Cookie tin banjo

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I was browsing through some old Firefox books a while back when I came across some folks talking about making banjos and dulcimers.  In particular, one fella talked about making a cookie tin banjo.  I had 4 cookie tins in my office that I saved after we emptied them last Christmas which seemed perfect for the job.  So, since I had one insignificant piece of junk I needed, I felt compelled to find the rest and build a banjo!

For the neck of the banjo, I used an old piece of bamboo flooring which I glued to a pine 1×4.  The floorboard by itself was not thick enough to provide support where it enters into the cookie tin.  I am not exactly sure that it’s the right thickness now but it seems to fit in my hand ok.   I left the bamboo top squared off but I rounded the back (the pine part) off smooth so I could hold it easily.  Now, I know you are curious how I came up with the shape for the peg head…I traced two Mt Dew cans.  This part is important…you have to use Mt Dew to get the thing just right.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

The tail piece is a chunk of an extra slat from plantation blinds we installed last Summer.  I think there must be a proper way to do this but it seems that the only measurements that really matter are the distance from the bridge to the nut (basically, from the wooden peg on the face of the banjo to the point where the neck joins the peg head.  My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My length is 25 inches though there is some flexibility in that size.  The distance from the bridge to the 5th string which attaches to the side of the neck is 18 1/2 inches.  Just about everything else negotiable as far as I can tell from reading in Firefox 3.

The hardest thing for me to do was carve the tuning pegs.  I tried using steel thumsbcrew and eye bolts and regular screws but none of those things would hold the string tight enough to tune.  That left me with carving wooden pegs which hold their position by friction.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I bought square 1/4 poplar dowel rods and cut off 2.5 inch sections to carve the pegs.  I rounded the bottom 2/3 of the peg to fit in the hole.  The top part I left square so I could get a better grip on it for tuning.  It seems simple enough but it was a real drag to carve them round.  My hands are killing me from messing with those tiny pegs.  Anyhow, I drilled a small hole in each to catch the string and they seemed to tune and hold pretty well.

My homemade cookie tin banjo!

I have a chromatic tuner that I got to tune my violin.  I messed around a bit to get the tuning right for the banjo.  I think it is pretty close although the 4th string doesn’t sound right to me.  We’ll see.  It definitely has a banjo sound.


So, the $6 Martin banjo strings are about the only money I have in this thing.  Gosh, if only I had any idea how to play a banjo!

13 thoughts on “Cookie tin banjo

  1. How come no photo of you “pickin’ & a grinnin’ “. Now you need to find yourself some partners and come up with a real old fashioned “washtub band”.

  2. I have been thinking a lot lately about how our collective relationship to music has changed so much in a few decades. My friends made music (with acoustic instruments) (and I listened). We certainly had records and tapes but they were often models for study and imitation. Now my daughter’s generation “plays” the Ipod. How will this change in a time of diminishing resources? I really hope it will be with cookie tin banjos!
    Also, I have Foxfire 1 through 5 but never tried anything after our leather britches beans were still leather britches after 3 hours of cooking. Thanks for reminding me about a potentially useful resource.

  3. Excellent post. As far as I’m concerned, the very highest form of screwing around is an involved, complicated project that serves no apparent purpose. Bravo!

    Are you familiar with the Make blog?

  4. A coworker is learning to play banjo and I have been playing violin for a little over a year. He wants us to start a bluegrass band, drink moonshine, misbehave, etc. I may keep the banjo for my own misbehavin’. He gave me a “teach yourself banjo” book so I started fooling around with that last night.

    As far as pickin’ and grinnin’, I got half that down-pat. I like to grin, usually when I get a notion to do another project. I have only ever picked my nose and underwear from my behind but I hope to change all that. I spent a good bit of time last night annoying my wife with my pickin’ and grinnin’ on the banjo.

    Diane – I think your comment applies to so much more than just music too! I think my fear of losing touch with how stuff really works has driven me to keep bees, garden, can food, and now, play homemade music. I like technology plenty but to lose track of non-technology is a shame and a less interesting trip around the sun I think.

    Robert – I agree! Can you tell my wife…anyhow, I love Make! I check it often as well as…both are excellent!

    Chris – I think you must play the washboard or the jug? Like I mentioned above, my buddy wants to start a bluegrass band…we’re short a jug player! Anyhow, there are some neat things in the Firefox books. I am always astounded at how people used to do things, “back then”. Great reading for sure!

  5. Wow, I didn’t expect it to have such a good sound to it. That rocks!
    I am going to have to show it to my father in law. Every once in a while, he, my husband and I all get together and play bluegrass. He plays the banjo, my husband plays the guitar, and I play the mandolin.

  6. Cool on you for playing bluegrass. My son calls it cowboy music and always sweitches the radio to it when he can. I don’t know if I’ll ever play it well, but I’ll have fun messin’

  7. I use the same techniques to build stick dulcimers. Cookie time and shelving boards. Easier to learn and have a great old-time sound.

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