Introduction: Washboard Style Percussion Instrument

Our new ukulele ensemble aims to perform out on the street during the Castlemaine State Festival this year, but we are distinctly lacking in a percussion/rhythm section. I was inspired by Robin Rapuzzi's washboard playing when I saw Tuba Skinny perform in Sydney. But could I lay hands on one of those lovely vintage washboards? No.

Do you need an all-in-one percussion instrument for your jazz, skiffle or jug band? This instructable shows how you can use stuff from your household junk pile to make your own washboard-style bangclank instrument.

Step 1: Scrounge and Gather Materials

First is scrounging time.

You will need the following materials:

  • 1.5m total of 40mm x 18mm hardwood timber
  • 285mm of 50mm diameter draincoil (AGI pipe)
  • 8mm fluted dowels
  • pva wood glue
  • 310mm x 220mm x 1mm steel sheet material
  • 1x 40mm screw eye
  • bike bell
  • any other bells and whistles you think may be attached

Tools I used:

  • electric mitre saw
  • table saw
  • electric drill
  • orbital sander
  • chamfer plane (optional)
  • combination square
  • right angle corner clamps
  • utility/hobby knife
  • strong scissors (or tinsnips if you have them)
  • 8mm dowel joining kit (real basic - includes drill bit with depth stop and centre points
  • wooden mallet
  • electric hand planer (only if you're dimensioning timber down from larger stock)

Step 2: Cut Timber for Frame

Aim to cut 5 lengths of hardwood at 295mm each.

If you are beginning with timber bought from a hardware store, it is likely to be square and 'dressed all round'. In that case, do action (C) from the following list, then move on to Step 3.

Maybe you'll be using some salvaged timber for the build? I selected some pieces of timber framing from an old cabinet that was found at the tip and dismantled. These were 42x19mm in profile. The photos show the steps I took to end up with square and uniformly dimensioned pieces of wood. In order, I:

A) used an electric planer to remove surface weathering and discoloration;

B) used a combination square to mark damaged ends for removal and sawed these off square with an electric mitre saw;

C) cut 295mm sections using mitre saw. To ensure these were the exact same length I stacked all five and clamped them so ends on the left hand side were square with each other. The ends on the right hand side were resawn, ensuring blade trimmed even the shortest length ever so slightly. This eliminated variation in length and results in a tighter join when assembled;

D) adjusted fence on table saw so blade would lightly brush narrowest length of wood. I dimensioned down all five pieces to this same width.

Step 3: Frame Thinking and AGI Pipe Fitting


Lay the hardwood sections down in a configuration that works for you. I decided I wanted the AGI pipe over the vertical member on the right (I'm going to call this piece the guiro bar) and the sheet metal held within the rectangle formed by the other four pieces.

Fitting AGI pipe onto guiro bar

Measure up the piece to hold the AGI pipe, then you can use a utility/hobby knife to cut a corresponding length. Without too much trouble, this slid over the wood.

Cut slot for sheet metal

Next we are cutting a slot in the four remaining pieces of wood: left, right, top and bottom. This job could be done using a router table or another tool. I used a table saw. Adjust the cut depth on the table saw so it can rip a channel 1/3 of the way through the thickness of the wood. I wanted the slot for the sheet metal right near the front of the frame so I set the fence at 30mm. Run the four pieces through.

Step 4: Drill Dowel Holes

Clamp the frame pieces into place (with the exception of the AGI pipe one) to make drilling dowel holes easier. I used two 90 degree corner clamps.

To position the right hand side, I made sure to maintain a small gap between it and the AGI pipe. For me, this meant the right hand side vertical piece was centred at 60mm from the right side along the top and bottom rails.

I drilled the dowel holes with an electric hand drill, using an 8mm dowelling kit. This included an 8mm dowelling drill bit (brad point bit) with a depth stop. Drill two holes for each join.

We will drill dowel holes for the guiro bar part later in Step 6.

Step 5: Sand and Chamfer Timber

Before final assembly is a good time to give the timber pieces a sand and to chamfer the edges.

I used an orbital sander to give a quick sand, only to 180 grit. You could keep going for even better finish.

Then onto the Japanese planing board to run the chamfer plane over each piece. Entirely optional but a source of great enjoyment.

Step 6: Assemble

Gluing / dowelling bottom joins

Clamp left and right pieces to bottom once more, double checking the inside surfaces to ensure the slot for sheet metal lines up at the corners. Apply some pva wood glue inside the dowel holes and brush some onto the fluted dowels. Get help from a five year old for the fun part - hammering them in with a mallet!

Attach guiro bar

Now is a good time to attach the guiro bar. If you have a kit with dowel centering pins you can use this method:

  • Drill two dowel holes in each end of the piece.
  • Fit centering pins into the two holes at the bottom and gently position the piece as you'd like it to sit on the bottom piece of the frame. I chose to set this piece on an angle because I thought it would help with an ergonomic guiro action.
  • Holding the piece in its desired position, bang the top of the wood so pins mark drill points in the bottom.
  • Drill the holes in the bottom then glue and dowel this join.
  • Place the dowel centering pins in the top holes. Line up the top plate as desired and bang with a mallet, indicating spots to drill dowel holes in the top. Drill these holes.

Fitting bangclank sheet

  • Measure the width of the slot now that left and right sides have been joined to bottom.
  • The height of the sheet you need will be the length of your sides (295mm), plus 2x the depth of your slot. I estimated needing a rectangle 220x315mm.
  • Use a combination square and pencil to mark the rectangle you need on whatever sheet metal you are using.
  • Cut metal carefully with strong scissors or tinsnips. My steel sheet was 1mm thich but if you procure something thicker or with corrugations, consider using a cutting blade on an angle grinder or a hacksaw.
  • Slide sheet metal into the slot and see if top piece of frame will fit nicely. I ended up needing to trim off another 5mm from the top of the steel sheet before the top fitted.

Gluing / dowelling top joins

Now you're ready to join the top pieces. Same as above!

Bike bell

I decided the bike bell was going to be a right hand operation. The bottom right corner of the frame seemed like the place it belonged. To fit here, and for screws to be driven without bell being in the way, the bracket needed some adjustment using a pair of pliers. Mark location of holes, pre-drill with small bit and attach bike bell. Ka ching!

Attach rope

To hang the board around your neck you will need a rope or strap. I decided to insert a 40mm screw eye in the middle of the left side of the frame. I tied one end of some colourful rope to the top of the frame (next to the guiro bar) and the other end secured to the screw eye. Adjust for comfort and your ready to start percussion!

Step 7: Make Some Noise!

It's time to take the new instrument for a ride! I played around holding spoon handles and bottle openers but quite liked these oversize wok noodle chopsticks. If my jamming in the video seems arrhythmic to you I'm sure it's just because you can't hear the sweet tunes in my head that I'm accompanying! Uke ensemble busking plans just took a fun step forward.

Make Noise Challenge

Runner Up in the
Make Noise Challenge

Trash to Treasure Contest 2017

Participated in the
Trash to Treasure Contest 2017