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.

A large sound-hole
A small hole for the broomstick
Half a hole to support on end of the broomstick

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.

My unfinished cajon, glued together and held in place with ratchet straps.

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 a 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.