Topic: Building a solid wood cajon  (Read 6766 times)

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Offline Matthew Warwick

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Building a solid wood cajon
« on: August 07, 2013, 09:11 PM »
Since I'm a drummer who enjoys woodworking, a project I've gotten interested in lately is building a cajon. Most of them are built from plywood, but I'd like to use solid wood, as I've seen some people do. I found a site of a company that builds custom cajons out of many kinds of solid woods, domestic and exotic. Here's a link:

 http://customcajondrums.com/]http://customcajondrums.com/

I'm really inspired by their design with the contrasting blocks of wood at the corners. It gives more wood surface on which to round over the corners without exposing the end grain of the panels. I think I'm going to use Honduras Rosewood for the main wood, and probably curly maple as the contrasting wood. Here's the thing though: when you use solid wood panels, attaching a piece of wood at the ends with the grain going perpendicular to the panel restricts the panel from seasonal expansion and contraction across the grain and can cause the panel to crack. I was thinking of just doing veneers on plywood, but I want my cajon to be unique both in looks and sound and I think the tone of the rosewood (definitely richer sounding than plywood) will contribute to that. I was told by a guy I spoke with on the phone from Meinl the other day that a thin veneer likely won't have any impact on the sound of the cajon.

I emailed that website Saturday but haven't received a response yet. I'm probably gonna call them tomorrow or Friday and ask about this, but I'm trying to gather info as quickly as possible and get as many opinions as I can. I doubt this will happen to Honduras Rosewood in the next few months, but many of the true rosewoods have become hard to get lately. As you probably already know, Brazilian Rosewood, since 1992, is illegal to cut down or import/export, and I think Madagascar Rosewood may be in the same spot. Other Brazilian Rosewoods like Kingwood (which I have a couple of pieces of...VERY nice looking) and Tulipwood are not being exported much now and only one person in California (where I live) is supposedly working on a permit to get these woods, and now Cocobolo has gone way up in price this year and is on one of the CITES lists. Indian Rosewood is affordable and looks nice, but it is kinda "common" being that it is used in a lot of acoustic guitars. Camatillo (or Mexican Kingwood) is great looking and I don't think it's got any restrictions on it, but I think it's expensive and I doubt it grows large enough to yield boards in the size I need. Lastly, African Blackwood is extremely expensive and I just don't like how it looks (jet black, not much character). Of all the true rosewoods I know about, that leaves Honduras, and you never know when instrument builders could start over harvesting it. It is a great tonewood, similar to Cocobolo in sound. Plus its color ranges from golden brown to a very deep wine burgundy color, so it's got good variety. I'm going for something more towards the darker side, as I think it looks better and will contrast better with maple.

Has anyone here ever used or owned a solid wood cajon with similar specs to the ones on that website? Have you had any problems with the panels cracking with that design? Also, any other suggestions are welcome (wood species, design suggestions, etc.).

Offline Chip Donaho

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #1 on: August 08, 2013, 10:56 AM »
I've got a drumset made out of Cherrywood. It's got a nice "fat" sound I just love. You may want to give that a try.  :-\
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Offline JustAHobby

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #2 on: August 08, 2013, 09:53 PM »
This is just my personal opinion but I thought I would throw it out there for thought.  With the scarcity of Rosewood I don't think I would use it to build a Cajon.  I don't know, it just doesn't seem like good stewardship of the natural resource.  If I were going to do it I would build one out of something else first to make sure everything worked out as I expected.

We built one out of Baltic Birch a couple of years ago.  It turned out pretty well.  It's still a plywood but it's very nice plywood.

If you really want to do solid wood you might consider Padauk.  It's not  as dense as Rosewood but if you are playing it with your hands I think it would hold up.  Padauk has really nice tonal qualities and I believe it is more plentiful.

Offline Matthew Warwick

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2013, 05:35 AM »
This is just my personal opinion but I thought I would throw it out there for thought.  With the scarcity of Rosewood I don't think I would use it to build a Cajon.  I don't know, it just doesn't seem like good stewardship of the natural resource.  If I were going to do it I would build one out of something else first to make sure everything worked out as I expected.

That's definitely part of the plan. Even when I'm not using something like Rosewood, I always make it an imperative to try out new things on cheap wood. It saves a lot of money and keeps me from getting a headache in the long run, too.  :D

As for baltic birch, yes that's a very nice plywood. That stuff is probably the only sheet good you should use for something like this because it's well known for having no voids between the plies that could kill the resonance. That's what I'll be using for both the front (playing) and back panels. I'll veneer it in nicer stuff. I don't think I'm gonna use the rosewood for the front or back panels. Just for the sides, top, and bottom.

To be honest, I was originally planning on buying just a little bit of rosewood, cutting it into 1/8" thick veneers and gluing it to baltic birch boards, but I've been told that this won't have a huge impact on the sound of the cajon as far as getting that rich rosewood tone. Is this true? If it's not and rosewood veneers would still make the cajon have a richer, rosewood-like sound, I'll definitely go that route in this case. Plus, it'll make for great grain matching opportunities and the panels will be a lot more stable in the long run. If I need to use solid wood, I'll probably use the rosewood just this once.

I honestly don't have any qualms about using the rosewood in its solid form for something this size. My greatest fear is possibly losing the respect of anyone on this forum by doing so. I posted about this on a woodworking forum I'm on, and people didn't seem to mind. It's not a huge project by any means, and 2 of the panels probably won't have rosewood on them as I already mentioned, but would I be losing anyone's respect here if I used the rosewood in solid form?

Also, I'm having trouble finding where I can buy the feet for the cajon. I know Meinl sells a "make your own cajon" kit that has them in it, but I'd hate to buy the whole kit just to get the feet. Anybody know where I can find these?

Offline Bart Elliott

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2013, 11:12 AM »
Personally, I would do a LOT more research before tackling this project. Building a nice sounding cajon is harder than it looks.

I have a solid wood cajon (not the two parallel playing surfaces mind you), made by Paul Namkung, a builder of taiko drums ... and cajons. While I love the drum, it's not the best sounding instrument I've ever played.

My suggestion ... check out the DIY cajon kit available from Sela. I just played and acquired the professional model during the Summer NAMM Show last month. One of the nicest cajons I've played/heard ... and you put it together.

Contact Paul Jennings at  http://www.pauljenningsmusic.com]www.pauljenningsmusic.com .

Paul was just hear at the Drummer Cafe studio at which time I interviewed him and discussed the cajons. Theh interview as well as video footage from the 2013 Summer NAMM Show will be available soon.

My thoughts ... get a DIY cajon kit first, see how it's done and the relationship between the various parts, then build your own from scratch. I would suggest that to the most skilled craftsman, simply because building furniture, etc., is not the same as making a great sounding musical instrument.

Offline Matthew Warwick

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2013, 03:54 PM »
Wow, Bart, those look really nice! I'll give him an e-mail later today. I gotta pick up my table saw about 20 miles away. I'm currently working on a couple of tables for my college apartment living room. I should probably be more focused on those right now and less on this, lol.

I'll probably end up getting one of those kits. Then just to be safe before I cut any Rosewood I'll build my own from scratch with cheaper wood, then I'll use the expensive stuff after I get the design just right. Just curious, Bart, what species of wood is your solid wood cajon made out of?

Offline JustAHobby

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2013, 08:23 PM »
With marimbas the bars sound much better when they are free to vibrate.  So if you glued a thin piece of rosewood to a piece of plywood I'm not sure how it would affect the sound.  I would imagine it would lose a lot of the sustain.  You could probably experiment with some small pieces.

Offline Matthew Warwick

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2013, 08:48 PM »
Yeah, I have a couple of Brazilian Kingwood pen blanks, and Kingwood is a true rosewood. I took one of the pen blanks and let it rest on my fingers just at the corners of the ends, and I tapped it with my fingernail and despite having wax on it, the Kingwood gave off a very high but clear note. IIRC it sounded around G or Ab to my ears. I'd imagine a cajon made of solid Brazilian Kingwood would look and sound fantastic, but it's wicked expensive ($70 a board foot!), hard to find, and although French kings used to make most of their furniture out of it (which is how it got its name), it's also highly improbable that you'd find any pieces big enough to make even a cajon out of it. And as I said, it's hard to get right now because Brazil is cutting down (no pun intended) on harvesting and exporting the rosewoods of their country, so like you said, it wouldn't be a very responsible use of that wood at this time. Here's a link to a pic of the biggest piece I have so you can see what it looks like:

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/92376111@N07/9476785176/#]http://www.flickr.com/photos/92376111@N07/9476785176/#

That piece alone is worth about $30. The place I ordered it from has a minimum order policy of $35, so that was my final total. This piece along with another smaller piece I have is basically just for collection purposes right now since I love this stuff. When and if it becomes as available as Honduran Rosewood again, I'll think about using these pieces for inlays and stuff like that. Once I practice turning a couple of pens and I know I can do it properly, I'll make a couple of pens out of the 2 pen blanks I have of this stuff.

Offline Bart Elliott

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2013, 09:50 PM »
The solid wood portions of my cajon are Curley Hardwood Maple, but one side, the ported side, has numerous inlays. The photo is on my website's equipment page.

I highly recommend that you watch Episode One of my new Drummer Cafe TV Show ( http://www.drummercafe.tv) and pay close attention to what craftsman/builder, Josh Trask, has to say during my interview with him. Listen to how much experimenting he had to do. This is just one example of what is involved with building a cajon.

Offline Matthew Warwick

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2013, 04:16 PM »
Bart, I watched the first several minutes of the interview last night. I have to do more work on my current projects today but I should be able to watch the second part of it tonight.

As for that cajon kit you told me about, I like how those look overall, but I think the roundovers are FAR too large for what I'm gonna be doing (solid wood). I like the size of the roundovers on Josh's box kit a lot better. I'll still probably order either one of those kits you told me about or Meinl's kit. Do you know if the one you told me about comes with the feet that go on the bottom? I can't seem to find those on their own. You know where I might be able to find some outside of a kit?

Offline richie smith

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Re: Building a solid wood cajon
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2016, 04:38 PM »
Hey, just wondering how you got on with this as I'm planning on making one for my buddy for his birthday but I'm not a drummer. So I was interested in what wood you chose in the end?

 

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