Krazy Kalimba




Introduction: Krazy Kalimba

Hi! Thanks for checking out my Krazy Kalimba. I'm Patrick, and I'm in 7th grade. My science teacher gave us an extra-credit project to build a music instrument that can play at least four notes. I looked at a bunch of ideas online and decided to try a kalimba,which is sometimes called a finger piano. A kalimba is a "lamellophone" which is an instrument that makes sound when someone plucks, strikes, or vibrates the tines.

There are lots of different materials you can use to make a kalimba at home, but I decided to use a design that was inspired by a few Instructables I had seen and then a great YouTube video by a user named "Switch & Lever." My final kalimba isn't as professional looking as his, but I did my best.

For tools, I only used stuff we had around the house. You or your parents may have better tools available that can make building your kalimba a little easier. I had never used the Dremel tool that you'll see a little bit later, so I asked my dad for help. You'll see his hands in some of the pictures. Always be sure to ask for help from an adult if you need to. And have an awesome time making and playing your own kalimba!

Step 1: Collect Your Supplies.

To make your kalimba, you'll need these supplies and tools (or something similar):

  • An empty cigar box (18cm long, 15cm wide, 6.5cm high)
  • An empty glass (diameter of the rim about 6.5cm)
  • (5) colored popsicle sticks
    (2) pieces of scrap wood (each 13cm long, 2.2 cm wide, 2cm deep)
  • (2) thick screws (each about 6cm long)
  • (2) bolts
  • Pencil
  • Pliers
  • Sandpaper
  • Utility knife
  • Clamps
  • Safety earphones and goggles
  • Dremel MultiPro tool with cutting disc and sanding drum attachments
  • Power drill
  • Painter's tape (I used Frog Tape brand)
  • Liquid Nails Fuze It All-Surface Adhesive
  • Caulk gun for the Fuze It

Step 2: Prepare the Cigar Box.

You first want to get your cigar box ready for the project. Carefully cut off the lid with a utility knife, and peel away the small scraps of paper sticking around the edges. Then, use the rim of a glass or another round object to trace a circle on the bottom half of the cigar box lid. I found that a glass with a diameter of 6.5cm was just right for the size of my cigar box. Don't put the circle right in the middle of the box. Move it a little closer to the bottom so you have plenty of room to attach other things to the box as you build the kalimba.

So why did I decide to use a cigar box? Cigar boxes are usually made of lightweight wood, and wood is great for helping to amplify sound.

Step 3: Cut Out the Hole in Your Cigar Box Lid.

Remember how I said that you might have better tools at home for this project than I did? Well, this is one of those times. I'm going to tell you how to follow the same steps I used to make my kalimba. But before you start, it's a good idea to look around your house for other ways to cut out the hole. There are lots of power tools that are designed for making smooth holes, and there are even other Dremel Multi-Pro attachments that would be great for the project. I just didn't have them, so I found another way to get the job done.

First, put on your safety goggles and hearing protection. Next, clamp the cigar lid to the top of a work bench so it won't move around. Then, use an electric drill to make holes all around the circle you drew on top of the lid. Put the cutting disc attachment on the Dremel Multi-Pro and plug it in. Turn the Dremel to high power. Use it to slowly connect the dots between the holes you drilled, making sure it cuts all the way through the box around the circle. This process makes some dust and smoke. It also might smell bad because the Dremel burns the paper that still covers the cigar box. All of this is normal -- don't panic!

Once you cut all the way around the circle, turn off the Dremel. Remove the circle from the box. Change the attachment on the Dremel to the sanding drum. Turn the Dremel on to low power. Then, gently move the sanding drum around the inside of the circle on the lid to smooth it out. This is so you don't get splinters when you touch it.

When the inside of the circle is smooth, turn off the Dremel. Take the clamps off the cigar box lid.

Step 4: Get the Wood Pieces Ready to Hold the Popsicle Sticks on Your Kalimba.

Now you are ready to work on the wood pieces you'll use to hold the popsicle sticks on your kalimba. Start by sanding the wood to smooth it out -- this is another step that can help you not get splinters. Then, set aside one piece of the wood for later. Lay out all five popsicle sticks across the other piece of the wood. Spread them out evenly, but be sure to leave at least 3cm (maybe more) of open space on each end of the wood because you'll need to drill holes in it later.

Once you have your popsicle sticks in the right spot, use a pencil to mark lines on either side of each stick. Then draw small X's or another symbol in between the lines for the popsicle sticks. This is an extra step, but it really helped me tell the difference between the popsicle stick lines and the open spaces once all the marks were on the wood.

Now you should clamp the wood piece with the lines drawn on it to your work bench. You are going to be using the Dremel with the sanding drum attachment. Turn the Dremel on low power and move it forward and backward a few times in each for the popsicle stick. Do it slowly and don't press too hard! You want the Dremel to create small indents along the wood that are deep enough for the popsicle sticks, but not so far down that the sticks will be too low.

Pick up the other piece of wood you set aside earlier. Use painter's tape to connect it to the wood that has the indents for the popsicle sticks. Make sure the ends line up with each other really well.

Use an electric drill to drill a hole in each end of the wood, pushing hard so the drill goes straight through both pieces of wood. Be sure to ask an adult for help if you are having trouble pushing the drill down hard enough to get it to go through both pieces of wood. My dad had to help me get it started.

Step 5: Connect the Wood Pieces to the Lid of the Cigar Box.

Take the wood piece with the indents cut in it and lay it across the lid of the cigar box. Put it about 4cm from the top of the lid, and take your time to make sure it is straight. I hurried a little bit on this step, and you can see in the pictures that the wood pieces on my kalimba are a little crooked (or krooked) -- that's why it's KRAZY!

When you have the wood where you want it, stick a pencil inside each hole to mark where it lines up with the lid. Then clamp the lid back on your tool bench and drill two holes through the pencil marks you just made.

Put the screws through both holes, from the bottom of the lid to the top. Then, slide the piece of wood with the indents down onto the screws, making sure that the indents are facing up.

Slide the other piece of wood on top of the first one and lightly tighten the bolts by hand. Don't tighten them too much though. You will need space to slide in the popsicle sticks in the next step.

Step 6: Add Popsicle Sticks to Your Kalimba and Position Them So You Can Hear Five Different Notes.

Slide your popsicle sticks into the slots you cut. First, slide in the middle stick -- this one will be the longest on your kalimba. Then, slide in a stick next to it, making it a little shorter than the middle stick. Add another stick on the end, and make it even shorter than the other ones. Repeat this on the other side of the middle popsicle stick. By the time you're done, the sticks should make a "V" pattern, but they should all be different lengths. Use the pliers to tighten the bolts so the wood puts pressure on the popsicle sticks.

Now it's time to test the sounds your kalimba can make. Try playing your kalimba by pushing down on the very end of each popsicle stick. Do you hear five different pitches? If yes, then go to the next paragraph. But if you said no, then loosen the bolts a little and adjust your popsicle sticks to make some longer or shorter. Longer sticks should make deeper sounds, and shorter sticks should make higher sounds. Be careful not to make your sticks so short that they won't make good music notes. The sticks have to be long enough to vibrate when you play them.

Once you're happy with the sounds your kalimba makes, use pliers to REALLY tighten the bolts. You need to make them as tight as possible so your popsicle sticks don't move around and they have enough pressure on them to make strong sounds.

Use the Dremel with the cutting disc attachment to cut off the ends of your popsicle sticks so they won't stick out past the top of your box. Then, you can use sandpaper or the sanding drum on the Dremel to smooth out the edges of the popsicle sticks once you cut them.

Step 7: Glue the Lid Back on the Cigar Box.

You're finally ready to glue the lid back onto the cigar box. Use a strong glue for this part so the lid will be air tight and stay attached for a long time. I used Fuze It by Liquid Nails because we had it from another project we just did around the house. But, I'm sure other types of glue would also work well, so experiment with what you have at home -- glue gun, wood glue, etc.

Squirt the glue around the rim of the box and the edge of the lid. Or, you can also use a spare popsicle stick to spread it. I needed to use a stick for the Fuze It.

Place the lid on the box and gently push it down into position. Hold it there for a few seconds. Then, put a piece of painter's tape across the top and bottom of the box to keep the lid in place. Leave the tape on overnight so the glue has time to dry.

Take off the tape the next morning and check the lid to make sure it's sealed tight.

Step 8: Make Beautiful Music!

If you want to use an easy tuner to see what notes your kalimba plays, I recommend an app called InsTuner. And don't forget -- you can always loosen the bolts one more time and move around the popsicle sticks if you want different sounds.

The kalimba I made played these notes:

  • Pink Stick - F#
  • Yellow Stick - D
  • Purple Stick - E
  • Red Stick - A flat
  • Blue Stick - B

I hope you have a great time making up new songs on your kalimba! Thanks for reading my Instructable.

Be the First to Share


    • Mason Jar Speed Challenge

      Mason Jar Speed Challenge
    • Pumpkin Challenge

      Pumpkin Challenge
    • Bikes Challenge

      Bikes Challenge

    5 Discussions


    2 years ago

    what a superbly documented instructable! I love your instrument and especially how well you explain others how to make it. I have made lots of lamellophones, but this one is a gem!


    2 years ago

    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing your instrument!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you for such a nice comment!


    2 years ago

    Great Job! You're a true maker!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you for your support! Your comment was very nice. :)