First Cajon by Request

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Project by Dave Rutan posted 05-21-2014 12:44 AM 1720 views 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My wife wants me to make a cajon drum for a musician friend who is graduating high school this year. Because I haven’t made one before, she requested that I cut my teeth by making one for her first. (I suspect ulterior motives.) I made this cajon from 1/2 inch birch plywood for the shell, and 1/8 inch oak doorskin for the head. It’s about 12 inch square by 19 inches tall and has a snare in the upper part (non adjustable.) It was a fun build, involving a lot of router work for the joining and cutting the circle. I finished it with several coats of polyurethane. I think I passed the test and will be allowed to build the next one.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

9 comments so far

View Oldtool's profile


2958 posts in 2967 days

#1 posted 05-21-2014 12:52 AM

Came out pretty nice, how’s it sound?
By the way, that’s some glue-up there.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View CFrye's profile


11008 posts in 2617 days

#2 posted 05-21-2014 04:11 AM

I believe you did pass the test! Now, tell your wife she has to play the cajon in one of your videos! Nice wooden clamps. Thanks for sharing.

-- God bless, Candy

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1942 posts in 2965 days

#3 posted 05-21-2014 10:23 AM

Oldtool, It’s an interesting instrument. It soulds like a bass drum or a snare drum depending on how it’s struck. It got a thumbs up fro my resident musician.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1942 posts in 2965 days

#4 posted 05-21-2014 10:27 AM

CFrye, I filmed the build, though it’s far down the queue for editing. I plan on including some footage of the drum being played plus using a soundtrack of it for background music towards the end. From that glue up I realized I need to make two more wooden bar clamps. I sense another build video in my future. (more like at least 20…)

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View drbyte's profile


844 posts in 4839 days

#5 posted 05-21-2014 02:24 PM

Nice Cajon! I’ve got parts for 15 cut out and packaged up in my garage for students at 4H Camp the first week of June this year! We’ll see how that turns out. I’m using 3/4 inch birch for the sides and tops, 1/2 inch for the back and bottoms, and 1/8” birch for the fronts. Love the sound of these things! Keep cranking them out!

-- Dennis, WV

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1942 posts in 2965 days

#6 posted 05-21-2014 07:01 PM

drbyte, You’re doing good work, introducing youngsters to music AND woodworking. I think if I were to crank anything out in quantity, it would be my bongo cajons and slit drums because I can make them both from stuff I find along the street (old drawers). The materials for one cajon is about $40.00. I’m told finished ones sell for $300, (the real ones).

I still regret not picking up a bureau I saw along the road just before I got into woodworking. It was huge. I’m also guilty of throwing a large dresser away, again, before I got into this hobby. Drawer wood is such a great free source of thinner, non-pine wood for me.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 3756 days

#7 posted 05-22-2014 01:40 PM

You quite rightly have the thumbs up from the missus. The clamping system alone deserves comment.

Well done

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Boxguy's profile


2877 posts in 3044 days

#8 posted 05-22-2014 02:55 PM

Dave, have you considered insetting the bottom (this keeps the box square) in a dado and 45ing the corners? If so, you could use clamps like these. You could apply the top using this shop-made clamp (scaled up a bit). You would just let the top hang over a bit during glue up and then trim the skin to fit with a flush trim bit in your router.

If you have a router table, a 45 bit would make quick work of the corner angles. I found with 1/2 inch material it was easier for me to put a 1/4 inch cover over my router top for the first pass and then remove the the cover for the second pass instead of re-adjusting my router for passes. The cover had a cleat that hung down and fit snuggly on each side of the router top to keep the 1/4 cover from moving as I slid the 1/2 inch plywood along.

Just passing on some thoughts for you to consider. I made one like yours at first then tried the design like I described above. The design outlined above worked better for me because it is more like the techniques I use to make most of my boxes.

If you work with a whole sheet of plywood…you could match the grain on three of the four corners by cutting the height and then the widths. Of course, that runs counter to your use of recycled material. A slight round over on the top edges made playing more comfortable.

-- Big Al in IN

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

1942 posts in 2965 days

#9 posted 05-23-2014 01:08 PM

Boxguy, Thanks for the advice. I used double rabbet joints on all the seams (save the front) and everything went together well. I went over the corners with a 1/4 inch rounding over bit. I actually have a strap clamp, but only used it for the dry fit. Couldn’t resits using my shop made bar clamps.

All ya’ll, Just wanted to mention that the cajon has been temporarily parked in the kitchen. My wife and I have a tendancy to sit on it (taking turns) and drumming rythms on it while supper is prepared. I was warned in a set of instructions for these that they are addicting. They are! We get a bass sound from the center, a snare from the upper middle part, and a sort of rim shot sound from each upper corner.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

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