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Built your own Cajon (a drum) for less than 25.- Euro

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Picture of built your own Cajon (a drum) for less than 25.- Euro

A Cajon is a south american drum made completely out of wood. It is played by slapping the front face with your hand and it's perfect for unplugged sessions because it could substitute a whole drumset. 
This instructable shows you how to build a perfect Cajon for about 25.- Euros and only a few hours of work.
It is perfect for schools as the steps themself are short. They only take 30-60min. each but you have to wait each time for a day to let the glue dry.
And you don't need many tools, an electrical drill is essential, all other steps might also be done with manual tools (jigsaw, screwing...)

The result is an individual Cajon that meets even high standards. I chose the size so that it will also fit in any commercial bag, which you might want to buy.
 
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Step 1: You need

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Tools:

an electric drill with 2mm drill bit, can also use a cordless screwdriver for this job
a jigsaw (electric or manually operated)
a screwdriver (electric or manually operated)
some wood glue
a tape measure or ruler (30cm is enough)
4 clamps or something heavy like a set of filled water bottles

Materials:

You need six pieces of wood to built the box. The best and most common wood that you can take for this job is birch multiplex. Every hardware store should have this and they could also cut it for you to the right size.

For one Cajon we need:
2 pieces of 300 x 300 x 12 mm (bottom and top)
2 pieces of 300 x 476 x 12 mm (side parts)
2 pieces of 300 x 500 x 4 mm (front and back)
 4 pieces of 290 x 12 x 12 (not multiplex, I used pine, because it is rather cheap, this can be made from a rectangular block of wood, doesn't have to be birch, also the size doesn't have to be exact 12, can also be 10 or 14)
some screws of 2.5 x 16mm and 2.5 x 20mm
some knobs for the foot.
and optionally: a set of snare wires, the longer the better, 35cm or 14" is ok.

Cost:
wood: < 20.- ( I got mine for 16.-)
snare wires: ~ 5.- (I paid 7.- (optionally)
screws and glue: 2.- (had it at home already)
knobs: 4pieces 1.- (also had it at home)

Total: 23.- to 30.- Euros

Step 2: The size of the wood pieces

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The length of the side parts is the 500mm minus twice the thickness of the birch multiplex. So if you only get Multiplex with a thickness of 14, adjust the length of the side parts to 472mm (500mm - (2*14mm) = 472 mm)
The size of the 4 stabilizing sticks is not so critical, they can also be 280mm long and 10mm or 14mm thick, you'll see later why. Buy a cheap rectangular block of wood and cut the pieces by yourself, thats quite easy. Multiplex is very stable in large pieces, but if you cut it in small pieces, the layers might disintegrate!

That's all, let's start!

Step 3: Cut the long rectangular block of wood

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First of all cut the long rectangular block of wood to the desired pieces of 290mm. File down the edges if there are any splinters left from the sawing.

Now look at the two thin wood pieces and choose which of them should be the front and which the back. Once you decided this, you should take care not to damage or to soil the outer surface.

Step 4: Cut the sound hole

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Now take the back one and mark the circle for the sound hole. I chose to position it at 2/3 of the height. The exact size and position doesn't matter too much. Just try to get a harmonically look. For me the center of the hole was 15cm from each side and 17cm from the top. Then I used and old CD to draw a perfect circle prior to cutting it out with the jigsaw.

After that I thought I would have rather made a flower than a perfect circle, but ah, may be the next time.

After finishing the sawing use a file to eliminate still existing corners and finally break the rim with sandpaper to get a smooth surface.

Step 5: Drill the holes

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Now it is time to drill the front and backside. The lower front side is glued to the frame, so you don't need any holes here. The backside is completely screwed. This way you can open it for service. ;-)
Get the holes at a distance from the rim of half the thickness of the side parts. If they are 12mm thick, drill the center at 6mm from the rim. Either measure it, or draw the thickness of the side parts to the rim of the backside.
Think about the distances by yourself or just use the ones that I propose.
For the long side use 4cm from each end and 6cm from screw to screw. (8x)
For the short side use 3cm from each end and also 6cm from screw to screw. (5x)

Mark the center of the hole and drill with a 2mm drill bit. And use some old scrap wood when drilling to avoid the lower side to break out.

Step 6: Make countersinks

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Now take another piece of sand paper and sand down the edges of the holes. Then take a countersink cutter and make the holes wider for the head of the screws. If you don't do this, either the screw will not sink completely into the surface or the wood could crack.
Sand down the edges another time after that.

Now take the front part and mark the holes for the screws. I suggest to use fewer screws than on the back side. The top half of the front must be loose to be able to swing and produce a good sound. I suggest to use 2 screws on the long side, the first 6cm from the edge and the second 8cm from the first. And 4 screws on the short side, 3cm from the edge and 8cm from each other. That looks good.

Step 7: Glue rectangular block of wood to the side parts


Now that everything is prepared, take the rectangular blocks of wood and glue one of them to each end of the long side parts. It is very important to get the two edges real smooth, as there will be the bottom and top side glued to the sides. So first add some wood glue and let it dry for a few minutes. Don't use too much glue, as this will cause the two parts to swim on each other, making it difficult to adjust them. Then get them together and adjust the edge. If everything is o.k. carefully close the clamps and press the two parts together. The wood glue needs a few hours to dry down and while this time don't touch it.

After the glue is dried you can drill 3 holes into the rectangular block of wood and screw some of the long screws (2.5x20) inside. If you get only 10mm multiplex and 10mm blocks, you should take only 16mm screws! Also be careful not to drill to far! The hole in the multiplex doesn't have to be deep.
To prepare this thing for the next step, also drill holes in the direction of the top and bottom part. I placed the screws at a distance of 8cm from the side and from each other. For the holes I measured from the other end, giving me an offset between the two of 2cm.

Step 8: Glue the first side part to the bottom


Now the glue is dried, we can start to glue the main frame together. The backside gives us some kind of support for this, because we want to have a box with 90° angles. Everything else will look like rubbish.

Get all the parts ready and start adding glue to the bottom part and the edge of the side part. Let it dry a few minutes then get it together. Do this in the upright position, with the front side down.
Now adjust the two parts, that the edges are really smooth and then put the backside on top. Drill through the first hole of the back side a little bit into the side part. You remember, the screws had 2.5mm and the drill is only 2mm, so there is enough wood retained to give a good strength.
Fix the back with the two outer screws to the side plane. Then continue with the bottom part and also screw the back to the bottom part. Make sure the parts don't move while screwing!

Now you can carefully lay it on the bottom and start screwing the inner rectangular block of wood to the bottom.
The back side, fixed with 4 screws, makes sure that we really maintain a right angle between the two parts.

Step 9: Glue the second side part

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Now add glue to the edge of the second side part and the bottom. Let it dry a few minutes and put the two parts together. Make sure all the edges fit and then start screwing the back to the second side part. Start with the lower screw near the joint, then adjust the upper part and insert the second screw.

Then carefully rise it up and fix the blocks inside.


Step 10: Add the top

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Now add glue to the top edges of the side parts and the inside of the top part. Let it dry a bit and then press it together.
Adjust the position and fix it with two screws on the back part.
Then turn it around, so that the top lies flat on the table. Then adjust the front end of the side parts and fix it with a screw. See picture three and four for this point.

Step 11: Add the front and finish the back side

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When all parts are fixed you can add the front part. It only has screws in the upper half, so make sure to get it right. Don't use any glue yet, only screws.

Then finish the back side by inserting all the rest of the screws.
I suggest to first screw in all the ones in the middle and then the rest. Drill a bit with the 2mm bit to make it easier to insert the screws. Make sure you adjust any deviations before drilling and screwing!

Step 12: Glue the front panel

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After all the glue from the last few steps has dried (24h), start to glue the front part. First unscrew the front part and mark the middle of a side.
Now apply some wood glue to the lower half of the front face and the frame and press it together with the help of something heavy, like water bottles or books. Make sure you don't load it to the middle of the front plate, because this will bent the sides up and buckle the front side. Alternatively turn the box around and load the back with something heavy or use supporting boards.

Step 13: Add some case legs

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This is the last essential step before you can play your Cajon.
As case legs I used some rubber devices I found at a hardware supply shop. They are either used as case legs or as a pad for doors to protect the wall.
Just screw them in the base plate at a sufficient distance from the edge.

Step 14: Add the snare wires

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When you got here, you already hold a working Cajon in your hands! Plug it in and see what's happening.
No, I'm just joking, there is nothing to plug in, you hit the upper front with your flat hand and make nice noise. If you want to change the sound you can install some snare wires, but this step is optional.

The snare wires give a metal sound to the drum. If you don't know if you would like it, go to a music shop and try out some Cajon with and without snares.
Cut the snare wires in half and mount them on a small rectangular block of wood, then screw this to the top so that the snare wires touch the front panel from the inside. If you screw it close to the front the sound will be very hard, else the sound will rather be soft. Try it by yourself before finally fixing it.


Step 15: Fixing the snare wires (optional)

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In the pictures you see how the snare wires on the block of wood are screwed to the top plate of the cajon. The snares are bent so that more than two third of the length touch the inner side of the front face. This gives a nice snary sound for the bass and nearly no snare sound for the high taps.

Step 16: Fixing the snare second version (optional)

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Meanwhile I built a second cajon and had to take other snares because the old ones were sold out and I didn't want to wait. Now these snares are more rigid than the others and fixing them the same way resulted in a very dull sound.
So I used a longer rectangular block of wood and fixed it with two wooden 'u's like you can see in the picture. By adjusting the height and the angle that the snares touch the inner front face I could adjust the sound of the snares.
With this setup I have a clear bass, a snary middle sound and a rather clear high.

Step 17: Finalizing the Cajon

The last  step is to grind down the surface to a smooth touch. You can do it by hand, but I suggest you use a grinding machine for the job. It's much more comfortable. Take 3 different grinding discs with roughness of 80, 120 and 240. Start with the 80 disc. This one is very rough and will grind down a lot if you stay to long on one place. Move over all sides uniformly.

If you finished the whole cajon, wipe down the dust with a dry cloth and then with a wet cloth. Let it dry completely before entering the second grinding cycle.

Now take the 120 disc and grind all over again. Do the same wiping as before and repeat everything finally with the 240 disc. This one is the smoothest and the surface should be really smooth afterwards.

Now you could paint it over or apply some wood conservation stuff. I used wood wax, because it is natural and gives a nice stain to the boards. Just follow the advices that come with your product.

An now you are really done with the job and can finally play your own cajon.

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Rixxynton made it!1 month ago

Hi!! I made my first cajon following you instructions with a bit of customization, It sounds really good and the percussionist of my acoustic band plays it in our gigs. Thank you

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andyk75 (author) 6 months ago

Hi,

the sound is surely good without the snares. It depends on what you like, the snares just add a new component of sound to it. :-)

Try at the local music stores, maybe they have spare snares or used guitar strings...

chibipt6 months ago

Loved the instructable, i've been thinking for so long to make one by myself :)

Just a small question, the sound without the snares is good, it does the work, or the snares make a better sound? Because here in Portugal it's hard to find some cheap snares ou guitar strings :/

Good Work :)

rkennedy51 year ago

Great instructable, I want to start it this weekend.
I am based in the UK, and was wondering will the standard plywood (from B&Q or Wickes) at those thickness work as am trouble sourcing 'Birch Plywood'

andyk75 (author)  rkennedy51 year ago
The side parts have to carry the weight, so make sure to select wood that is strong enough.
The front has the major impact on the typical sound of the cajon and should be only 3-4mm thick.
DIfferent plywood may be different sound.
That doesn't mean one it better than the other. I've seen a lot of Cajons with different wood.
Here in Germany it is hard to get something else than birch... :-)

Thanks,

i will try what my local depot is supplying and let you know the results

ssspppooo2 years ago
I made it my self!! Cheers from Greece!!! A great tutorial!! I put the snare in the middle and in a very small difference from the vertical position!! Made the perfect sound!!!! Thanks again!!
PunkZERO2 years ago
Since I'm from Germany, too: where exactly did you manage to get 14mm Multiplex? I searched for it and 15mm was the closest I could get. Since it's that hard to find on the Internet I don't suppose it's easier to find at Toom or such stores.
andyk75 (author)  PunkZERO2 years ago
Actually I used 12mm for the side and 4mm for the front and back side.
And I bought them both at Bauhaus.
The sides are not critical, they only have to carry the weight of the player, even 15mm is ok.
The front and back panel shall be as thin as possible, to provide a good sound. The 4mm might not always be available, just keep on trying!
kimjames2292 years ago
How do you keep the snare rattles from staying in that position against the wood? Wouldn't it fall off if you hit the front side?
andyk75 (author)  kimjames2292 years ago
The wooden 'U' keeps the long rectangular rod in place and the snares produce counter-pressure to the 'U'. It won't fall off, even if you would turn it upside down!

On the other hand, if you install the snare so that they don't touch the front side, because you don't want the snare sound, then the rod may fall out if turned upside down!
pat425862 years ago
I made my own and the coats of stain and polyurethane did wonders and made it look store bought. I made four legs by cutting out 1.5" holes in a 1" piece of wood with a hole saw, then countersinking them and putting felt tabs underneath. A great instructable
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msoft42 years ago
Perfect! An absolutely wonderful tutorial. I just finished mine and the sound is incredible. A quality cajon like this is sold for $100 - $300. We have enough wood to build 4 and we only spent $80 (wood, glue, sandpaper, etc. included).

Thank you andyk75!
Jodex4 years ago
I have this project going on right now. I'm gonna make those snare wires myself by recycling old guitar strings.
evindrews4 years ago
I haven't read through the whole instructable, but, are the cornered shafts actually just for the corner? Are they necessary? Thanks!
andyk75 (author)  evindrews4 years ago
I think yes. They are used to take up the screws from the two sides parts that form the corner. Otherwise you would have to screw directly screw the side parts to each other and they are rather thin for this purpose. Look at step 10 to see what I mean. With the shafts it is much more stable.

What gldx03 meant was the main frame of the box. I used 12mm wood and he suggested 8mm. Then you really need corned shafts! The front part could also be thinner like 3mm or so, but that is hard to find.
gldx034 years ago
Hi, I am Peruvian, and the "Cajon" is from Peru, and I want to comment that the wood should be thinner for that sound is much better, should be around 8mm
Are you talking about the front part that you beat on? I'm not a very good builder, so i'd like to make sure...
tamazer4 years ago
are the screws in the small blocks completely necessary?
aaron00lee4 years ago
Do you have any idea how many double entendres are in this instructable? I was both cracking up and admiring the detail the whole time. Helpful and entertaining.
andyk75 (author)  aaron00lee4 years ago
Yes indeed, I didn't intend to, but now you said it I might have thought a bit longer about the text...
GOODGHOST4 years ago
Very cool.
I have played a few Cajon drums, and I really liked how versatile they can be. The only thing that has kept me from buying one myself is that it seems to always bee overpriced. I guess also.... my lower back would start to ache if I played too long. It would be nice to be able to sit more upright when played.
gldx034 years ago
To play the "Cajon" it takes a lot of practice with the techniques in their hands. Afro-Peruvian music is the most used instrument. I can see Eva Ayllon concert or Peru Negro as an example but there are many more.
static4 years ago
Never heard of a cajon, or one played. After looking at youtube, this is something I might try. thanks for posting.
huugje874 years ago
A tip: next time you should clamp the block first exactly into place, then drill the holes, release the clamps, apply glue and after five minutes put the parts together and immediately screw them together. This way you don't have to worry too much about the parts swimming in glue or sliding out of place when clamping. And you're not stuck with some parts with clamps on it for hours as the screws will hold everything in place fine and no clamps are needed after glueing.
andyk75 (author)  huugje874 years ago
I tried this several times before, but the chance for a misaligned piece is much higher. You might drill precise enough, but the screw causes some force by itself. Think of a hard piece of wood right beside one of the drilled holes! The screw will then be shifted to the other side...

Because of that it is much better to glue the parts first and then screw them together. It's the difference between enough and too much that is difficult for beginners, this is why I wrote these notes.

Kiteman5 years ago
It would be good if you could add an mp3 or video of it being played...
andyk75 (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
I have tried a video yet, but the sound is so bad, you only hear a click any time I hit the cajon... I hope to get a better one soon.
Andy, Any idea why you are not getting a better sound? I wonder if plywood is appropriate? Also how thin were your front and back?
andyk75 (author)  LandMime4 years ago
It's a problem with my camera, not with the cajon! The Sound of the cajon is great, but recording a drum is not easy. Front and back are 4mm thin or thick.
Andy - Just a thought... if you are trying to record the sound and a video using a digital camera it might help to see if you can set it not to change focus during the video. I had an old Cannon camera that picked up the sound of the motor adjusting the focus. Just an idea, you may have tried this already. Cheers - Mike
I second Kiteman, I would love to hear how it sounds. You did a very good job laying out the steps and I'm think about making one, but I would really like to hear it! Thank you for the effort you put into the instructions, well done.
Verga4 years ago
Thanks now i have another project ot add to my list of things I need to build. Seriously Great project and great instructable, very clear
HaPPI4 years ago
Looks good andyk75 - nice work! They are really fun to play, sound much like djembe/cunga/bongo once you get the hang of it. It makes many sounds depending where you tap it or even slide your hand along the head like a brush sound, just combine the different sounds like any hand drum. I've made a number of them and given away most. I make three sizes, one very large I call filing cabinet (drawer, get it? use it for bass drum, tap it with my foot while playing a smaller one with the hands) one I call kitchen (the size of a kitchen drawer or briefcase, much more portable, 12x20x3 inches) and one called nightstand about 13x13x2 inches. I try to use only recycled wood, and the older the better. Old wood gets more resonant with age, more sustain, a more rich tone, like a Stradivarius! My fave that I kept has sides of 50 year old red cedar and heads from 50 year old 1/8th inch wood paneling before they invented that particleboard junk. I've made several from actual crate wood, some from tearout from remodeling, always free and otherwise headed for a landfill. A light finish like a thin coating of wax or tung oil on the 2 thin "head" plywood sides and rubbed on, rubbed off urethane/stain on the 4 thicker sides. A light, very resonant wood is the best side wood such as red cedar if you can find it, or any guitar wood or other musical instrument wood, solid wood or ply. A wonderful ply is birch. Whatever species, if you tap it and it sings, it will make a great cajon. I have a little black walnut I'm going to try next for sides, and I predict fabulous tone. Tried pine but its too soft and makes a more muted tone. Most important thing is to have fun making it beautiful, and then have fun make the music beautiful. Enjoy!
MTJimL4 years ago
A guy in our church worship team went from a djembe to a cajon and the volume is about the same, while the range of tones is spectacular for such a small instrument. Another advantage is the player has a built-in seat. In fact, that's the way it's supposed to be played.
Here are my plans which include the ability to "tune" your cajon. http://www.tomasdaly.com/How_to_build_a_Cajon.html
codeblue124 years ago
Very nice instructable. a cheaper alternative is to use guitar strings for snares. but this looks very well constructed.
zerty0n4 years ago
I have always wanted to build one of these self so simple but yet very cool instrument. One thing tho don't the real drums lie this ave snare wires in the to resonate. here is a link of a picture of the snare wires inside sorry about low res i cant find any better ones http://brandontrading.wholemusiclearning.com/BTE%20Graphics/LP%20Aspire%20Cajon%2001B.JPG. Also another picture a little better resolution with snare wires only going half way im not sure what difference it would make http://caseyconnor.org/cajonstuff/images/markscajon4.jpg But I've heard if u want to go cheap instead of snare wires you could use old guitar strings (or new if you want) but i would say to wait till u have a bunch of the same gauge. Good instructable tho i still may try to build one myself!
LandMime4 years ago
Looks really cool. Be nice to see it played, especailly regarding how to position yourself for play and also to see the size compared to a person. I'm assumming you can play it from any side, right? I wonder how loud it is?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXeNTf2EaUI&feature=related
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