Introduction: Tree Speakers

Picture of Tree Speakers

These tree speakers were handmade from +14" thick sections of what was once a towering elm tree, that have now been transformed into a completely unique piece of hi-fi art.  The speaker enclosure is made from one solid piece of elm, sectioned only at the rear of the speaker in order to hollow out enough material to create the speakers internal volume of air.

Aside from being aesthetically pleasing and unique, using actual tree rounds as speaker enclosures is beneficial to the overall speaker design because it results in an almost seam-free cabinet, thick and acoustically dead enclosure material, and non-parallel internal sides which help to reduce unwanted frequency amplification and reverberation.

This Instructable describes the unique process of how I built these specific tree speakers, and is not meant to be a complete and comprehensive guide to speaker building.  For that, please see my Instructable on How to Build Custom Speakers, which the DIY speaker builder working on his or her own project will find much more helpful.

I think that the appropriate question to ask here is not "why build speakers out of a tree", but rather, "why not"?

Step 1: Story

Picture of Story

In 2004 while I was attending Brown University, a massive and historic elm tree located on the east side of Providence sadly succumb to Dutch Elm Disease.  After years of trying to save the tree, it eventually had to be removed by chainsaws operated by the hands of skilled arborists and towering cranes with slings to lower the towering branches onto flatbeds and out of the city piece by giant piece.  

The giant tree's death was unfortunate and sad, but the loss of the tree ultimately led to the birth of something else: The Elm Tree Project.  The joint venture between Brown University and The Rhode Island School of Design produced a set of classes, exhibitions and specially designed studios, all built specifically to explore and produce various forms of art that could be made from the deceased tree.  

I was lucky enough to be a part of this unique program during my time at school, and have finally gotten around to documenting some of the work that I produced during my involvement with The Elm Tree Project on Instructables.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools
  • large approximately 14" or greater tree round (preferably dry, but wet is ok, just expect some checking/cracking and damage control)
  • (2) 6" woofers
  • (2) 1" cloth dome tweeters
  • 16 awg audio connecting wire or lamp cord
  • extra long binding posts
  • crossover components (dependent upon speaker design)
  • screws
  • PVC for speaker port


Step 3: To Plunge Cut or Drill...that Is the Question

Picture of To Plunge Cut or Drill...that Is the Question

Since I wanted to build the tree speakers entirely from one solid piece of elm, opening the round up only at the back, and then leaving the front facing 95% of the speaker as one continuous piece, I had to bore out the center of the round from the back using one of two methods: plunge cutting with the nose of a chainsaw (depicted below by Elm Tree Project visiting artist Marcus Tatton below) or using a powerful drill with an auger bit to remove the .75 cubic feet of material from the tree round (secondary image below).  

Either method would prove to be challenging and labor intensive since I was basically creating a 16" deep and 11" wide bowl out of a solid chunk of wood.  Plunge cutting with the nose of a chainsaw is absolutely doable, but can be dangerous because if the top quarter of the bar nose should engage the wood, there's a high likelihood that the chainsaw will kick back.  If you've operated a chainsaw before, you know that nose cuts are not something that you do every day and that they can be a bit challenging.

Fearing for my own personal safety, and not being an expert chainsaw operator, I decided to go with the more time consuming, but ultimately safer method of a powerful drill paired with an extremely large carbide tipped auger bit.  

Step 4: Slice Off the Backs

Picture of Slice Off the Backs

Before the insides of the rounds can be bored out, a 1.5" thick slice must be taken off the back of the logs with a large band saw or chainsaw.  This allows you to have a matching piece of material to put back on as a rear piece of the speaker enclosure once the insides are hollowed out and the components are installed. 

The cuts below were made with a chainsaw.  The chainsaw bar does remove a larger kerf of material then I'd like, but it was my only real option since most band saw's can't accommodate the rounds +14" diameter.

Step 5: Drilling

Picture of Drilling

Do yourself a favor and purchase the Hole Hawg right off the bat if you're going to be doing any serious hole boring.  I found that normal drills don't come close to having enough torque to bore all the way through the tree round, let alone do it time after time reliably without overheating and breaking down. 

I used a very large carbide tipped auger bit (we're way beyond spade bits here since they take too long making dust out of the wood as opposed to larger shavings), and began boring holes into the elm wood, drilling from back to front, stopping approximately 1.5" from the front face of the speaker.

Mark the auger bit with some tape or a zip tie to indicate where to stop so that you drill too far and pop out the front face of the speaker.

To remove the material, I drilled many many holes to create a honeycomb type formation of wood that could then be removed using a hammer and chisel, smaller drill bits to break through the walls, and brute force.  Removing the honeycomb structure is truly difficult because it's just so much material, and is connected to the solid wall of the tree round over the honeycombs entire exterior surface.  That, coupled with the fact that with the wood was still slightly wet during this process made for some pretty tough fibers that I had to rip through in order to remove the honey comb.

This was by far the hardest part about building speakers made from tree rounds.  All in all I'd say that it took even longer to bore out the centers of the tree rounds than it normally takes me to build a rectangular standard speaker enclosure, but, it was well worth it.

The internal volume that I bored out was about a 3/4 of a cubic foot - plenty of air for my 6" driver to move.

Step 6: Cut Holes for Speaker Drivers and Ports

Picture of Cut Holes for Speaker Drivers and Ports

Once the holes were bored and the remaining honeycomb structure was ripped out, I use appropriately sized hole saws to cut openings for the tweeter and for the PVC port.  The dimensions of the speaker port are matched to each speakers specific qualities and specs, so ollow the directions in your speaker kit's directions or calculate the numbers yourself.

The +5" hole for the woofer driver was too big to use a whole saw to cut, so I traced a line and used a jig saw instead.  You could also use a circle jig on a router equipped with a long straight bit to cut the holes for this step if you like.

Step 7: Install Crossovers and Drivers

Picture of Install Crossovers and Drivers

With the enclosures taking their final form, it was time to install the driver crossovers, the speaker drivers themselves, all the interconnects and terminal posts, the ports, and some foam as sound dampener inside the tree rounds.

The crossovers were soldered together according to the speaker kit's wiring diagram and then mounted to Masonite backers using hot glue.  The Masonite boards were into place inside the speaker enclosures with short screws.

Extra long binding posts that would stick through the 1.5" thick back cap were installed and then connected using the speaker wire or lamp cord to the crossovers, and then finally to the drivers themselves.

Small pieces of acoustic foam were mounted to the inside of the enclosure in between the Masonite backer boards using finishing nails and glue to hold them in place.

Once everything was wired up and installed into place it was time to put the back caps back into place.  I used 8 large 3" wood screws to seal the backs on and complete the enclosure.

Step 8: Make Stands

Picture of Make Stands

I opted to create a simple base for the speakers cut out of some extra slices of elm wood that were not being used.  They are roughly 1.5" thick and have a half moon shape to cradle the round speaker. 

There is one stand per speaker and they hold the tree speakers at a slight upwards angle towards the listeners ear. 

The slices were cut with a chainsaw off of the original stock material branch, shaped on the band saw, and then finally sanded smooth.

Step 9: Finishing

Picture of Finishing

As I said before, some parts of the wood were still slightly wet since the tree had recently been cut down.  Applying any sort of surface treatment or finish to wet wood is not the best idea, so I chose to leave it completely bare.  Even if the wood were completely dry though, I think that I would have left the wood unfinished because I wouldn't want to do anything to change the awesome designs that were already present on the surface of the wood caused by the bark beetle.  Leaving the wood unfinished, untreated and ultimately untouched is a small homage to it's inherent value as a tree, and would only have been one more step down the road to processed lumber, something I was actively trying to avoid in making these speakers.

Dutch Elm Disease is caused by a fungus that the elm bark beetle carries into the tree.  The bark beetle itself is not what killed this particular elm, but it is the horse that the fungus rode in on so to speak. 

The story of the bark beetle's reproduction leaves behind the unmistakable pattern on the surface of the wood that is pictured below.  The beetle first burrows through the bark and into the outer flesh of the tree to create the dark line.  It then lays it's larvae all along that burrow.  When the the larvae hatch, the baby beetles dig and eat their way through the tree's flesh to escape, causing the lighter lines which radiate off of the central dark ones. 

Oh bark beetle, I wish you never infected this lovely elm tree in the first place, but I am mesmerized by the beautiful artifacts of your stay that you left behind.

Step 10: Enjoy

Picture of Enjoy

The first test the speakers got were at an art exhibition for the work that the Elm Tree Project had produced and I am happy to report that they sounded amazing!  The quality of sound and heart warming sense of accomplishment that comes from building your own speakers never ceases to amaze me, let alone when they're constructed from something as unique as the branches of several hundred year old elm tree.

The speakers were recently shipped across the country from storage at my folks home in New York to my home in Oakland, CA.  They now reside happily in my living room and are my main speakers.  Their entry back into my life was the inspiration that I needed to write this Instructable.  Hopefully this Instructable will inspire someone else to make a pair of speakers out of something else unique and interesting, and the cycle of creativity will propel itself forward into the future spreading joy and ingenuity. 

I'm very proud of them, and to this day, even after all the different things I've made, these unique tree speakers remain one of my favorites.


DrJase (author)2016-10-01

Great 'ible - very inspiring.

You said you get a great sound - do you believe that it was more luck than judgement?

Also, over time the wood will dry, possibly crack and leak air. This has the big possibility of altering the sound dramatically - is that a concern?

Whilst the wood is "wet" it is dull, but as it dries it will take on a timbre that I feel might colour the sound...

Even so, a great job! I love it!

Better Wheel (author)2016-07-15

I've been thinking of doing something similar to this on my lathe.

CalebM25 (author)2016-06-05

Could you put linseed oil as a sealer from cracking?

JavierP73 (author)2016-05-28

Would very nice if you can do some measurements like frequency range :)

CalebM25 (author)2016-04-07

Making a set this week! love this and realy had to do it. Its my woodshop project at school! thx for this idea

fraser02 (author)2016-03-24

Asewome, creative idea! well done.

Designsn (author)2015-07-10

This is very creative indeed. I guess you would want to make sure the wood is dried properly so it wont be that heavy and maybe a better sound effect.

DIY KING 00 (author)2015-07-09

A great piece of art indeed.

banman11 (author)2015-07-08

Very neat project. The heavy logs would no doubt make a great stable base for reproducing good tones. Never thought of this idea .

Pitera Man (author)2015-01-21

I am curious how much one of these puppies weigh? 25lb??

GremlinWonOne (author)2014-09-17

Hi. I saw this amazing idea and want to build this myself maybe with a few tweaks but do you know any UK websites that I can get a good pair of speakers for a decent price

BLR_RAVI (author)2014-09-08

very nice idea..very beautiful and cheap too..

ke8bg (author)2014-03-02

Great project.. should sound great as well... decibels as you know are logarithmic.... lol

buskrat (author)2013-06-02

If you have a band saw you can do this much easier by cutting down the sides the other sides off throw away the middle and glue it back together. This is the same way they make log jewelry boxes

danchapy50 (author)2013-03-20

this is awesome. my Brother who passed had a large rock delivered to his home it took some time but he made speakers out of the rock. the sound was awesome and weather proof. he occasionally had to put car grease on parts of the stereo. we have since move the rock several places.It is now at (1) of his many resting places. I am happy you were able to do something in memory of the tree.

Hombre3000 (author)2012-12-24

Very beautiful work.

karlicnp (author)2012-08-31

I made them too but different

noahw (author)karlicnp2012-09-04

Those look great! How did you hollow out the inside? I also like your stands for them...I've always needed to make stands for mine.

karlicnp (author)noahw2012-09-04

I hollowed the first one with a big drill and the second one with a chainsaw and the second method was better.

amandaghassaei (author)2012-08-21

sooooooooooo cool! I hope I get to see these someday!

noahw (author)amandaghassaei2012-08-21

Awe thanks - you were actually standing in the same room as them when you helped me move the bathtub couch.

wobbler (author)2012-07-08

Tree speakers? I can only count two. Great design though!

Tzabary (author)wobbler2012-08-09

It's TREE speakers not THREE speakers

noahw (author)wobbler2012-07-09

How many were you expecting? Two is the standard number of speakers for stereo sound that I'm familiar with.

exstatosoma (author)2010-10-07

Very nice, noahw, though I would also worry about splitting over time. I have had a big round from a Norfolk Island Pine for about 5 years. It's about 60 cm diameter (about 2 feet for the nonmetric minority) and I reckon that it's stable to work with now.
If you would like to see another recovery and use project for a dead tree, go to the Kauri Project at the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney.
This beautiful old Kauri tree was killed by fruit bats (truly). The gardens recovered it and the items made from it are very beautiful.

noahw (author)exstatosoma2011-10-23

Pulling from my limited knowledge of tree round drying, you get better results when you remove the center pith of a round. The pith has a much higher moisture content then the exterior ring, and thus dries at a different rate, causing the splitting. I've had these speakers for 6 years now, and there's no signs of cracking or splitting. Trying to dry a solid round however is a whole other story, that I know can cause a lot of problems. If you're trying to make these speakers or replicated this method, I'd definitely recommend drilling out the center pith while the round is still fresh and wet.

tbailey103 (author)2011-10-09

This is amazing! I think I'm going to make a surround sound system using this method. As long as I have a surround sound stereo (like the one in your picture, it should all work, correct?

Dr. Science (author)2010-11-12

Wouldn't a person just use a router and probably varying levels of depth (like 2 inches) at a time, obviously using a jig to keep it all the same, using a deeper bit each time for every 2 inches of depth. The opening could take on a square or rectangular shape if wanted, for example. The same way the opening for the drivers should be made. The driver's particular pattern of their "frames" should be counter sunk about a quarter of an inch for a perfect fit. Two reasons: (1) for looks, adds value and craftsmanship (plus, it's pretty easy to do) and (2) it "seats" the driver to the "baffle", that is, in this case, the tree trunk making it become one with both. The object of the driver, the "transducer", is to make active, and, as active as it most possibly can, the baffle. The more immoveable the baffle, the more the baffle can be controlled. While this is being done, it's nice to know that the driver is perfectly mounted, on it's own plane, not warped or rattling against a non-prepped perfectly flat baffle (tree trunk).

While you're at it, design into the routed out area for the frame, countersink 4 anchors aligned perfectly to receive high tech looking machine threaded fasteners, for both the woofer and the tweeter.

And really, don't stop there. Find a decent self amplified - properly cross-over-ed sub drive amplifier that's piggy backed off your pictured receiver / amplifier, made the same way, same proportioned dimensions, with a larger tree trunk section. Design it to allow the room to be part of the speaker.

Lastly, choose the right driver. A really friendly vendor for this might be Parts Express out in Ohio. I live in Montana and have done a lot of business with these folks. Good people. They sell a type of product for every taste. See:

One might consider thinly sawing a much larger section of tree for the very high frequency driver, like a nice soft dome tweeter for those really sweet highs.. Mount the tweeter as close to center as possible for best dispersion, on the same wall (plane). Cool idea!

phildc (author)Dr. Science2011-09-15

I think countersinking the surface for the frame is a great idea, and you'd need a router for that, but where would you get router bits long enough to mill out a deep enough hole, or a hand held router with strong enough bearings to handle them? Also, auger bits remove material (albeit vertically) much more easily than any router bit I know of. I'd do the same as in the instructable, but use a heavy drill press.

scorpionwoodcraft70 (author)2011-01-16

I think the beetle and other marks like water marks like in (Spalted beech) wood bora give it character.
I am a wood turner and often use driftwood with lots of worm holes the more the merrier. I love it check out my web site click link

kingcm (author)2010-12-20

cool,that's nice!

drewgrey (author)2010-11-16

Very Cool.

redbeatles (author)2010-10-07


awfeckit (author)2010-10-07

They look good, but it seems to me that a major problem will be how to stop the wood from drying out completely and then splitting. I've seen the same thing happen on tree section coffee tables, clocks, etc.
And it seems to me that the vibration from the sound would aggravate that.
I didn't read the whole instructable. Maybe I missed that part.

Gozer (author)awfeckit2010-10-07

I would recommend drying the wood before starting the build. You could cut multiple sections in case they crack. Also, the wood would be more rigid at that point, which may improve sonic characteristics. While this would slow down the process and require storage space, it would result in a superior product

sabbbanana (author)2010-10-07


andrewpurnelluk (author)2010-10-07


David Catriel (author)2010-10-07

Beautiful idea, and nicely done! 5 stars :)

davescott (author)2010-10-07

I like it!!!

I have a similar idea which I've not yet implemented, which is to cut the trunk vertically - giving two D-profiles and using the flat surface as the baffle - scooping out the pith and leaving a strong outer shell of the xylem.

Grqqvy (author)2010-09-19

Just saw this, great idea! Always looking for more small things (e.g. plastic containers, PVC tubing, etc.) to make little pairs of speakers for computers and iPods. On that scale, these would be even easier to make out of smaller-diameter logs or branches, with 2" to 3" aluminum-cone speaker drivers. Thanks for the inspiration! I will post an Instructable when I make the first pair!

chucklesncreme (author)2010-06-21

Hey, something else that might speed up drilling time could be to build a small fire on top of the log and let it burn through. Kind of like making a dugout canoe.

RelientOwl (author)2010-05-18
Are they heavy? I would think they are.
skwoorl (author)2010-05-02

THIS WAS A VERY INSPIRING INTRUCTABLE! I havemade many home decore items from the logs harvested from our property and will definitely be adding tree speakers to my list. Thank you for the idea, and the how to.

incorrigible packrat (author)2010-04-09

Neato.  One little bit of pedantry though.  In step 5, it might be good to stress the importance of maintaining a death grip on the drill's side handle.  But hey!  I used to be a Safety Professional.  So naturally, I have a stupid injury story to relate.  A while ago when I was spending a fine couple of days crouched in a crawlspace, boring a 5 inch diameter hole through my foundation, I momentarily lost my grip on the side handle.  The drill caught me a good one upside the head.  My tongue's pretty much all healed up where I bit a wee chunk out of it.

OUCH! Hate when that happens! I recently got a literal ride on my old steel case 1/2" Black & Decker Catalog #361 Drill. While drilling in the foundation (cement) of my basement, (These drills have massive torque so I was hanging on with a "death grip") the bit got stuck and it spun the drill with me on top! Luckily I was using a short cord and it unplugged from the wall after about 3/4 of a revolution, I'm sure the next thing to happen would have been a broken finger or three or even an arm. When I got this drill I was told many people broke their arms using these torque monsters back in the day! Glad you're on the mend and it wasn't more serious!

I can plainly recall sitting there, spitting blood on the wall, swearing profusely and thinking that I could very easily have been hurt much much worse.  I was using one of those humungoid Bosch rotohammers that I rented at the Homey D.  These things drive a shaft that's something nutty like inch and a half, so I have little doubt that it could have taken my fool head clean off.

ArlisVDV (author)2010-04-09

  I often see chunks of elm like this with the center rotted out.  A large dutchman (plug) in the front and back would save all the hollowing work.  I would think if you worked carefully the plug would not be noticed.  I say this knowing exactly what it takes to hollow a log out as I spent many hours making a planter using your method.

noahw (author)ArlisVDV2010-04-09

Sounds good, but you knew this question was coming - how do you make a dutchman for a piece of wood like this? 

Planters in tree rounds - nice.

ArlisVDV (author)noahw2010-04-14

I was thinking either trace the opening from the inside on to a solid cutoff  piece.
Or take a cutoff piece and trim it up and trace it on the hollowed piece letting it in with a chisel.  Using a lathe like someone else mentioned would work beautifully.  But I don't have a lathe.

driesyo (author)2010-04-14


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Bio: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs ... More »
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