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How to Make Your Own Cajón (Box Drum)

Updated on January 20, 2017

WHAT'S A CAJÓN? |kəˈjōn|

The cajon, a box drum originating from African slaves in Peru during the early 19th century or before, is becoming more widely used within different musical genres. Its locomotion is a plus, as no set up is required, and its fairly light, making it an excellent instrument to have around as its simplicity is contradicted by the depth and drive it's able to add to any musical setting.

There are two basic sounds: the bass sound made by hitting the lower area of the front of the cajon, and the higher snare sound, by hitting the top of the front. More advanced players will find many other sounds, whether on the front or even the sides; but simple rhythms can be played by just using these two basic sounds (which could be done by anyone that can keep a beat). It is basically just a wood box; the front slab of wood is thinner than the others, and snares are attached inside toward the top, and a whole is carved out in the back allowing the sound to escape.

If you're looking for a percussion instrument, but don't want to purchase an entire drum set, or learn how to play one, this acoustic-feeling drum is affordable, easy to learn, provides an impressive unique sound, and is simply rather practical to own if you're a musical person.

You can buy cajons online or in music stores; however, they're not difficult to make. Making them yourself will save you money, allow you to personalize it, and, let's just be honest, simply be really cool since you made it yourself.

Below are instructions I've done for the cajon's I've made, but don't feel obligated to stick to them exactly. It's your cajon; measurements can be adjusted and such for it to be how you want it to be, so feel free to make it your own!

WHAT DO YOU NEED?

Here's a list of what you'll need in order to make your cajon:

  • Plywood (AC 5 ) 19"x66" w/ 0.5" thickness [≈$8.00]
  • Luan 13"x20" w/ 3/16" (or 1/4" thickness) [≈$0.75]
  • Drum Snare (Ebay has good deals; just search: "Gibraltar SC-1316 Replacement Snare Drum Wire") [≈$5.00]
  • 3/4" Soft Touch Furniture Glides (found @ Lowes) [≈$2.00]
  • 1" Still Oak Panel Nails [≈$1.89] (hammer)
  • 1" Screws [≈$1.89] (drill & screwdriver)
  • Elmers School Glue [≈$1.00]

THE BOX ITSELF

I suggested buying one large slab of wood and cutting your pieces from it just because it will normally be cheaper than buying each piece separately. So from the 19"x66" (0.5" thick) plywood you'll need to cut 5 pieces from it:

  • 2 pieces need to be 19"x12.5" (these will be the sides)
  • 1 piece needs to be 19"x13" (this will be the back)
  • 2 pieces need to be 13"x13" (these will be the top and bottom)

On the back piece you'll want to use a jigsaw to cut a 5.5" diameter circle (3" from the top, and 3.75" from the sides…yes, the image measurements are incorrect). An easy way to do this is to just find an object, such as a saucer or vase, that's close to 5.5" in diameter and trace it.

THE SNARE

The snare is probably the most meticulous part. I've placed the snares two separate way within the cajon: horizontally, and vertically. Either sounds great, but below I'll show you how to place the snares vertically.

First, you'll need to make the frame that will hold the actual snares inside the cajón. 2 pieces 1"x3/4"x4", and 1 piece 1"x3/4"x12" which you'll cut with a 40º angle (again, I apologize for the incorrect measurements in the pictures; the images show that the bottom measurement is 1", when it's really closer to 3/4" — but don't worry; the exact measurements aren't as essential as the general concept of simply building a frame for the snares).

Buy a replacement snare drum wire; often you can find them for a rather inexpensive price at www.ebay.com - if you don't know what kind of snare you'd like, just search "Gibraltar SC-1316 Replacement Snare Drum Wire" it's a basic snare that will work great! Cut it in half with wire cutters, and you'll then screw them onto the frame you've built. Depending on the size of snare, you'll want to keep them separated by around 2.5" to 3" (I normally measure from the left side, 3" on the left—1.75" snare—2.5" space between—1.75" snare—3" left on the right side)

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Now you can begin to assemble the cajón. Put the back and sides and top and bottom together first. Use Elmer's glue, and then nail the pieces together.

Pre-drill holes in the snare frame so that you can screw it into place. You'll want to set the frame close to a half an inch from the front, since you don't want the frame actually touching the front panel (or it will deaden your sound). Place the frame close to 6" from the top making the prime snare hit around 3" to 4" inches from the top. As you begin to attached the frame, just a simple reminder to ensure that the snares are pointed out of the cajón.

Place the thin front panel on, and glue and nail it in place. After this step, your cajón has been constructed!

All that remains now is staining it, as well as putting an oil finish on it if you'd like. Below are some stain examples of previous cajóns I've made. Once it has dried, go ahead and hammer in the 4 furniture glides in each bottom corner so that the cajón doesn't sit directly on the ground. I hope that these instructions have been helpful and grown your confidence in making your own cajón!

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    • jengeurian profile image

      jengeurian 4 years ago from Elkhart, IN

      I think this would be an awesome project to do with my kids. I am planning to home school them this coming year, and I believe that this would be a great project to go along with our wood topic. I allowed them to choose their own topics for the year (within reason, of course) and one of the topics my 5 year old chose was wood and how it was made into lumber. I have been searching for something other than a birdhouse to build with them because I am trying to save the bird house project for when we have the topic of birds. Thank you very much for unknowingly contributing to the education of my children.

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