El Cajon

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Project by hairy posted 10-13-2015 07:40 PM 2416 views 7 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Santa will have to stretch his toy bag to squeeze this in.

I used baltic birch plywood for this. 1/2” top and sides, 1/4” for the back and 1/8” for the front. The joinery is a dado/rabbit joint cut on the router table. The front and back are held on with brass screws.

This is an easy joint to cut, but should be strong enough. 1/4” bit, 1/4” depth of cut, 1/4” from the fence to cut both pieces. The inside of the box is reinforced with 1” x 1” hardwood strips glued in the corners. The bottom also has plywood blocks glued in place for the screws securing the feet.

I cut the soundhole, face side down, with a fly cutter. I set the drillpress to it’s lowest speed because the cutter is going 400% faster than the bit in the center.

Once the box was built I used a small block plane to make the joints flush. Then I put the back piece where it needed to be and held it in place with blue tape to install the screws. I flipped it over and did the same for the front.

Again with the block plane to flush cut the front and back to the sides, top and bottom.

The 4” soundhole is reinforced with a 3/4” thick x 2” wide hardwood strip across the back and just slightly above the hole. That’s how it will be picked up and carried, it needs to be strong.

After the finish dried, I put paste wax on the screws before installing. I read that some people tune the drum by loosening or tightening the screws. The top left and right corners of the face do not have screws, this is to give a slap sound when hitting the corner. I played around with using a snare, in the end I don’t like the sound so this one has no snare. I found the rubber feet on Amazon.

You sit on a cajon to play it. I sat on this and played it and I weigh a lot more than I wish I did. But, only time will tell how it holds up when Wild Thing starts thumping it.

I had a lot fun making this and learned a lot. If I do another, it will be different.

I made some points to hold up the front and back pieces while applying finish. All from scraps.

12” X 12” X 18” Minwax black stain and rattle can spray lacquer

-- Genghis Khan and his brother Don, couldn't keep on keeping on...

9 comments so far

View SirGareth's profile


128 posts in 2705 days

#1 posted 10-14-2015 01:57 AM

Nice job! I like the joinery… thanks for the closeup picture.

-- Even if you fall on your face, you are still moving forward. - Tim, Southern California

View sbrader's profile


25 posts in 1514 days

#2 posted 10-14-2015 12:24 PM

Very nice! I made one for one of my sons last Christmas. I, too, learned a lot. He seems to enjoy it.

-- Scottie McScottie

View Bill_Steele's profile


563 posts in 2236 days

#3 posted 10-14-2015 07:30 PM

Nice work hairy! I’m actually making one of these for my neighbor (drummer). I’ve also chosen 1/2” Baltic birch for the top, bottom and sides. I’m thinking about using a box/finger joint and then rounding it slightly. I might re-saw some Walnut for the back and front. I’m curious about the 3/4” x 2” structural support for the hole. I think that is a good idea and you’re right that most people will likely pick it up and carry it around from the hole. Is that support glued and/or screwed/nailed to the panel with the hole? Does the support affect the sound? I would think that it would reduced vibration of that panel (assuming it is attached). I don’t know much about instrument making/tuning. Is the tuning done on the back panel or the front panel?

Thanks for sharing your excellent work!


View hairy's profile


2926 posts in 4037 days

#4 posted 10-14-2015 07:54 PM

Thank you all!

Bill, that 3/4” x 2” piece is glue only. Full width across the back, minus a little so it doesn’t hit the sides.

This is my first cajon. I don’t think it affects the sound, the front does the vibrating, but I could be wrong. I googled a lot, and watched numerous you tubers, there’s a lot of info and some could be conflicting with others.

I didn’t round the corners as much as others I’ve seen, but it’s smooth all around. Box joint is a good choice.

As far as tuning, it’s the front screws. My ears have been ringing for years, I can’t tell the difference.

-- Genghis Khan and his brother Don, couldn't keep on keeping on...

View Cliff 's profile


1558 posts in 2228 days

#5 posted 10-17-2015 12:06 PM

Hairy, well done. It looks great. I love that Baltic Birch Ply. Is it a Marine Grade?



-- Cliff Australia : Snoring is good. It blows away all the Sawdust.

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3371 days

#6 posted 10-17-2015 12:38 PM

Hairy, that looks like a fun project and you did a fine job on it. I don’t know much about it but I sure would like to hear it’s sound. Is it sort of like a wooden drum or something? I’m kind of in the dark when it comes to making music. I sure do love the Blue Grass and Mountain Music. My family gave me a nice banjo once but I haven’t learned what to do with it. I sure would like to play it one of these days but I ain’t getten’ any younger. That’s for sure.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View hairy's profile


2926 posts in 4037 days

#7 posted 10-17-2015 02:08 PM


Cliff, that’s regular baltic birch from Rockler.

Charles, I’m with you on the Bluegrass. Check out these guys.

-- Genghis Khan and his brother Don, couldn't keep on keeping on...

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3371 days

#8 posted 10-17-2015 04:40 PM

Thanks for the toe tappin’ link, Hairy.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14181 posts in 4488 days

#9 posted 10-22-2015 08:54 PM

Very Nice.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

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