How to Make a Whistle from a Sycamore Twig
Choosing the Right Branch
You can use a sycamore branch that is as thin or as thick as you like. You will notice that the whistle will have a different pitch based on its thickness, but thinner branches are easier to work with as you go through the learning curve. Try and find a straight branch that is the thickness of a pencil to ½ inch in diameter. You want a branch that is at least 6 inches long, and cut it as close to the ground as possible.
Once the branch is cut, find a section that doesn’t have any protrusions or buds on it and cut it away from either end. The end result should be a section of branch that is a few inches long and in near-perfect condition.
Fashioning the Whistle
The first step is to cut a notch through the outer layer of the branch that extends just below the bark but not deep into the meat of the wood. Ideally, the color of the cut will transition from green to greenish white at its deepest point. The first cut should be a small gash that runs perpendicular to the branch. Then gently cut a notch about ½ inch above this line and work your way down. The finished product should be a notch that looks like half of an oval. Make this cut about an inch from the end of the stick.
The next step is to place the stick on a firm surface. Cut a line around the stick by gently but firmly placing the knife against it and rotating it with your free hand. You want to make the cut just deep enough to get below the bark without gouging the wood beneath. Make the cut about two inches above the oval notch you made in the previous step.
Next, you want to gently tap the surface of the stick from the cut you just made to the end that is just below the oval notch. Use a thick piece of wood, the handle of your survival knife or any other blunt object. You don’t want to smash the wood, rather tap it gently but firmly in order to loosen the bark from the fibers that keep it attached to the branch.
You also want to make a cut at a 45 degree angle on the end of the stick that has the oval notch as well. However, you want to make the angle go inward from top to bottom. You want the far end of the angled cut to be on top of the whistle below the oval notch and the other end of the angle to protrude inward toward the circular gash you just made before tapping the bark. Make the length of the angle around ½ inch as well. This will be the mouthpiece of the whistle.
You should be able to gently twist and pull the bark off of the wood in one single piece. This sheath is essential for the whistle to work, so be very careful that you don’t crack or break it as you pull it off. If the bark will not come off after a couple of twists and pulls, gently tap around the stick a few more times until you can pull it free.
Next, you want to take your knife and gently cut a sliver from the top of the exposed wood. This little notch will allow air to pass through the stick and produce the whistling sound when you blow. Try to make the notch no more than 2-3 millimeters thick. Discard the sliver and place the bark sheath back over the wood. Finally, you want to cut out the top section of the oval notch to complete the whistle. Make this cut less than half the length of the notch that you created and remove the piece of wood. You should now have a small hole in the bark that is situated above the sliver you made in the previous step.
Now you can cut the stick down to size and test the whistle. It may take a few attempts for you to get the hang of things, so it is very important that you be patient. Learning this skill can be very useful in the field if you need to attract attention or use it as a form of communication between others in your group.
Keep in mind that you can do this trick with other types of wood, but sycamore is ideal due to the fact that the bark can be easily removed and re-inserted. Try it for yourself and feel free to experiment with different sized sticks until you create a whistle that produces the perfect pitch for your needs.