flute swab materials

The Dragon-Stick Flute & Penny Whistle Swab

The Dragon-Stick Flute and Whistle Swab was devised to contend with the issue of how to best oil wooden flutes commonly used in Irish traditional music, and, at the same time, how to swab out the cork end of the head joint without causing any damage. The late, renowned whistle maker, Glenn Schultz Sr. recommended using a medical swab with his whistles to help spread the oil. While this works well with whistles, when it comes to flutes, you need something bigger. So, necessity being the mother of invention, here is a really big cotton swab for your flute or Irish penny whistle.


This swab is made from materials readily found at your local hardware or crafts store. Here is the list of items you will need:

(1) 1/4 inch plastic tubing - This is clear vinyl tubing used for low pressure water. It has an outside diameter of .25 inches and an inside diameter of about .170 inches. It can be found in 10 or 20 foot lengths at most hardware or even aquarium stores. Cut one piece one inch long and another 1/4 inch long.

(2) 3/16 inch diameter hardwood dowel 12 inches long - this diameter might be hard to find in a hardware store. I found a package of 12 in a local crafts store.

(3) dental floss - unwaxed.

(4) cosmetic cotton ball - found at a grocery or drugstore. These come in large bags of 25 or more, and in several sizes. The small size is best.

(5) paper clip - straightened out with one end in a tight hook, like a crochet hook.

(6) 3/4 inch wide masking tape - the blue type is best, it's easier to get off.

How to Make the Flute & Penny Whistle Swab

(1) Pull out a length of dental floss about 36 inches long. Hold the two ends together and stretch out the floss to find the middle. At the middle, wrap the floss around the cotton ball twice as shown in the photo. I'm using thread in the photo to make it easier to see, but thread will break, so use dental floss, which is practically indestructible. Pinch the ends of the cotton ball in one hand and pull the two strands of the dental floss tight. This will cinch the loop around the cotton ball.

(2) Take the straightened paper clip and push it through the 1 inch vinyl tube piece. Use the hook to snatch the two strands and pull them through the tube.

(3) Separate the strands so that they are not twisted inside the tube, that is, one strand is on one side of the tube and the other strand is on the other side. Push the end of the dowel into the tube opposite the cotton ball.

(4) Take a strand in each hand, brace the end of the dowel on a firm surface, and pull the cotton ball and tube down on the dowel until the cotton ball is flush with the end of the dowel. Usually this will work, but sometimes the dowel is a little too tight. In this case, you may have to help things along by pushing on the cotton ball as you pull on the strands. The idea is to cinch the cotton ball down on the tip of the stick really tight.

(5) Hold the strands together in one hand and stretch them over the other end of the dowel. It may help to cut a little notch on the dowel end to hold the strands, but this usually isn't necessary. Pull the strands as tight as you can (this is where the dental floss proves its worth) and hold them looped over the dowel end while you push the 1/4 inch piece of tubing onto the dowel. This will hold the dental floss tight and keep the cotton ball cinched at the other end. Cut off the excess floss.

(6) The last step is to wrap a piece of masking tape over the edges of the tubing. This is done to prevent any possible scratches caused by the exposed end of the tube. The best technique is to start the tape at a downward angle and twirl the dowel counter clockwise with the tape sliding between your thumb and forefinger. This will wrap the tape down over the edge of the tube and back up again due to the change in thickness.

(7) There you have it, the Dragon-Stick flute and whistle swab you make yourself. To use the swab for Irish tin whistles, trim each side of the cotton ball until it fits easily into the tin whistle body. You can also use other materials instead of the cotton balls. The photos show a piece of 3M lint-free dust cloth and the cotton cut down to whistle size; and, of course, you can always replace the cotton ball when it wears out.

How to make an extension for your Dragon-Stick Flute and Penny Whistle Swab
flute and whistle swab cotton ball wrapped with dental floss
flute and whistle swab cotton tip cinched tight
flute and whistle swab other end securing dental floss
flute and whistle swab with tape
flute and whistle swab finished
whistle swab cut to size