Thumb Piano from Scrap Wood

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Project by Dave Rutan posted 06-18-2012 12:13 PM 7643 views 20 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

[Legebla ankaĆ­ en Esperanto!]

I made this thumb piano last summer after discovering Steve Ramsey's Thumb Piano video. Although I did not follow his specs, the video was definitely the inspiration. The box measures about 5×7 inches by 1 1/2 inches thick. One thing that’s nice about this sort of musical instrument is that the size isn’t critical. You can pretty much go with anything that fits comfortably in the hands.

The wood is pine that I had around. The tines or keys are cut from a steel plumbers snake (unused, though rusty.) I finished it with spray lacquer. The sound hole looks a little large, but it sounds good. I’ll probably make another one of these eventually as it lives at my wife’s school during the year. The kids there love it.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

10 comments so far

View MasterSergeant's profile


1441 posts in 4022 days

#1 posted 06-18-2012 12:56 PM

Great, I viewed Steve’s video my self and liked the idea.

-- Kelly, woodworker under construction

View smoke's profile


123 posts in 4355 days

#2 posted 06-18-2012 03:33 PM

i made something like this, but not out of wood. i used a ceramic ovular base and a piece of goat skin over the top of it. there were 2 wooden pieces, a think one glued to the top of the skin and an identical shaped piece under the skin (kinda made it look like the wood was solid). we called it a sambira. what was cool about it was that if you played it on something flat, you could raise it up and down to create a “wah wah” effect. Nice piece, i’m sure who see it will play with it for a while and ask for one themselves.

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4176 days

#3 posted 06-18-2012 03:55 PM

Are you a musician? Asking because you have also built a dulcimer? Grizzly sells guitar kits? Just a thought. The picture caught my eye as I use to be a groupie for the Indian Creek Delta River Boys….a long time ago.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

2009 posts in 3522 days

#4 posted 06-18-2012 04:21 PM

In the strictest sense of the word, I cannot be called a musician. However, in grade school I played the Baritone horn, later in life I picked up the fiddle. I sing occasional solos in our church, though mostly only in Esperanto. I did try to learn to read music when I was taking fiddle lessons, but I never really took to it. This summer I’ve asked my wife to teach me to play a recorder. (This means that eventually I’ll learn to make recorders out of either bamboo or PVC water pipe. My first attempt was not a complete success.)

My wife is the real musician, a classical pianist by training, a Teacher of general music and pit orchestra accompanist by trade. It is for her that I made the dulcimer, sort of on a dare, though it was a Christmas surprise for her. I’ve been dabbling in small rhythm instruments because she can take them to her school and let the kits beat on them. This summer she has asked that I make her 2-3 bongo cajons. You’ll see them when I get to that project.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View exelectrician's profile


2339 posts in 3761 days

#5 posted 06-18-2012 06:45 PM

The first time I saw and heard one of these was 63 years ago in Northern Rhodesia. The memory came floating back as soon as I saw it here.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

View Dave Rutan's profile

Dave Rutan

2009 posts in 3522 days

#6 posted 06-18-2012 07:12 PM

Pleasant memory I hope.

-- Ni faru ion el ligno!

View MarkTheFiddler's profile


2068 posts in 3522 days

#7 posted 06-18-2012 08:06 PM

How cool is that! Well done.
I have learned 2 new names. Thumb Piano and Sarimba. If you all hadn’t said any different, I would have called it a kalimba.

Using the metal from a plumbers snake is ultimately very clever.

I have a anecdote for you.

A musician friend of mine actually got good on the Kalimba. I was amazed by his skill and the tunes he wrote that sounded really good on the simple one key, 2 octave instrument (Two rows of keys on his) . Still, I was curious – why? What kept him at it when it was a kind of limited instrument. I don’t want to share his exact response so I’ll paraphrase; Blame it on the Sixties.

-- Thanks for all the lessons!

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 4351 days

#8 posted 06-18-2012 09:34 PM

For those of you who have an Apple I-phone, there is an app you can download that plays the kalimba. Check it out and enjoy playing!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View nonickswood's profile


570 posts in 3720 days

#9 posted 06-19-2012 02:06 AM

I have always wanted to try to make one of these.
Very nice job, I’m going to check out that video.
Thanks for posting! Dave.

-- Nick, Virginia,

View exelectrician's profile


2339 posts in 3761 days

#10 posted 06-19-2012 06:10 PM

One memory that stands out is that the guys that played the instrument, had the most gnarly calluses on the fingertips that hit the keys. Also the melody that each one played was repeated over and over as they walked along, sometimes whistling accompaniment as they strolled from village to village.

-- Love thy neighbour as thyself

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