Introduction: How to Build Your Own Cajon Box Drum With Adjustable Snare

Picture of How to Build Your Own Cajon Box Drum With Adjustable Snare

In this instructable I will be showing you how to build your very own Cajon box drum. We made 2 Cajon drums for under 50$, so around 25$ a piece. I will be entering this instructable in the Musical Instruments Contest, so please vote!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Things you will need will include: Wood- its up to you what type, we used 1/4 inch Birch Plywood for the drum faces. and 1/2 in Birch ply for the remaining 4 sides. Wood Glue. Screws- make sure they look nice because they will be visible. Snare Mechanism- You will need 1/2 of a standard snare wire set. You can find them here. Dowell Rod- 1/2 inch. The Tools You will need: Table Saw- or a handsaw if you do not have one. Screwdriver- one that matches the type of screw. Sandpaper- rough for getting the overall shape, finer grit for the overall finish. Dremel- or another tool that can be used to cut a circle. Drill- used to presink screws as to not crack the wood. Optional- Paint- your choice. Stain or varnish- your choice

Step 2: Start the Planning

Picture of Start the Planning

We've all heard it, measure twice and cut once. The goal was to make the Cajon Drum 1x1x1.5 ft (length X width X height). We also wanted to make the box sit flush with the ground, which means you will not see the bottom piece of wood at all. This overall made it a little complicated to do the measuring and lining up of the box. In the end we settled on an ideal design that consisted of 2, 1/4 inch panels (used as the front and back panels) that were 18.5 inches tall by 12 inches wide. the two sides (left and right) measured 18 inches tall by 1 foot wide. the top was a square that was 12 inches by 12 inches. the bottom was cut as to fit flush with the ground and measured 11 inches by 12 inches. Look at the picture if your confused, excuse the handwriting.

Step 3: Cut and Build!

Picture of Cut and Build!

Cut out the pieces for the box. Make sure that you tape over the lines to prevent the saw from shredding the edges. After you cut all of the pieces out, you can then build the basic box shape. Clamp the shape and let set. If you don't have corner clamps you can tightly wrap string or belts around the shape to help compress it. At this point you can add ribbing along the inside. We used 1x1/2x1/2 (LxWxH) blocks as ribbing along the inside to help hold the screws. Press these blocks into place and wipe away any access glue. Next you can work on the faces, use a small amount of glue to secure the front onto the box. Use weights or books or something to put pressure on the wood. Next take the back, and cut a hole about the size of a CD in it using something like a dremel or other tool.   

Step 4: Making the Snare Mechanism.

Picture of Making the Snare Mechanism.

The goal for this was to keep it simple, but make it effective. The snare is what really sets apart the Cajon from just a wooden box. This way of attaching a snare allows you to play with no snare sound, or a lot of snare and everything in between. We took a 1/2 inch dowel rod and cut it to about 13-14 inches. We then cut a hole in the side of the box and slid the rod through. On the other side of the box directly across from the hole we put a block of wood with a hole halfway through it to hold the other end of the rod. We secured the rod inside the box by gluing a wheel to the edge. Look at the pictures to help follow along. On the outside of the box we made a "gear" out of spare wood, and a "toggle switch" that would keep the snare from bouncing back. Super Simple, and Super Effective.  Cut the entire snare in half and screw one half to the rod. you can turn the gear, and press the switch into place to keep it from turning backwards.

Step 5: Final Assembly

Use some glue to secure the back onto the box. Take some screws and pre-sink the holes into the wood very carefully. Use some screws to tighten the back and front into place. DO NOT INSERT SCREWS IF YOU WANT TO PAINT/STAIN/VARNISH YOUR DRUM. its best to do the screws after you've done what you want to do.

Step 6: Paint!!

Picture of Paint!!

Decorate it your way. I printed off my name in a custom font and used a CriCut machine to outline it, and used it as a stencil. I then took tape, and made 3, 1 inch stripes going up and over the box and sanded them to make it rough.  On the remaining side I wrote "This Side Up" and painted it on also. On the other box we put my brothers name and a logo he liked. The project turned out so much better than I could have ever thought. They both sound great and compared to store made versions they look a lot cooler. The entire project was a success in the quality and cost. Thanks for reading!


Lovely Phil made it! (author)2017-01-01

Thanks for your instructions! I have wanted to make a cajon for a while and because of your instructions I enjoyed making this! I went for a used/worn look and used an old tap as the handle for the adjustable snare and champagne corks for the feet. It definitely sounds better than my shop bought one. Thanks again!

Sandrabush (author)Lovely Phil 2017-09-14

Thank you, I really appreciate it! I will do so but it will be a while.

Sandrabush (author)Lovely Phil 2017-09-11

Lovely Phil, how did you do that ?? That is what I am wanting my cajon to look like.

Lovely Phil (author)Sandrabush2017-09-12

Hi Sandra, I left steel wool in vinegar for a few days and then brushed it on- if you google ebonising wood, you'll see loads of methods. I also chipped at the edges of the cajon and then sanded over to create a more worn look. Hope this helps- post up some pics when you're done!

alex.merwin (author)2014-09-28

What would you do differently if you wanted to make the drum a little bigger?

I want to try and make a giant cajon- I'd guess I'd need to make a frame or brace the panels some how. I'll post up how I get on but got a few things in need to do first!

svanpraag265 (author)alex.merwin2017-01-09

stick with 12x12 inch top but you could ajust the hieght by changing the size of the pannels

Reloin (author)2015-03-08

will it effect the sound if I add a handle beside the cajon?

svanpraag265 (author)Reloin2017-01-09

you could use a square hole and hand sand finger grooves on the top of the square

Lovely Phil (author)2017-01-01

Cork feet

Lovely Phil (author)2017-01-01


Wil load up some photos but they don't seem to be working...

Lovely Phil (author)2017-01-01

Used a guitar rose over the sound hole to hide my poor cutting efforts! (But ordered the wrong size...)

Bricology (author)2015-03-22

In searching for any info about drums with wooden heads, I
discovered cajons and eventually, this Instructable. The thing that I'm
not entirely satisfied with is using plywood for the head. Here's

The head of most drums is a membrane in *tension*. When
it's struck, the head vibrates, forming complex soundwaves that radiate
outward in concentric circles from the striking point, which in turn
interact with soundwaves being reflected from the edges/rim of the drum
head, until the waves' energy is dissipated.

OTOH, a guitar's top (or a violin's or any other stringed instrument) is
basically a stressed member in *compression*. When the strings are
plucked, strummed or whatever, it vibrates the bridge
which bears against the instrument's top and causes it in turn to
vibrate, producing soundwaves that behave similarly to those from a
drumhead being struck.

Better-quality stringed instruments
use a plank of solid wood (or more often, a bookmatched pair with the
seam running lengthwise from neck to tail) as the top of the guitar.
The directionality of the wood's grain seems to create more "musical"
tones than plywood which, with its interlocking grain, essentially forms
a homogenous membrane; plywood-topped guitars, double-bases, etc., tend
to sound dead.

Since So, if stringed instruments sound better if
the top material is solid wood (not plywood), wouldn't it make sense
that the wooden head of a drum would likewise sound better if it was
solid, rather than plywood? Yeah, I understand that a plank of spruce,
mahogany or other common stringed instrument tonewoods would be more
fragile, expensive and difficult to work. But my question is, would the
sounds it produces be more "musical" than plywood?

Indeed a solid wood face will give better sound. A source for this if you are a scrounger is an old clothes dresser. The bottoms of really old drawers are often solid wood about a quarter in thick and not plywood. This wood is aged with time and provides a much better sound than you can hope for with other material. But it is only available if you have a really old dresser that has fallen apart.

That's a great idea! I frequently see old dressers (pre-plywood-era) being trashed and it never occurred to me that the wide planks of wood used for drawer bottoms could be repurposed for musical projects. Thanks for the suggestion!

lee_schnitz made it! (author)2016-03-17

My son the 13yr old drummer thought this would be a great father-son build, even though he bought a cajon in the fall. It was an easy build with good instructions. And we only made a few mods.

(1) After we finished the build, my son thought the edges were too sharp on the top, so we rounded them off free-hand with a sander before we stained.

(2) We put rubber feet on the bottom from amazon

(3) I used a carriage bolt / wingnut for the snare lock. I drilled a slightly smaller hole that than the carriage bolt, threaded it through, and then locked it in with the wing nut. This was the bolt will stay in place when the wing nut is loosened to move the snare lock.

Lastly, my son loves this one better than his Meinl.



lee_schnitz (author)lee_schnitz2016-03-17

And one more mod... We made a small wood washer to glue to the snare rod so it wouldnt get pulled out. You can see it in the second picture.

lee_schnitz (author)lee_schnitz2016-03-17

And a quick video of the cajon being played.

Jay1376 made it! (author)2015-12-29

Thanks so much for this instructable. I have made 4 of these now and each time I find something to change to make the next better. Your snare mechanism works great.

brgt40 (author)2013-08-08

I don't understand the snare action. The picture in the link looks like the snares from a snare drum. I don't understand how those floppy springy wires are connected to the rod and to where else? How does rotating the rod press the wires against the drum surface? Please add more detail or more pics of the finished mechanism.

Rykley! (author)brgt402013-08-09

The wires actually remain pretty firm and don't flop around a whole lot after they've been cut. The snare wires are only connected to the dowel rod by the holder( IDK what its called) that would normally attach it to a snare drum, if your confused look at the picture in step 4. The dowel rod holds the snare straight up normally, and when you turn the dowel it rotates the dowel and presses the wires against the inside face. The "gear" and "peg" that I placed on the outside of the box is a simple way to keep the wires from turning the rod back. Sorry, I don't have many more pictures of the snare mechanism. Hope this helps! Feel free to ask if you have any more questions!

macka71 (author)Rykley!2015-12-01

just discovered this. it will be a project for my son and I over Christmas. does the snare assembly hang loosely or is the lower end attached in some way? thanks for sharing.

RachelK27 (author)2015-11-07

this is fantastic! Love it! I do have a couple suggestions to improve overall appearance/effect:

1. You can cover the appearance of the screws by getting a small container of wood putty and rubbing it over them (that will make the facia appear more seamless).

2. I am going to build one of these, wanted on for a while and I would like your input on this; I would like to use 3/4" wood on one side to give that side a tighter, more rigid tone. Thoughts?

3. Just for kicks it wouldn't be difficult at all to manufacture a seat cushion to put on top.

4. I haven't confirmed this but I'm positive home depot or anyone's local hardware store offers the little rubber pegs to put underneath.

I'm just kicking out a couple ideas for a more expensive/time consuming product but I want to reiterate that your instructions here are fantastic on their own merit. Thank you again for posting! Very insightful!

Nates23 made it! (author)2015-10-09

Made this one here in little to no time. Followed this build step by step. Only thing I did different was the spin knob to adjust the snare and stained the wood. Thanks for the simple instructions. They made this build super simple.

MobR (author)2015-09-02

Cajon Groove Guide (author)2015-08-26

Hey! First post. Does anyone think they would like to see step by step instructables on playing cajon? I have a YouTube channel and realised that a mixed media website like this could actually be even better for learning from. I'll be able to add sheet music and still images to show certain things. Plus I wonder if I could use GIFs as well. Please let me know what you think. I'll give making an instructable a go very soon.


aesir05 (author)2014-10-19

Whoah! Wish I found this a year ago. As a relative newbie to drumming, my small family of various hand drums needs expanding, ;).... I've seriously fallen in love with the versatility of the Cajon, but can't afford one from the shops right now, so this made my day!! I'm a handy-girl at heart, now I'm going to make my own - wheee! (will try to remember to load some pics). Thanks for the tutorial. You rock!

eldavid (author)aesir052015-08-16

did u make one?

aesir05 (author)eldavid2015-08-17

Not yet, other commitments have kind of gotten in the way - such is life.:/ But it's still right at the top of my project list as soon as I get time. :) Thanks for the reminder, though. Going to chase up a drummer friend and see if he'll part with an old snare strap. That will be one less excuse to not start. *VBG*

dreamchords (author)2013-09-03

Hi. Great, detailed build and awesome design!

Although, I tried using the same 1/4inch plywood for the front face, but it was not resonant enough and seemingly too thick for the snare mechanism to work. Is it positive that you used 1/4inch plywood for the front face, or could it have been much less, especially after sanding? Thanks.

beoutside (author)dreamchords2014-12-21

It seems 1/8 face I pretty popular

eldavid (author)beoutside2015-08-16

i agree 1/8 (3mm) ply seems the most popular.

Rykley! (author)dreamchords2013-09-30

I've seen Cajon drums with very thin faces. I used 1/4 inch birch ply in the instructable but you could go down to make it more sensitive. I found 1/4 inch was good for the amount of bass I wanted in it.

SirB2000 (author)2015-07-19

I must say this is a nice instructable. I would think the snare would be the most expensive thing and that's only Seven (US) dollars. (very nice) The Drums you made look so much better that store, and I look forward to making one. Nice work.

Ps: I love the fact that you made the snare adjustable.

jʎɐɹ-ɾ (author)2014-07-08

Does the type of wood make a big difference? where can you find out about the acoustic differences between wood types?

birch makes best sound other woods dont resonate as well

COCHNE (author)2015-01-08

Excellent, I'll be making one of these for a mate of mine. Thanks for taking the time to pass on to all

brandon.mcniel.3 (author)2014-12-15

This is awsome, may I suggest a video sound test of this or a link to one uploaded else where. Great job guys.

HanCrusader (author)2014-07-08

Could you explain the gear and the toggle switch more, as in how it works and how it was made? Also with the wheel inside that holds the dowel rod as well. That would be very helpful because I wouldn't want to mess up the most important part that makes the cajon unique than from being just a wooden box.

Thanks !

Paladin6004 (author)2014-07-06

How well did this turn out for you?? It looks great but how does it sound?

Rykley! (author)Paladin60042014-07-07

It sounds good for a basic box drum. I still use it almost a year later for live performances and such. It gets the job done, which is what I needed.

MadeOnEarthStudio (author)2014-04-16

I am building it now, thanks for such a simple and effective method!
We will post a photo when we finish.
Thank you!

-Eric & Bela

akamal uwk (author)2013-08-24

i love it :)

dirtyfingerss (author)2013-08-21

wow great job !

sotack (author)2013-07-29


K4nyix (author)2013-07-28

Hm very nice ! Might actually follow some of those guidelines if I get around to building one this summer ! Thanks ! (voted)

Rykley! (author)K4nyix2013-07-29

Thank You! I think everybody needs a drum of some sort.

NitroRustlerDriver (author)2013-07-28

Wow, I had never seen these things before and am very impressed by them. It's amazing the types of sounds you can get out of them. I kind of want to build one just to play with.

Its a really fun build that doesn't require to much prior knowledge. And you get a pretty neat drum. Go for it!

About This Instructable




Bio: Into a lil' bit of everything I guess.
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