Introduction: Cookie Tin Banjo Part 3: Make Tuning Pegs From Scrap Wood

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
Continues the adventure begun at Cookie Tin Banjo Part 1.

Here's how to make the tuning pegs for your Banjo.
You can skip this by buying commercial violin pegs or by getting machine tuners from junk or new sources. Some people use eyebolts or other hardware store items, but I prefer wooden pegs.

Commercial violin pegs cost from $0.80 on up.
They can be obtained from:

Step 1: Banjo Kit, Version One

Here's the stuff I used to make the banjo with the octagonal body.
Those pegs are roughed out blanks. You can see the fractal pattern cut by the very abused bandsaw blade.
I sawed and whittled the pegs from a scavenged coffeetable leg. I shoved them into the holes in the drill guage to make them them round and get the taper right. The three circled holes are about right for base, tip, and middle of the peg.

That peghole reamer tapers too much and isn't straight. After tuning a string you have to shove the peg back into the hole.

For the next banjo I started over and was a lot more careful making the reamer, shaver, etc. The extra care saved me time and the result was better too. But by all means make your first banjo in a hurry,
you'll learn a lot by finishing it. So get it over with and start playing that one while you start your next one.

That's a chunk of fret wire around the rest of the stuff. It cost $5 for 2 feet at a music store.
I ended up liking the fretless sound and haven't fretted the neck yet.
The virtue of laziness must be overcome. I'll fret a neck in Part 5.

Enough background, back to my current best method for making pegs!

Step 2: Rip It Up!

Get the hardest wood you can find.
Tool handles, furniture, and old pianos are good sources.
This is some very heavy hard tropical wood scavenged from a cabinet shop.

Saw it into strips that are the right thickness and width.
These are an inch wide and .36" thick.
I use the imperial units for the convenience of our loyal allies in Liberia and Myanmar.
Everyone else uses the metric system.

Use a handsaw if you don't have a power saw.
Use an axe or machete to split it if you don't have a saw.
Don't get hurt. All these tools cut people meat a lot easier than they cut wood.

Step 3: Draw the Peg Pattern on the Wood

Draw the side view of the pegs on the sticks.
I used a round washer and a ruler with a fine-tip sharpie marker.

Step 4: Bandsaw Around the Lines

It's dangerous to bandsaw small objects. Don't get cut.
If you don't have a bandsaw use your jackknife, pullsaw, waterjet, lasercutter, etc etc.

Basically the rest of the process is the same as how my Granddad would carve a wooden bear:
"Cut off everything that doesn't look like part of a bear."

And here's how he'd do that safely: "Don't cut toward yourself and you'll never get cut."

Step 5: Concave the Knob Faces and Taper the Pins.

Grind the faces of the knobs concave.
They'll feel a lot better that way.
Your fingers are convex.

While you're at it grind the pin to a 25:1 taper to match your reamer.
Keep it square.

Sawdust from tropical wood tends to be bad for your lungs.

Step 6: Octagon the Pins

It's impossible to taper a round rod by hand and keep it at all round.
The only way is to taper it square first like you did in the previous step.
Then it's easy to whittle the corners off so it's an octagon.
After that it's even easier to whittle the corners off the octagon so it's a sixteen-ogon.
Then you would sand it, but we've got our magic peg shaver that we'll use instead.

Step 7: Clean Up the Knobs

I made my knobs in Siamese twin pairs up to this point so they'd be easier to hang on to.
Now you can cut them apart and beltsand the corners off.
Slightly irregular knobs are fine, that will add character to your fine handmade instrument.

Step 8: Peg Shaver to the Rescue!

Big emotional payoff here - use the peg shaver you made in Part 2 to smooth and taper your pegs to perfection.

It can take 2 hours to make a single peg without one of these.
Of course, that might be a good way to spend a couple of hours, maybe while sitting on a riverbank waiting for the fish to bite.

At first the blade on my shaver was too low and dug in. So I stroked the edge with a drill shank to make a burr and turned the peg the wrong way. The burr scraped fine powder off the peg like a furniture scraper.

For the next batch of pegs I put a metal shim under the blade, so it's just tangent to the edge of the peg. I resharpened the blade, and it was a lot faster than using it in scraper mode.