Cigar boxes were very popular in the 19th century. With empty boxes readily available, some folk musicians decided to use them for homemade instruments. Ukuleles were also popular at the time; these miniature guitars were easily portable and could be taken to parties and dances. It seemed a mixture of the two was inevitable, and now you can build your own cigar-box ukulele.
Things You'll Need
- Cigar box
- 1 by 2 piece of poplar, 1.5 feet long
- Carpenter pencil
- Woodworking file
- Electric drill and .5 inch drill bit
- Tape measure
- Wood stain, wood seal and application brushes
- Tuning pegs and guitar strings
Build the Ukulele Neck
Align the neck of the ukulele with the cigar box so the bottom of the neck is one inch from the bottom of the box. Draw one mark on the neck at that point and another mark where it protrudes from the other end of the box.
Cut out the area between the marks with your file as deep as the cigar box lid is thick. Sand any rough spots on the neck.
Draw a pencil line two inches from the top of the neck. Drill three holes for the ukulele's tuning pegs, two holes on the left side and one on the right. Make sure the holes are placed about one-inch apart and are not aligned, so the strings won't get tangled.
File the top four inches of the head until it is a .25 inch narrower than the rest of the neck. Then use your file to round the edges of the rest of the neck, ignoring the piece that will be inserted in the ukulele. This will make it more comfortable to play.
Drill three very small holes at the bottom of the neck. They should be equally spaced, about .5 inches from the bottom. This is where you will thread the strings.
Sand the neck until it is smooth to the touch. Stain and seal it if you want.
Finish the Ukulele
Measure halfway across each of the left and the right side of the cigar box. From that point, measure a .5 inch towards and away from the lid. At each of the endpoints you just drew, draw a line a .5 inch towards the bottom of the box, and connect those two lines.
Cut just inside your marks about .75 inches deep. Try to fit the 1 by 2 in the notch. If it doesn't fit, use the file and sandpaper to widen and deepen the notches.
Drill five or six small holes in the lid of the cigar box, avoiding the area where the neck will be under the lid. These are the sound holes and more can be added if necessary.
Use wood glue to attach the neck of the ukulele to the body. After the glue has dried, carefully tap in a few finishing nails.
Thread the guitar strings up through the bottom of the ukulele neck, along the neck and around the tuning pegs. Tighten or loosen the strings to tune your ukulele.
Tips & Warnings
- Be careful not to crack the lid of the cigar box while drilling sound holes for your ukulele.
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