Friday, August 3, 2012

The joy of Cajon Drums!

I recently spent another 5 days at the Perth City Farm's July School Holiday Program, doing woodwork with 6 - 12 year old kids. A very popular program, the kids rotate through a range of activities, including cooking, circus skills, working around the farm and gardens, making garden sculptures, soap making, paper making, and more. Woodwork is offered each day, with morning sessions and afternoon sessions.

 My third such holiday program for Perth City Farm, I usually offer a different project each day as well as the ""free creative play" where kids make whatever comes into their heads using the wood, hammers, nails and saws available. The specific projects on offer this time were cheese boards, kitchen spatulas, handled carry boxes, garden planter boxes, and Cajon Drums.

Cajon Drums are Afro-Peruvian in origin. Essentially a six-sided box, they are usually played while being sat upon. These instruments were originally improvised from wooden crates, boxes, and cabinet drawers. These days they can be quite sophisticated, with levers and features providing the ability to turn off and on a wide range of percussion sounds and acoustic embellishments. The Drums we would be making with the kids are simple boxes, with a thin sound board for the face, and a sound hole cut in one side.

Zoe. aged 11,  in full flight on my Cajon Drum. (paint job by some of my grandkids.)
The drum making session this time had 8 kids participating. Although it is very popular, we only did one drum making one session that day, as there was not enough material to do many more. Wherever possible, all the materials I use for the holiday program are recycled timber - wood rescued from the waste stream. The Cajon Drums are made from plywood, most of which has come from packaging or industrial off-cuts. So on this program the amount of ply I had been able to round up determined the number of drums we could make!

Making the Drums.
On this project, I supply the sides, tops and bottoms cut to size. The kids have to measure and cut the back and faces to size, and design and cut their sound holes in one side, and glue and nail the whole thing together.

Cutting a sound hole - with brace and bit and small rip saw. Nice sawing technique!
Cleaning up the sound hole with a half round wood rasp.

I usually get the kids to cut their sound holes after the boxes have been assembled, but prior to the drum faces being fitted. The two pics above show the sound holes being cut to the kids' own designs.
Plan for the Cajon Drum
The sound holes are designed by the kids, and I usually encourage the design to be based around holes and straight lines. This lends itself easily to the use of a brace and bit for drilling largish diameter holes and the use of tenon saws and small rips saws for cutting out straight lines between the holes.

The boxes are nailed together with butt joints, glue and panel pins. For the faces I tend to use glue and small flat head nails (wallboard nails).

Of course, the next bit of fun for the kids is to personalise them further by painting them!
Four rubber feet fixed in the four corners of the base are also recommended.


Playing the drums.
These drums are made to be sat on, usually with the face at the front.
These drums are a great little project. One of the wonderful things about them is that as soon as we have finished making them, we can play them together. Click on the pic below for a short You-tube video I captured of three kids playing together spontaneously.


What a positive project these drums are! Fun to make, even more fun to play...

Zoe leads another group in a bit of responsive drumming. They all made their own drums.
Perth City Farm School Holiday Program,  April 2012.
So there you have it... the joy of Cajon Drums. I look forward to the next time I get to make these drums with a bunch of kids - or adults or that matter!

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