I’ve just finished up a really neat cajon build. The idea was brought to me by a previous customer looking for something different. He had the idea to build a cajon that was played from the top, and with two tones. The bottom is open and the feet provide some room for the sound to escape.
I wanted to take the time not only to say “Look what I can do!” ..yes, I just kicked my leg up like Stewart… But also to take the time and document what I do and show how I get from rough lumber to a finished drum. This was a fairly easy box drum build and fun! For any woodworker or DIY’er looking for a toy to play or jam on.. this is it! The sound from this custom cajon is so earthy and resonant. It’s not aggressive like a djembe, and not as big and bulky as a pair of congas. It’s just the right size with just the right amount pop for a laid back groove.
So here it goes… Step one. Pull out some beautiful air dried walnut lumber from my stash. I buy all my lumber rough. Sometimes kiln/air dried, sometimes only air dried. If lumber is put into the kiln too soon after milling, the grain will bleed and instead of the beautiful grain you see in the drum above you’ll have a muddy walnut (which can look really neat.. just not what I wanted for this project). I make sure my lumber is air dried for at least 6 months to a year before it’s put in the kiln, that way I keep the grain contrast high.
Cut the rough boards down to the height you want the drum. I happen to do this one 21″ tall, but there was a slight taper, so the lumber should be just a tad longer that 21. I believe the actual length of the sides was 21.06 – but I went ahead and cut them at 21.125 to make room for leveling out the top and bottom later. I dont believe the measurement has to be exact, but if I tell a customer it’s going to be 21″ tall, I try my best to be at 21″ tall. 🙂
I thought of doing this only after I had cut up both boards.. Book matching the lumber. My boards were about 1.125 thick, so there was enough room for me to slice the boards in half and book match. So I have enough wood from those two boards to build two of these drums- however time only allowed for one. I didn’t get a photo of jointing the edges smooth before cutting the staves on the table saw. I went with 3 staves at about 3.5″ wide for the ends and 4 staves at about 4.25″ for the long sides. The idea when using solid hardwood instead of a MDF or plywood is that it’s going to move, especially thinner boards. By cutting them into smaller strips there is less overall movement, as 4 sections of 4.25″ x .5″ board is much more stable that one section of a 17″ x .5″ board. Less tension, and with book matching you also alternate the grain direction.
After I cut the boards into their strips, I then ran one face through the jointer to make sure it was nice and smooth. Then I proceeded to use the bansaw to rip the board in half and make the book matched faces.
Next up was running the boards through the planner and making sure everything was the same thickness. I didn’t take the extra minute to make sure my bandsaw was set up properly before I started cutting.. and admittedly noticed it was off but kept cutting anyways. There was a slight taper to the staves to I had to plane them down a bit past .5″ which is where I wanted to be. No biggie, and the thinner body might even give some extra resonance to the drum. After planning the boards I glued them all up.
Once the glue dried I sanded everything smooth. Here I’ve laid out the sections I will be using to make the drum sides – I missed the middle section so I had to go back and make that one. There is a reason most my pictures are close ups… my shop is a wreck!
Now the fun part! Cutting the shape. I cut the feet out of the boards with a jig saw and cut the tapers using a home-made taper jig. I used the jointer to put a nice 45 deg. bevel on all the sides for glue up. My original design had dado / rabbit joints but I decided to go with the good ole’ 45deg.
Glueing up! I taped the edges and did a dry fit, everything was good so I went ahead a glued it up and clamped it. For the middle divider, I cut a dado straight down 90deg to the table. I should have cut this before I cut the tapers, but it came out pretty good anyhow. This process has taken a while to get here. Not so much in work but in waiting. Anytime I’m working with lumber .5″ or thinner, I like to make sure it’s not going to move after I cut it, so I wait at least a day or more between each step of joining, gluing, planning, sanding, etc. I used a few clamps here…
I didn’t take any photos post glue up except for the final photo. But the process was pretty straight forward. I sanded it. And sanded it some more. To make sure the top was level, I used some light tack spray adhesive on a smooth surface and adhered 80grit sand paper. I rubbed the drum back and forth until it was flat and level. I sanded some more and then glued on a sheet of 1/8″ baltic birch plywood. I put some weight on it and waited… When it was dry I sanded some more, routed a round-over on the top edge and sanded some more.
For the finish, I went with a danish oil and wax. I applied two coats of danish oil. It’s funny how many woodworkers have an opinion on how to apply danish oil.. the instructions are right on the can and give great results 🙂 After a couple of days to completely dry, I rubbed in the wax and buffed.
Here is my final photo of this custom cajon!