I’m finding it hard to start this because it means facing up to the fact that I got quite far on this project and then stopped when I hit a problem, because I was terrified of making it worse. That was a year ago. Maybe this will spur me into completing it – or maybe it’ll just shame me into burying my head in the sand for another year.
I wanted a cajon (it’s a dum, for hitting), but they’re quite expensive so I thought it would be fun to make one. I found a video by a chap called Steve Ramsey, which made it look manageable even for someone as DIY-clueless as I am. The snags I hit were in the later stages, when: a) a screw snapped inside the wood, which meant the timber split when I tried screwing in anything near it; b) I couldn’t get the surface even enough for the front plate and was in danger of sanding away the whole box.
So, how far did I get?
Well, I bought the wood (the kind man at Homebase even cut most of it down to size for me). A cajon is a solid wooden box, closed on all sides. The drum’s ‘skin’ is a thin plate of plywood at the front of the box. Behind this is often a snare, which resonates when the drummer’s hand strikes the front plate. So I bought some 2cm-thick and 3mm-thick plywood. And a snare.
I also bought a cheap drill (that was a mistake) and a cheap jigsaw.
The back of the cajon has a large sound-hole, which I cut out with the jigsaw. I also needed a small hole in one side of the box and half a hole in the other side (I know, ‘half a hole’ is not really a thing; actually what I wanted was an indentation in the wood rather than a hole all the way through). These were for the rod (it’s actually an unused broom handle that I had kicking around the house) that would turn the snare on and off: it would protrude from one side of the box and rest in the indentation on the other side, inside the box. I couldn’t cut these with the jigsaw so I bought a cheap set of Forstner bits.
This is when I discovered that my drill was about as powerful as a parasol in a hurricane. It was like trying to cycle up a mountain into a strong wind and with an anchor hanging off the back. It got there in the end but it was very, very slow work.
When this was all done, it was time to glue the sides together. I had to improvise a fair bit because, unlike Steve Ramsey, I didn’t have access to a spacious, fully-equipped workshop. After some thought, I bought a pair of ratchet straps. I glued five sides of the box together (the front plate was to be screwed on later), secured them with the ratchet straps, turned the box face-down on an old sheet and piled as many heavy things I could find – books, drums, old printers – on top of it.
I even prototyped a sort of ratcheting mechanism for stopping the snare from bouncing off the front plate. But that’s as far as I got, because of the trouble I ran into trouble when trying to attach the front plate to the cajon. I hadn’t meant to give up, but it’s a year later now and I haven’t done any more on it.
Pardon my terrible drawing (it didn’t help that I drew it on a trackpad, which was rather painful), but it should give a better idea of where I was heading. (I’ve taken the top off in the picture so we can see inside.)
So, that’s my attempt at a cajon. Right now, though, it’s just box – and it’s not even a useful box, because it has a whopping great hole in the bottom. It’s just a sad, dusty reminder that I never finished it. Maybe one day.