature. The impregnated epoxy in the wood seals it from moisture retention problems. As an aside, the wood veneer can be dyed many different colors which can provide a rather striking overall visual effect.

Well, that pretty is much where I stand on whistle maintenance, let me know your feeling and concerns and any different ideas you might offer.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tube Turnings On The Lathe

This week I will discuss the process of turning square blocks of material into whistle tubes.

The first photo shows a square block of Cocobolo mounted on the lathe ready for rough turning into a round block. It is mounted on the left in a 3 jaw chuck and on the right with a "live" rotating center.

To get the block to the point of mounting it on the lathe, the block has had a 3/8' hole drilled into the center of the block end. A 3/8" wood dowel has been glued in place. This mounted dowel arrangement can seen in the second photo on the far left.

The second item on left of the second photo shows a block of Purple Heart wood that has been turned to a rough round shape on the lathe. The 3/8" dowel has been cut off flush with the end of the block.

The third tube in the photo is Red Dymondwood. It has had a 1/2" hole drilled thru the center of what had been a rough round block (similar to the Purple Heart block). A 1/2" gun drill was used to drill this hole on the lathe. For those not familiar with a gun drill, it is (as the implies) a long drill used in drilling gun barrels. It has high pressure air passing thru the center of the drill which blows the drilled chips back out thru the drilled hole. The drill assures a long, straight hole that becomes the bore of the whistle.

When the 1/2" drilled hole was completed, the tube was then mounted on the lathe using an expanding mandrel in one end of the hole and a live lathe center (the two items to the left of the Dymondwood tube in the photo). The expanding mandrel is a device that is inserted into the end of the tube and expanded by forcing the tapered end piece into the round outer piece of the mandrel. This assures that the tube is centered on the bore of the whistle. This process assures that the outer surface of the tube (when turned on the lathe) is concentric with the 1/2" tube bore used on my D and C whistles. To prevent the tube wood from splitting under the force of the expanding mandrel and the live center, the ends of the tube have been secured tightly with hose clamps.

The tubes in the second photo have been turned down to the final outer diameter of the completed whistle tube for C and D whistles . This outer diameter is approximately .640", yielding a very thin whistle wall thickness of .070" (70 thousands of an inch). The tubes in the second photo (from left to right) are Red Dymondwood, Purple Heart, Iron Wood (also referred to as IPE), Cocobolo and 2 Blackwoods.

Next week I will go into final process of adding the brass fittings to the tubes, the tuning of the tubes and the placement and drilling of the whistle tone holes.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Whistle Mouthpieces

Well, thought for this week I would try to lay out my thoughts on whistle mouth pieces and what I go through in their construction.
First off, you don't get very far into the building of whistles when you find that the mouthpiece is where it all happens. The characteristics of the mouthpiece airway and blade (or fipple) are very important in the overall sound of the whistle.

I have spent much time and effort in the design and construction techniques used in building my mouthpieces. You have only to look at the box of rejects (numbering well over 30 that just didn't give the sound I like) to realize that it is not a "cut and dried" process. Their are many variables involved. Some of the variables in the mouthpiece are: the air way (it's width, height and length), the blade's sharpness, angle and degree of blade under cutting and the shape and position of the airway block (the piece that forms the bottom of the airway). The interaction of the many, many possibilities of these variables is very great. Finding the "just right" combination of these variables is just about impossible. I finally settled on a combination that gives the sound I like.

I should also note that the final mouthpiece design is very much a compromise. You would like a mouthpiece that requires little air to blow, plays with equal loudness through 2 1/2 octaves and generates just the quality of sound you like throughout it's entire range. This does not happen!
To get the qualities I want, my mouthpieces require a little more air for the volume I want. The design strives for ease of blowing the low notes in the first octave at the expense of a little more air in upper second octave. Overall, my whistles would be considered quite loud, the sort of thing you want for session playing.

Another consideration in the design is the choice of materials used in their construction. I wanted a material that offered durability, ease of construction, suitable appearance and low cost. I found that Delren polymer filled the bill nicely.

The picture above is an attempt at showing the steps I go through in the construction of the mouth pieces.
1 - The leftmost item is the raw 3/4 inch diameter Delren rod I start with. It is cut to 3 1/2 inch length.

2 - The second item shows the rod bored through at a 1/2 inch diameter. The end has been turned down (using a lathe) to a diameter and length yielding the airway height and length.

3 - The third item shows the rod, the airway block, the airway cover, the brass tuning slide and the brass end ring. The rod airway slot has been cut on the mill and the ramp for the blade has also been milled.

4 - The forth item is a completed mouthpiece. The blade has been shaped very carefully by hand to it's final dimensions.

Well, that's it for now. I welcome any questions you might have about what I have posted here.
Next week I will be out of town but the following week I will go into the construction and tuning of the whistle tube.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Whistle Tube Woods

Well, another Friday has rolled around so time for another posting. Today, I thought I wood cover most of the woods I use in the construction of the whistle tubes.

The choice of wood used in making the tube is mostly a matter of appearance. The effect on tone is slight (in a blind test most folks could not tell the difference from one wood to the next). One exception is use of Dymondwood. Dymondwood (a trade name) is a composite of very fine wood veneers and polymer adhesive cured under high pressure and high heat. This makes a very moisture resistant material, very important for whistles that are played for long periods of time, such as experienced in session playing. The wood veneers used can also be dyed different colors (red, black, green and etc.) which makes for a very striking effect.

The first photo is of the woods. They are, left to right :

Cocobolo, a hard wood with very tight grain. It is highly figured and polishes to a high sheen. The color varies from dark brown to all most red. It is my all around favorite wood for whistle tubes.

Honduran Rosewood, another hard wood lighter in color than Cocobolo. It is not as figured as Cocobolo and more consistent in color.

African Blackwood, a hard wood of varied shades of black. It can run from pure, dark black to black with shades of brown and/or yellow streaked throughout. It is a wood that is used also in the building of clarinets and other wood wind instruments. It also polishes out to high sheen.

Purple Heart, as the name suggests, light purple in color. Not as hard as the before mentioned woods and does not polish out to a high sheen. It does make a very attractive whistle.

Bloodwood, a light reddish colored wood. It is a softer wood but finishes nicely for a attractive whistle.

The second photo is that of the Dymondwoods. They are, left to right:

Cocobolo Dymondwood, a composite using actual Cocobolo veneers.

Red Dymondwood, a composite using light colored veneers (usually birch) dyed red.

Black Dymondwood, a composite using veneers dyed a dark black. The overall effect is a gray shade.

Green Dymondwood, a composite using veneers dyed green. I just recently ran across this configuration and have found a number of folks who like it (the whole Irish green thing I guess).

Next week I will elaborate on the mouthpiece as I have worked it out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Weekly Input

Well, it's Friday. I promised I would do a blog each week on Friday until I run out of any thing to say. I have been trying to come up with a good place to start on this and have settled on an attempt to categorize the types of whistles (as I see them) and the materials used in constructing them.
Very basically, the whistle is a tube with a mouthpiece. Air blown in the mouthpiece excites the air to vibrate at a frequency determined by the length of the tube (the longer the tube, the lower the frequency). To allow the thing to be played as a musical instrument, holes are placed along the tube to effectively lengthen or shorten the air column to produce the notes of a diatonic scale. The full length of the tube determines the base frequency, or key, of the whistle. Each whistle can be played quite simply (with cross fingering) in a second key a 4th above the base key of the whistle; i.e, a D whistle can also play in the key of G (replacing the C# with a C natural).
As far as the materials used in their construction, whistles are constructed (pretty much always) of one of three materials or various combinations of the three. The materials are; metal (hence the term "tin whistle"), wood and plastic/polymers.
The choice of materials used is determined by the sound wanted, the cost of materials, the workability for construction purposes, the durability and (often) the appearance of the whistle.
After many, many trials on my part (you should see the box of many dozens of different mouthpieces that didn't work out), I have settled on Delrin (Acetal) polymer for mouth pieces and wood or wood/polymer laminates for the tubes. I also use brass for tuning slides and tube and mouthpiece fittings.
Well, next week I plan to discuss the tube materials I use and will make the leap to include photos of the various materials.