How to Build Your Own Cajon Box Drum With Adjustable Snare




About: I'm a Virginia Tech Student studying Ocean Engineering. I'm into a lil' bit of everything I guess.

In this instructable I will be showing you how to build your very own Cajon box drum. We made 2 Cajon drums for under 50$, so around 25$ a piece. I will be entering this instructable in the Musical Instruments Contest, so please vote!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

Things you will need will include: Wood- its up to you what type, we used 1/4 inch Birch Plywood for the drum faces. and 1/2 in Birch ply for the remaining 4 sides. Wood Glue. Screws- make sure they look nice because they will be visible. Snare Mechanism- You will need 1/2 of a standard snare wire set. You can find them here. Dowell Rod- 1/2 inch. The Tools You will need: Table Saw- or a handsaw if you do not have one. Screwdriver- one that matches the type of screw. Sandpaper- rough for getting the overall shape, finer grit for the overall finish. Dremel- or another tool that can be used to cut a circle. Drill- used to presink screws as to not crack the wood. Optional- Paint- your choice. Stain or varnish- your choice

Step 2: Start the Planning

We've all heard it, measure twice and cut once. The goal was to make the Cajon Drum 1x1x1.5 ft (length X width X height). We also wanted to make the box sit flush with the ground, which means you will not see the bottom piece of wood at all. This overall made it a little complicated to do the measuring and lining up of the box. In the end we settled on an ideal design that consisted of 2, 1/4 inch panels (used as the front and back panels) that were 18.5 inches tall by 12 inches wide. the two sides (left and right) measured 18 inches tall by 1 foot wide. the top was a square that was 12 inches by 12 inches. the bottom was cut as to fit flush with the ground and measured 11 inches by 12 inches. Look at the picture if your confused, excuse the handwriting.

Step 3: Cut and Build!

Cut out the pieces for the box. Make sure that you tape over the lines to prevent the saw from shredding the edges. After you cut all of the pieces out, you can then build the basic box shape. Clamp the shape and let set. If you don't have corner clamps you can tightly wrap string or belts around the shape to help compress it. At this point you can add ribbing along the inside. We used 1x1/2x1/2 (LxWxH) blocks as ribbing along the inside to help hold the screws. Press these blocks into place and wipe away any access glue. Next you can work on the faces, use a small amount of glue to secure the front onto the box. Use weights or books or something to put pressure on the wood. Next take the back, and cut a hole about the size of a CD in it using something like a dremel or other tool.   

Step 4: Making the Snare Mechanism.

The goal for this was to keep it simple, but make it effective. The snare is what really sets apart the Cajon from just a wooden box. This way of attaching a snare allows you to play with no snare sound, or a lot of snare and everything in between. We took a 1/2 inch dowel rod and cut it to about 13-14 inches. We then cut a hole in the side of the box and slid the rod through. On the other side of the box directly across from the hole we put a block of wood with a hole halfway through it to hold the other end of the rod. We secured the rod inside the box by gluing a wheel to the edge. Look at the pictures to help follow along. On the outside of the box we made a "gear" out of spare wood, and a "toggle switch" that would keep the snare from bouncing back. Super Simple, and Super Effective.  Cut the entire snare in half and screw one half to the rod. you can turn the gear, and press the switch into place to keep it from turning backwards.

Step 5: Final Assembly

Use some glue to secure the back onto the box. Take some screws and pre-sink the holes into the wood very carefully. Use some screws to tighten the back and front into place. DO NOT INSERT SCREWS IF YOU WANT TO PAINT/STAIN/VARNISH YOUR DRUM. its best to do the screws after you've done what you want to do.

Step 6: Paint!!

Decorate it your way. I printed off my name in a custom font and used a CriCut machine to outline it, and used it as a stencil. I then took tape, and made 3, 1 inch stripes going up and over the box and sanded them to make it rough.  On the remaining side I wrote "This Side Up" and painted it on also. On the other box we put my brothers name and a logo he liked. The project turned out so much better than I could have ever thought. They both sound great and compared to store made versions they look a lot cooler. The entire project was a success in the quality and cost. Thanks for reading!

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55 Discussions


4 years ago on Introduction

In searching for any info about drums with wooden heads, I
discovered cajons and eventually, this Instructable. The thing that I'm
not entirely satisfied with is using plywood for the head. Here's

The head of most drums is a membrane in *tension*. When
it's struck, the head vibrates, forming complex soundwaves that radiate
outward in concentric circles from the striking point, which in turn
interact with soundwaves being reflected from the edges/rim of the drum
head, until the waves' energy is dissipated.

OTOH, a guitar's top (or a violin's or any other stringed instrument) is
basically a stressed member in *compression*. When the strings are
plucked, strummed or whatever, it vibrates the bridge
which bears against the instrument's top and causes it in turn to
vibrate, producing soundwaves that behave similarly to those from a
drumhead being struck.

Better-quality stringed instruments
use a plank of solid wood (or more often, a bookmatched pair with the
seam running lengthwise from neck to tail) as the top of the guitar.
The directionality of the wood's grain seems to create more "musical"
tones than plywood which, with its interlocking grain, essentially forms
a homogenous membrane; plywood-topped guitars, double-bases, etc., tend
to sound dead.

Since So, if stringed instruments sound better if
the top material is solid wood (not plywood), wouldn't it make sense
that the wooden head of a drum would likewise sound better if it was
solid, rather than plywood? Yeah, I understand that a plank of spruce,
mahogany or other common stringed instrument tonewoods would be more
fragile, expensive and difficult to work. But my question is, would the
sounds it produces be more "musical" than plywood?

4 replies

Reply 2 years ago

Indeed a solid wood face will give better sound. A source for this if you are a scrounger is an old clothes dresser. The bottoms of really old drawers are often solid wood about a quarter in thick and not plywood. This wood is aged with time and provides a much better sound than you can hope for with other material. But it is only available if you have a really old dresser that has fallen apart.


Reply 2 years ago

That's a great idea! I frequently see old dressers (pre-plywood-era) being trashed and it never occurred to me that the wide planks of wood used for drawer bottoms could be repurposed for musical projects. Thanks for the suggestion!


Reply 7 months ago

If you can find a discarded piano, where there is access to the remains of the soundboard, this is can be a great source of soundboard materials foe many types of instruments, that need a resonant wood.


Reply 8 months ago

It's true, plywood is not good and creates more of a thumping sound than a ringing timbre as does old-growth tight-grained cedar used on a good guitar. I used just that on a large cajon and it sounds so good and is truly musical.


4 years ago on Introduction

Does the type of wood make a big difference? where can you find out about the acoustic differences between wood types?

2 replies

Reply 8 months ago

I use clear old-growth cedar 3/16" thick (similar to a guitar face) and it has remarkable acoustics. I think it produces the very best timbre and makes a cajon into a truly musical instrument.

Bogan DropbearDIYJRAY

Reply 4 years ago

birch makes best sound other woods dont resonate as well

Lovely Phil alex.merwin

Reply 1 year ago

I want to try and make a giant cajon- I'd guess I'd need to make a frame or brace the panels some how. I'll post up how I get on but got a few things in need to do first!


Reply 2 years ago

stick with 12x12 inch top but you could ajust the hieght by changing the size of the pannels


Question 9 months ago on Step 6

i it hard to make

how long does it take

how much does it cost


Reply 2 years ago

you could use a square hole and hand sand finger grooves on the top of the square

Lovely Phil

2 years ago

Used a guitar rose over the sound hole to hide my poor cutting efforts! (But ordered the wrong size...)


5 years ago on Introduction

I don't understand the snare action. The picture in the link looks like the snares from a snare drum. I don't understand how those floppy springy wires are connected to the rod and to where else? How does rotating the rod press the wires against the drum surface? Please add more detail or more pics of the finished mechanism.