Monday, August 6, 2018

DIY Cajon

Recently my wife and I went to the museum of musical instruments here in Arizona.

This place was awesome.

We spent a few hours here and saw a tremendous amount of music instruments from all over the world.

And also specific instruments and clothes from famous musicians.

One room in the museum let you play a variety of instruments such as guitars, banjos, harps, xylophones, drums and even a Theremin.  One of the instruments I played around with was a Cajon.

A Cajon is pretty much just a box with one resonance hole in it, and is a percussion instrument.  It is more or less used like a drum - slapping your hands against one of the thinner sides of the Cajon (called the Tapa).  People add adjustable snare wire on the inside to give it a different, almost buzz sound when drumming.

This is also an instrument that the player sits on to play - so it needs to support the weight of the player.  So I decided to have some fun and make a Cajon of my own.  Unfortunately at the time I started making this Cajon at the end of July, it was unGodly hot out.  I have a large thermometer hanging on the wall in my workshop to remind myself what the temperature is - although, when the temperature is near the 110's you don't need a thermometer to remind you it's too damn hot.

In the span of 5 days I had made a simple Cajon using scrap material I had in my workshop.  It took so long because after 10 minutes in my very hot workshop I'm too hot to continue working.  So I had to take many, many breaks.

I didn't take any pictures of the building process since it's pretty much a box with some simple butt-joined plywood with glue and some stain.  I was also too concerned with getting work done fast enough before overheating than I was in taking pictures.

So, I will go over the steps of my build using sketchup images below.  The first step was finding scrap wood in my garage and cutting it down to size.  2 sides, and the top/bottom will be made out of .5" thick plywood.  The 2 sides are cut to 12" x 17" and the top/bottom is 12" x 12".

For the 2 remaining sides of the box (one of which has the resonance hole and the other is the tapa) I used .25" thick plywood cut to 12" x 18".  The resonance hole is a 4" diameter hole, located 4" from the top and is centered on the wood.  I traced the circle shape onto the plywood and used a 3/8" drill bit to cut a hole inside my tracing big enough to fit my jigsaw blade through.  Then I used the jigsaw to cut the hole.  I sanded the hole to make sure there were no jagged edges.

With all the pieces cut, I began assembly.  I started by gluing the top and bottom to the two .5" thick plywood sides.  I clamped the box making sure all the corners were 90 degrees and set it aside to dry.

Once the glue was dry, I removed the clamps and then glued the .25" thick plywood to one side.  I then used clamps again and set it aside to fully dry.

Once that was dry I once again removed the clamps.  The third side that was just added gave the whole thing more rigidity, but to be on the safe side I cut some scrap 1x2 wood I had, and then glued it to each corner with the help of some clamps and a few brad nails.  Then it was once again set aside to dry.

I think at this point I was done for the day.  The next day I decided to add some guitar strings I had to give the Cajon a cool buzz sound when struck.  So first I glued on some more scrap 1x2 wood on the top and bottom of the insides.  These pieces were glued to the edge so the guitar strings would touch the tapa when attached.  I clamped these blocks and clamped them until dry.

When dry I drilled 3 diagonal holes in each block to allow for the guitar string to pass through.

Below is an actual picture of this.  It wasn't easy getting the strings to be completely taut.  I added a screw below the top block to wind the excess guitar string around to try and keep it taut.

Then I attached the tapa with screws.

Then I added some stain followed by clear coat.

It's not too bad for junk wood, but the guitar strings weren't doing as good a job as I had hoped.

So I wound up buying an actual guitar snare off of Amazon for $5.

While I waited for it to arrive, I removed the guitar strings and began redoing the insides.  The snare will eventually be attached to a dowel, and the dowel will be able to rotate.  This rotation will allow me to adjust the snare, so that the wires can be completely touching the tapa, slightly touching or not touching it at all.  So I used a scrap block of wood with a hole drilled through it to help me align holes drilled on both sides of the Cajon.

I then cut the dowel I had to fit inside perfectly.  On one side of the dowel I have a plastic handle attached to it.

The other side has a tightly screwed-in bolt.

When the snare wire arrived I cut it in half with some metal cutting pliers and attached both halves to the dowel.

Online I see a lot of people have some very impressive mechanics involved for the rotation  of the snare wire.  My method is not so clever, but the tension is great enough on the side with the bolt that I don't need any other mechanics to keep the snare in place where I want it.

Then I reattached the tapa.

And on the bottom I attached 4 furniture sliders.

And that's it!  The new snare wire sounds very awesome. 

And it's easy to simply turn the knob on the side and remove the snare sound.

This wasn't any sort of great build, but it was a lot of fun...

...especially once I was done and could play with it.  I think when cooler weather comes I may re-make this Cajon with slightly better joinery and nicer, new material.  but for the meantime it does well, sounds great and has no problem supporting my weight.

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