Plywood is the best wood for Cajon construction when building your first handmade Cajon drum. Though it is not as appealing to the eye as a hardwood would be in its natural state, it is far more appealing to the wallet. With plywood, you can still craft a beautiful sounding Cajon at a much more reasonable price than if you use a hardwood option. Additionally, if the goal is to make the drum look as good as it sounds, you could always sand down the outside surface of the plywood and apply wood stain.
There is a great deal of debate that exotic hardwood is the best wood for Cajon frames. If you’re looking to build a drum with beautiful color and a more natural texture, you might want to look into different types of hardwoods. Though hardwood is slightly more expensive, the aesthetic result will be well worth your money. Common hardwoods used for Cajons include Walnut, Maple, Mahogany, or exotic Peruvian hardwoods such as Peruvian Mohena. With hardwood, it is also believed by some that the drum will produce tones that are more “boomy” or have richer tones. However, these sound qualities can be produced with Birch Plywood if built correctly.
One of the many benefits of building a handmade Cajon is that you can determine exactly how tall, wide, deep, or thick the lumber selections are. Generally speaking, however, most Cajons are built with wood that is 1/2″ thick or 3/4″. For the frame, the most common dimensions are 18-19″ tall, by 11-12″ wide, by 12-13″ deep. The size I have found to be ideal to create a sturdy, beautiful sounding Cajon is 19″ tall x 12″ wide x 12 1/2″ deep built with 1/2″ Birch plywood. It should also be noted that to ensure stability, you should use 4 square dowels on the inside of the frame. We will cover how to install those when we get to the building process, though.
This is what makes or breaks the sound of any handmade Cajon. I am going to warn you right now that some blogs or DIY instructions will tell you that a 1/4″ thick board will do the trick for the Tapa, and I’m here to tell you from experience that it will NOT suffice if you want your Cajon to sound great. The best wood for Cajon’s Tapa is usually 1/8″ or 3mm.
With the Tapa, it is crucial to understand that the thinner the better. You want for the Tapa to have an ever so slight amount of ‘give’ to it so that when you strike the playing surface the snare wires will be able to resonate. The reason I prefer to build my Cajon drums 12″ wide is because 3mm thick pieces of Baltic Birch plywood are easy to purchase online and can be purchased 12″ wide which saves you a step when cutting your wood pieces.