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building a cajon

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by wideyes, Jul 17, 2012.

  1. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    My apologies if this is OT.

    I played a lot of cajon over the weekend, and I've decided I'd like to build one. I thought I'd inquire here about resources for a good walkthrough/someone to talk to. I'm asking here because A). I'm not on any drum fora and B). you guys are smarter ;) I was thinking it might be interesting to get perspectives from guys who build cab enclosures - not so very different aims in some ways.

    Thanks for any input, and again, my apologies if this is an inappropriate post.
  2. TannerManner


    Feb 12, 2012
    I've actually built about a dozen cajons over the past year, and I've learned a lot. Construction is pretty self explanatory and there's a lot of guides online with pictures that can show you better than I can, but heres a few tips:
    -use hardwoods for the body. Most people use plywood but it is very much worth the extra cost. I like maple best, but you can look up wood tonal qualities for drums and get a good idea of what works.
    -use at most 1/8" thick plywood for the face. You can get 1/8" 3ply in small sheets at woodcraft, or if you're willing to pay a bit extra (well worth it imo) you can get 3/32" 5 ply here: http://www.aircraftspruce.com/catalog/wppages/finnishbirch.php
    -If you want a snare, buy a set of 40 strand snare wires and cut it in half, then fixture one half of the snare wire so its pushing against the playing surface. (Youll know what I mean once you read through a few tutorials) Theres a lot of methods for getting a snare out there. this is the best one. And I recomend making it adjustable so you dont accidentally set it too loose or tight and then you're stuck with it.

    Thats all I got off the top of my head; let me know if you have any questions!
  3. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Hey, thanks to both of you! Always can count on Talkbass. I especially appreciate the input about the wood, Tanner - that's a question I had. Any suggestions off the top of your head for a good tough wood that will resist caving in? Maybe a wood with a good weight-to-toughness ratio. I'm planning on throwing it on my back and biking it around town a lot, so light and tough may trump tone for this drum... Though I know that points to plywood, and I think that's a tone compromise I'm not willing to make.

    I'll be starting the project in a few weeks (need some extra cash first) and then I'll let you know how it's going. Heck, maybe I'll put a build log online somewhere.
  4. TannerManner


    Feb 12, 2012
    Basswood comes to mind, and it should still hold up at just 1/2" thick with reinforcement, but it will still be significantly heavier than a plywood one. I would making a few plywood ones first. It only costs about $10 in materials for each one and its good to get experience before you make the one you want to use. They also sell quite quickly on craigslist.
  5. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Ah! Good thought. That will also encourage me to swallow perfectionist tendencies and get in there and just do it. Thanks, Tanner - you know how to motivate a guy :D
  6. I have a custom made cajon built by a British guy - can't remember his name but bought it from him at a festival. He had some interesting thoughts on tonewoods. Top, bottom and three sides are birch ply, but he told me that he had experimented somewhat on the soundboard and eventually found spruce to be the best.

  7. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Spruce! I'll add that to the "thought chest". Thanks!
  8. darylchan


    Mar 1, 2011
    Lighter woods for the sides give a more bassy tone. I used pine for my build... plenty of bass at the expense of durability. Internal volume of the box affects this too. Bigger box = more bass.

    Use as thin a piece of ply for the tapa (front) as possible. That makes it more responsive.

    The best snare configuration for me is a drum snare, cut in half and mounted on a rod. There are pix of this on the net. Maybe this is subjective preference.
  9. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Cheers. This is all very helpful information. I feel the cajon is a very simple illustration of how acoustics and engineering are all about compromise - better tone but weaker, tougher but heavier. And as the box gets bigger, it has to get tougher (gotta sit on the damn thing!). Which means a lot heavier!

    Any specific suggestions for the plies/thickness of the tapa? TannerManner threw out some good info - can you comment on his suggestions?

    Casey Connor posted some good info at http://caseyconnor.org/jl/cajon , which incidentally includes his design for a bigger cajon for the same reasons you outlined. Not sure yet if I want to go this route to start with.

    Got a good update with the finances today, so this project should be underway when that paycheck arrives! I'll keep y'all posted. Thanks again for the input.
  10. INTP


    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I'm in the process of building a pair, following this basic design:

    I'm using 3/4" auraco ply for the box. I had trouble sourcing the thinner ply for the tapa, but found a piece of 1/8" baltic birch at Rockler that is big enough for two.

    Right now, I have built and stained the boxes (the tapas will be finished, but not stained). Today, I applied the lacquer. I need to make the knobs for the snare adjustment, but I'm close to being done. Having watched the video, it's a pretty easy project.
  11. chuck norriss

    chuck norriss Banned

    Jan 20, 2011
    Any pics of those built?
  12. wideyes


    May 9, 2007
    Eugene, OR
    Ditto, and thanks for the link! Good info there.
  13. I must say, I've never seen a hardwood cajon, only plywood. I built one when I was about 12, the most important thing is the frame. I used pine because it was cheap, and I wouldn't say it has to be a tonewood, but if it's strong you don't have to worry about the sides QUITE as much. I'd recommend using 3 ply plywood, someone suggested to me to use 7 ply, but that's ridiculously thick IMO. as for the tapa, definitely use a hardwood, I found that ply was too 'tone-sucky' for my taste.

    Also, consider what type of corner systems you're going for (Peruvian or flamenco). I started with Peruvian but didn't like them, so put the screws across the top and removed some in the sides to make it a (sort of) flamenco. If you don't know what I mean, flamenco means the tops completely screwed along the top and bottom, and part way up the sides leaving a gap near the top. Peruvian means the corners are loose.

    Also, go with a screw on tapa, not glue. Then you can remove it when you want, and the trade off in tone is very minimal.

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