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8 June 2014

Cajón - Box Drum

My Highwayman banjo build is taking bloody ages. I've hit a few problems and it's going to take a while for me to figure out how to get things moving again. While I wait for parts to arrive, I've only gone and started a new project! I've been toying with the idea of making a cajón for some time. Today I took the plunge...

 A cajón (Spanish pronunciation: [kaˈxon] (Ka-hone), "crate", "drawer", or "box with a hole in it") is a six sided, box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces (generally thin plywood) with the hands, fingers, or sometimes various implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. ~ Wikipedia

Cajóns have become quite popular of late and range in price from about £50 for an entry-level instrument right up into the hundreds of pounds for a designer label. Given that they are essentially a box, it's not surprising that people are having a go at making their own.

This brilliant video by Colin McCormick gives you a pretty good feel for what you can achieve if you make your own. And if you're not up to making your own then contact Colin and he'll make one for you!

I did a fair bit of research into what makes a standard cajón and if you're going for the authentic Peruvian vibe then you're looking at making a plywood box that is roughly 12" x 18" x 12" (30cm x 45cm x 30cm). Lots of people say to use beech ply, but I reckon the spirit of Peru doesn't care what wood you use, rather that that you simply use what you can get hold of. I haven't got a clue what type of plywood I've got. Loving the grain!

In the picture above you can see that I've cut my sides. The lighter plywood is 1/2" (13mm) thick and will form the top, bottom, left and right. I've seen people doing various types of  rabbet joint for joining these, but I'm not going to bother. The sides will sit inside of the top and bottom and I'll reinforce with blocks on the inside.

The piece on the right is the back with a slightly thinner wood at 10/32" (8mm). The front is called the tapa and is the thinnest side. Mine is 6/32" (5mm). These will be fixed to the main shell of the body using screws.

Here you can see me testing out the blocks for size. It's close, but will need some work to get it properly square.

In terms of finishing, I'll obviously need to sand the wood and stick it all together. I'll show you this on another post when I get this far. The back needs a sound hole cutting into it and I'll need to fit snare wires inside touching the tapa. For fancier models I've seen people making adjustable snares which basically allows you to shift the position of the wires on the tapa to get different sounds. I'm not interested in trying this at the moment.

Another thing that I need to do some more investigation into is the number and position of the screws used to attach the tapa. It seems that I should perhaps not use so many at the top as it can deaden the sound. I'll worry about this later...

This video was my introduction to the cajón. The lady is Heidi Joubert and you can find out more about her on the Cajon Box website. Now might be a good time to reveal that I can't actually play cajón, but that's never stopped me before. I wonder if Heidi would give me a lesson? ;-)

That's it for now. What will I be up to next week? Your guess is as good as mine...

Talking of possible future projects. Look at this! What a cupboard! This was spotted on Nanowood by Daz. If you think that it looks impressive from the outside, you should see it opened up! If I had one, I reckon I would paint it gold!

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