Diddley Bow From Cherry, Ash and Elm

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About: Growing up in a rural area in the East of England I've always been interested in nature and trees and eventually found myself building things from the wood I could find. This has led me to follow my passion ...

My friend and fellow YouTuber Mark McCluney convinced me to try making a musical instrument, so I did. Apparently a Diddley Bow is one of the easiest instruments to make and I managed to complete it with a cherry branch, an ash log, some pieces of scrap elm, a guitar string and a few little metal bits.

To check out Mark's channel full of musical instruments and comedic value, click here: Mark McCluney on YouTube

I really hope you enjoy the build!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools :

- Pencil and Rule

- Drawknife

- Spokeshave

- Crosscut saw

- Tenon saw

- Rip saw

- Clamps

- Brace and 25mm auger bit

- Hand drill with 2mm and 4mm bit

- Large gouge chisel

- Bench chisel

- Mallet

- Screwdriver

- File

Materials

- Ash log (or any wood)

- Cherry branch ( " )

- Elm scraps ( " )

- 60 grit and 240 grit sandpaper

- A small hinge with 4 screws

- 2 X 40mm screws

- A 5mm bolt with nut

- Guitar string

- Finish of your choice (I used Danish Oil)

Step 2: Preparing the Log

I started by stripping the bark from an old ash log I had and then cutting it to length, trying to get the cut as straight as I could. Using a brace and a 25mm auger bit I drilled three large holes all the way through the centre of the log and broke out the rest of the waste with a large gouge chisel. I made the walls as thin as possible as I was told this would help the sound of the instrument.

The wall did break but I just glued it back together and then ran the ends over some 60 grit sandpaper on a flat surface to get them as flat as possible.

Step 3: Adding the Ends

I had a scrap piece of elm which I cut lengthways into two pieces, once again making the sound box elements as thin as possible. I glued the two pieces onto the ends, left them to dry overnight and then used a small tenon saw to cut away the waste. I then mixed up some of the elm sawdust with glue and filled in any gaps before smoothing the ends off with a file.

Step 4: Preparing the Branch/neck

After stripping the bark from the cherry branch with a drawknife and spokeshave I held the sound box up to where I wanted to fix it. I then drew a small curve for the box to fit in, sawed down the middle of the curve and chiseled out the waste.

Step 5: Making the Sound Holes and Fixing to the Branch

I balanced the box on the branch and drew onto it where I wanted the sound holes. The large auger bit seemed to want to make the box crack so I decided to weaken the walls of the box a little with a smaller drill bit first. I made sure to sand the holes afterwards and pull out any loose pieces of wood.

After that I held the box on the branch where I wanted it to be fixed and very awkwardly screwed in two screws from each hole. Of course there's probably many other ways to fix this box to the branch but at the time this was the simplest method.

Step 6: Adding the Hinge/bridge and Bolt

I set an old hinge down on my bench and filed a small groove into the centre, this is where the string would sit. Using four small screws I attached the hinge to the top of the box and then drilled a 4mm hole at the end of the branch/neck. Since it was a 4mm hole it meant that the bolt would go through the hole but also make its own thread as it did. I made sure to put the nut on the bolt before I started screwing it in.

I drilled a tiny hole in the branch behind the sound box and threaded the string through from underneath, over the top of the bridge and all the way down to the bolt. Once there I wrapped the string around the bolt and tightened up the nut so the string was held between the nut and the bolt head. All it took then was some tightening of the bolt to get the string as tight as needed.

Step 7: Apply Finish and Enjoy

I actually applied the finish before I put the string on but I'd say that entirely up to you. You need to (as far as I know) use a "slider" when playing the diddley bow as there are no frets to press the string against.

From this point onwards you're on your own as I have no idea how to play a diddley bow but if you want to see my attempts, wait until the very end of my video on YouTube.

Thank you so much for looking at this Instructable, I hope its made you more confident of having a go at making a diddley bow, I have very little knowledge of music and even I managed to make one so I'm sure you can too!

As always all comments and criticisms are greatly appreciated!

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    7 Discussions

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    timberanewdeluges

    Reply 9 months ago

    Thank you very much! Just trying to get used to playing it..its hard!

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    bcihlartimberanew

    Reply 7 months ago

    I just found out yesterday that this type of instrument & cigar box guitars is how many early blues/pickers got their start/sound the most famous being BO DIDDLEY! Very cool he got his stage name from such traditional rural instruments. Thank you for sharing a piece of history w/us ..great make! (such an easy mothers day gift for my sister). Depending on the string (e) I belive you used. once you have it in tune I have seen lots who mark 3 lines on their bow that correspond 2 blues cords like cdc or dge ...etc then is just playing 3 cords in a riff w/slide & you are ready to sit in your rocking chair by a campfire & play away. just youtube diddley bow/cigar box Shane Speal (3 string cigar
    box blues lesson) or Chris Pine they both have gr8t youtube channels on playing/building. ..can't wait 2 see your next build these seem fun 2 make.

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    timberanewbcihlar

    Reply 7 months ago

    Well thank you very much, I have so little knowledge of musical instruments I actually have no clue what kind of string I used! I made it purely from a woodworking aspect and also because a friend challenged me to make one! I'm really glad you enjoyed it and I hope you can make one of your own in the future.

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    bcihlar

    7 months ago

    hello folks, In my YouTube rabbit hole I found 2 guys who show u how 2 play / build Shane Speal & Chris Pine. I only share their names as I'm very excited 2 build 1 or more of these types and hope u are also. w/such easy instructions we should all have a band by end of the week no excuses...practice is this Thursday lol

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    typeajl

    8 months ago on Step 7

    Hey Man, Great job. Love the video, amazed you did the whole thing without any power tools. It reminds me a lot of a Brazilian birembau (spelling?). You should try playing some capeora music!

    1 reply
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    timberanewtypeajl

    Reply 8 months ago

    Thank you very much! Ah yes, it does look like one of those, I know what you mean. I mean....I could try to play capoeira music but I'm not sure how it'd sound haha.