When my former percussionist brought a cajon to rehearsal I was intrigued but put-off because of the way I thought it had
to be played, bending way over to reach the striking surface, or Tapa. But, after I heard the playback I was hooked. It
sounded so cool and folksy, but kind of like a drum kit, with snare and kick. Does it sound Country-ish or Latin-ish? I think
that depends on the music that it is played with. I think it could even be used in a heavy metal band if miked properly and
played by the right person. How about a cajon version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid?
I thought, if you had a crash you indeed would have an acoustic percussive instrument that could imitate a drum kit. But, it
would be hard to hit a crash cymbal bending over like that. Then I saw many different configurations of the cajon, in many
different sizes and shapes. And many you don't have to play bending over. I have this problem with my back and so does my
percussionist, so it was nice to see that you can definitely play it standing or sitting up. And, as it turns out, do it in an
interesting way that records easily and well. The ones on youtube that were miked in the hole sounded great. You could
really get a loud, thumping beat. Pumping it through a big PA, you could rival the volume of a drum kit.
When I looked online at how a cajon is made, I was amazed at the wealth of information out there. Many different plans,
videos and diagrams on how they are made, what they sound like and how the cajon originated is available online. Just
Google 'how to make a cajon'.
I printed out several plans from the net. It seemed like each plan left out some key details and so, puttting them all
together gave me a more complete vision of how to make it. I have to be able to visualize the finished product and most of
it's detail in my mind before I can feel confident enough to make it.
Wood: One sheet of 2'x4' 1/2" plywood
One sheet of 2'x4' 1/4" plywood
3/4"x3/4" hardwood square dowel
1"x2" furring strip
Orchard supply and Lowe's both had a good selection and low prices for
the wood. The half inch birch plywood was $13 and the quarter-inch was
$8. They also had the hardwood square dowels and furring strips.
4 guitar tuners and 4 bass guitar strings or a snare drum snare
20 or so screws OSH Wood screw brass, flat head phillips 7x3/4
Wood glue - Elmer's was a lot cheaper than Gorilla and worked just fine
Minwax Wood Finish - Dark Walnut 2716 Stain/sealer
Circular or table saw
VSR Drill or screwdriver
|I already had some painted, half-inch plywood and so I
used that for the three sides and top and bottom. As it
turned out my wood was a little warped and I couldn't see
where the blade was cutting with precision so I got some
pretty crooked lines that made for a box that was not
square. I now wish I would have started with a new piece
of birch plywood. The whole thing would have been more
square. And therefore would have been easier to glue and
would have looked a lot better. If I build another cajon, I'll
use a new piece of plywood and not paint it, just
stain/seal it with Minwax Wood Finish.
|I first drilled a small hole with the drill, big
enough to get the Jigsaw blade in it and then cut
the 4-inch soundhole.
Here are the three 1/2" sides, the back, left and
right. I made a big mistake by painting them again
with a gloss Rustoleum, which is very slippery and
made it even more difficult to clamp and hold
Sides: 21 7/8" x 9"
Back w/soundhole: 22" x 13"
|Bar clamps holding the sides glued with wood
glue. I let them dry overnight, but found out
just an hour or two in fall weather would have
been enough time.
|Clamped bottom glue drying. The top
looked just the same.
Top and bottom: 12 5/8" x 9 3/8"
|I neglected to photograph the cutting,
glueing and clamping of the hardwood
frame, which was made of 3/4" square
dowels from Orchard Supply hardware.
But, once that was accomplished it was
just a matter of glueing and clamping
the frame to the sides of the body. There
again the crooked lines in the sawing of
the three sides made for problems at
this juncture. But, with enough clamping
it was forced into contact, no matter
how not square it was.
|I found some tuning keys from a couple
of old electric guitars I had laying
around and attached them to a 6-inch
piece of furring strip. Found out later, as
I installed the bass guitar strings that
the fatter bass strings would not fit in
the holes on the guitar tuners, but the
thinner, (.050 - .058 gauge) bass strings
With bass tuners you could use a fatter
string and maybe get a fatter,
lower-pitched sound on the Tapa.
I also tried regular guitar strings and
they were not functional at all. Because
they are so much smaller they tend to
rattle and ring too much, making a
musical note and would vibrate and
linger too long, getting in the way of the
percussive, rhythmic attack.
|The strings must slap against
the Tapa to make the
slapping sound, so they have
to be touching or lying
against the Tapa. Here I
drilled holes for the strings
and cut some grooves with a
metal file to further seat the
strings right against the Tapa.
It was a trial and error
process to find the best
position for the strings. The
hardwood frame was so much
more stable than the soft
Tapa stained with dark walnut stain/sealer.
Tapa: 22 3/4" x 12 1/2"
Laying out screwholes to hold Tapa onto
body. I found out that so many screwholes
were kind of unnecessary, as the whole
thing about the cool sound is to have the
Tapa slap against the hardwood frame. It
can't slap if it's too tightly attached to the
frame. I ended up leaving off several of the
screws at the top to maximize the snare
After laying out the screwholes on a
straight grid I drilled them just barely big
enough for the screw heads to fit neatly
into the holes. Then, I counter sunk the
holes so the screws would set nicely.
|The finished product with all it's crooked
corners and warped surfaces. It took some
tweaking of the tuners and strings to get it to
sound good. A slappy, snarey sound on the
upper-left corner with a thumping bass tone on
the right. And hopefully with not too much
overring from the snares.
The strings shouldn't be too tight, which is
easy to do with the tuners. Maybe just some
sort of screw would make for enough precision
tension to create the slapping sound.I also
added a small piece of masking tape to hold
the strings against the Tapa to cut down on the
There again, the snare drum snare would
probably work better. But, since I am a
guitarist the whole idea of using bass guitar
strings was attractive.
Dale Stewart 15DEC09
How to make a cajon w/snare
Here's Brad playing the finished Cajon with brushes:
And my video with Mayumi playing a Meinl Cajon:
Here's one of my fave YouTube Cajon vids:
"I made a second Cajon for a young boy and made the
snare - again out of guitar wire, but put it from top to
bottom in a V shape. It sounds just like a snare now. I
like your details." 30APR12
Thanks for the comment - ds
"brilliant formatted, looking forward to building my
own out of whatever old wood is in my loft." -
Thanks for the comment and let me know how your
cajon turns out. - ds 2jan10
i think my cajon strings are too loose, how do i
tighten them. i thnk they're made of copper.
You can tighten or loosen the strings or snares, too if
your using a snare-drum snare for the slapping sound.
It's mimicing a snare drum, like on a 5-piece rock set.
I found if the strings are too tight it's makes them
ring and they never turn off. They're always ringing
and rattling in the background. I think it messes with
the percussive nature of the drum to have that
When I loosened them, I just stick my hand in the
soundhole and loosened the guitar peg-winders inside.
They're tightened and loosened just like on a guitar.
Once you get them so they're not trying to make
music, they're just needed to make percussion.
And in a syncopated, rhythmic pattern.
Also, just as important is that the screws that hold the
tapa on should be very loose on one side. Your snare
side. I've noticed if the screws are all tightened down
the damn thing rings to holy hell and creates a
feedback loop! It's not really a proper musical
instrument, it's just a wooden box.
I loosened half the screws and also took out several
screws and then the box sounded really cool.
High-pitched snarey sound on the left. Thumpier
kick/bass tone on the right side. Nice and floppy as
that piece of wood and the snares inside slap against
the hardwood frame.
just sounds bigger with it loose and more easy to
manipulate the tones to replicate real drums.
This is probably way too long. Hope it helps.
|I do think a snare
drum snare would
better. Which is
what most of the
cajons use. But, I
was attempting to
make this with as
much materials as
I had on hand
"Do you think that you could get a
similar snare sound if you didn't put
any strings or snare inside but left
one corner with no screws so it
would slap against the frame?"
Yes. It would make a slapping sound
without the snare sound. Not as
punchy, but could still be good
enough. Plus, it would be much
cheaper and easier to make. There
are so many different kinds of cajon.
And, because it's homemade you
can make changes as you go along.
Great info. Im looking at building
my first Cajon. Im disabled
somewhat, Had to sell my drum
sets when we moved. Have built a
few Guitars and have had 30 years
in wood pattern making. I always
look to see how other people build
or think. If there is something to
share you bet I will.
Thanks for the comment Bob!