Instructables

Cigar Box Ukulele

Featured
Picture of Cigar Box Ukulele
For those who are buried in empty cigar boxes and lacking in ukuleles, this is for you.  

A Brief History
Cigar box instruments date back to the 1800's, when cigars began to be packaged in smaller units in handy wooden boxes.  The great depression caused an increase in the popularity of handmade instruments as an affordable option.  

Resources
There are a lot of wonderful resources online, including plans from a 1920's magazine and some mail order kit instructions.  The best resource I found was Steven Miller's step by step guide. Anyone considering making a cigar box uke should check out his guide here .  This instructable is really based on Steven Miller's guide with added details and measurements for guidance.  A cigar box can become virtually any stringed instrument - guitars, fiddles, mandolins, banjos.  For more cigar box ideas and free plans check out Cigar Box Nation .
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Stuff You Need

Picture of Stuff You Need
Materials:
Cigar Box.  If you have a choice, find one of solid wood.  I found a cedar box with a plywood base.  I paid 4$ for mine, but it shouldn't really cost more than 2$.  
 
Wood for the neck and bridge - for a concert sized ukulele I needed a 14 x 2 x 2.5 inch block for the neck and head.  The bridge will be about 2.5 x .5 x .75 inches.  I used walnut, but any hardwood will do.  

Wood for the lid supports: the cigar box will vibrate with the strings.  The inside of the box must be braced with a wood light enough to allow the box to be springy but strong enough to keep it from warping.  Steve Miller suggests spruce, but I used pine since I had some lying around.

Wood for the inside supports: These will go around the edges of the box for added strength and for a place to anchor the neck.  I used some left over walnut.  

Wood for the fretboard:  I chose red oak.  It will need to be approximately the length of the neck and ~1/8 thick.  

Material for the saddle and nut:  I used dominos, which I cut down to size.  Another type of hard plastic or ebony will also work.  

Material for the frets:  I actually bought brass welding wire for the frets, but ended up inlaying crushed turquoise instead.  If you choose to inlay crushed stone the ukulele will essentially be fretless, which will change the way you play it.  

Fret markers:  Ukes are usually marked at the 5th, 7th, and 10th frets.  Pearl dots are traditional.  I used a 3/8" wooden dowel.

Ukulele strings: see your local music store.  

Tuners (set of 4):  I took the tuners from a busted kid's electric guitar I got at a thrift shop.  You can also buy them new from a music store.  They cost about 14$ for cheap ones up to 50$ for fancy.  

Wood Glue

Epoxy

Tung oil and mineral spirits (optional)

Steel Wool 0000 (optional)

Tools:
Clamps 
Band Saw
Table Saw
Planer
Drill press (for the sound hole a large diameter bit is required)
Hand drill
Power sander
Dremel (I used the plastic cutting and engraving attachments)

Note about tools: I was lucky to have access to a woodshop, powertools, and someone who kept me from cutting off all of my fingers.  With some ingenuity much of this can be done with hand tools and patience.  

Nice guitar !

I have been writing some stuff on cigar box guitars on my blog

Thought you might like it

http://darrenscigarboxguitars.blogspot.co.uk/

aportillo-17 months ago
can i use the pdf files as a template?
Bjarke9 months ago
How do you measure fret distance from each other?
action pig (author)  Bjarke9 months ago
center to center
http://cigarboxdeals.bigcartel.com/ There you go folks, online, affordable, and not a bad selection. I'd still recommend looking around though, the hunt is part of the fun.
Leemister3 years ago
NO ONE IN MY FAMILY SMOKES CIGARS!! How am I supposed to get a cigar box?
action pig (author)  Leemister3 years ago
Ask cigar shops. Look on ebay. Plead on street corners.
Alright. I think I'll plead on street corners.
NO! Smoke shops with humidors (for cigars) have them. Generally they sell them depending on the quality of the cigar (and box demand). $3-$8 is common. If your a youngster, and you explain the cause, you could get more than you than you can carry! I do plumbing work for the owner of a local smoke shop. I mentioned my mother could use a couple for craft projects, and got around 20. BUT, only 6 of witch were wood.
where can I go to buy a nice cigar box? any other tips for someone making his first ukulele, as far as improving sound quality goes?
action pig (author)  weaponzdesign3 years ago
Good question! I had no idea where to find a box, so I literally stopped at every smoke shop I saw until I found a box. It took a while. Some people find them at yard sales or ebay. Not all smoke shops carry cigars, and as you might imagine they don't run out of cigars very quickly, so the shop has to be a bit older. Owners are very helpful and generally nice.

As far as the rest - this was also my first ukulele, so I can't speak from very much experience. I would suggest being very careful with the nut/bridge step. The action and the location of the frets will have the biggest effect on your sound. Good luck!
draugninjas right, do a quick google search of cigar shops in your area and stop in, generaly if you buy a cigar or two and inquire about boxes you might even get a few free!!! even tell the guy your making it for a guitar he may beable to help you find a perfect wooden box versus a cardboard one
i'm having some trouble making the tuning pegs, as I dont want to go out and buy some. any suggestions?
I got about 50 zither pins for around $15.00, and if you cut a wooden dowel into slices, drill a hole in it for the pin and epoxy the pin in, it makes a pretty good tuner for use in a hardwood pin block or head
IM000425.JPG
action pig (author)  weaponzdesign3 years ago
The tuning pegs would be a tough make. Especially because they need to be a tight fit in order to keep the strings tight and in tune. It could be done, though. You just need something capable of holding a string (most have a hole through the middle that the string is wound through and around) that you can tighten.

Since I've never made my own, I can't give much more advice than to suggest that you go out to a few music or pawn shops and look at some instruments. It sure sounds interesting. Let me know how it works out!
So cool cant wait to make one:)
gproject3 years ago
Tuning Pegs! Look at your library for a dulcimer building book. Many were made w/ homemade pegs. One book I've seen had plans for a peg shaver made from two blocks of wood and a planner blade set at an angle. Hmmm... Maybe a good instructable...Good luck :)
mcaliber.503 years ago
where can you get cigar boxes? (im 16, and can't buy cigars, but don't want to wait to make one of these)
action pig (author)  mcaliber.503 years ago
If you can't get into cigar shops, yard sales and ebay are your best options. Watch out that they aren't over priced - these don't cost anybody anything, so you shouldn't pay more than a couple bucks. That said, you can probably find a much cooler cigar box on ebay than you can going from shop to shop.

You can probably also stop in at cigar shops or call just to ask. But check with the law on that one.

Good luck!
Just what i was looking for. Very well done and good looking!!
action pig (author)  RoosterSocks3 years ago
Thanks! Happy building!
Pro

Get More Out of Instructables

Already have an Account?

close

PDF Downloads
As a Pro member, you will gain access to download any Instructable in the PDF format. You also have the ability to customize your PDF download.

Upgrade to Pro today!