Cane Pole Whistles


A few weeks ago, my 5 year old and I did a really fun project; making cane whistles.  This all started about 40 years ago with my grandfather, (can it really be that many?) who would sit outside the back door of the house and make whistles for us from river cane.  Truthfully, I’m not sure if it was cane or bamboo or what the difference is, but he always called it cane.  Oddly (or not so much if you know me), I still have the whistle my grandfather made and that’s what we used for our prototype.  We drove to the end of a nearby road where we knew there was a cane stand and plucked a couple of dried poles.  Once back home, Joe had a great time banging them on the ground to make them break apart… as any 5 year old would!  We picked a good solid looking section that was open on one end and still had the cane joint intact on the other end.

Open end of the cane pole for the mouth piece
Cane pole closed end (will be end of whistle)


Using a pocket knife on the open end, we cut a vertical split about 1 inch in and made it a little less than half the depth of our cane section.  We then then whittled a flute opening that was just over 1/4 inch long.


Next we found an oak branch, whittled it so that the bottom was curved to fit in the base of the whistle and cut it to about 1 inch long, so that it went from the blowing end, all the way to where the flute opening started.  It also needed to be flat on top with just a millimeter or so gap between it and the top of the whistle, so as to direct the air through the flute opening when blown.  After tapping it into the hole, we saw that the branch just wasn’t seating tight enough along the bottom and the edges.  The picture below is looking into the flute from the long end and you can see a little of the gap on the right side.  It was much more evident when looking at it than it seems with a picture and apparently VERY important to the functioning of it.  Since air had room to go places other than just through the flat, millimeter size opening on the top, our whistle didn’t work.  Although we had what looked like a tight fit from the end, it wasn’t tight enough on the inside because of the taper of our branch.

Ultimately we took a little glue and sealed all the holes.  My grandfather was way better at it than we are and didn’t need glue, but it was a great learning experience in what is truly a lost and fine art.

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