How to Build a Xylophone

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Two months ago, May 18th 2020, my son Sebastian Julian Shaw was born. As a kid myself, I always loved the xylophone for its simplicity, just some keys and a resonator box. I decided to make one for Sebastian and learned it's not as simple as it looks. The two parts to watch out for is setting the depth of the resonator box & cutting the coves in the keys. As you'll see in the video, I did not cut the coves in the keys because in the test ones it proved very hard to tune them back to the right pitch.

The bar dimensions provided here are for building a xylophone with a range extending from C4-A5. All bars should be cut 1 3/16" wide by 5/8" thick. Bar lengths are as follows:

C: 10 1/4" D: 9 7/8" E: 9 3/4" F: 9 5/16" G: 9" A: 8 5/8" B: 8 5/16" C: 8 1/16" D: 7 3/4" E: 7 7/16" F: 7 1/16" G: 6 13/16 A: 6 716"

After all the blanks are cut to size, choose a medium grit sandpaper to take off the sharp edges and corners.

Finding the Nodal Points

The nodal point for the fundamental pitch is the point at which the bar should be drilled for a positioning rod. The nodal point is 22.4% from the end of the bar before it is undercut. With the undercut made, it is in a sense lengthened. Therefore, an accurate placement of the drilled hole will need to be a little closer to the end of the bar.

Manufacturing the Pieces

The xylophone box may be manufactured from hardwood, pine or plywood. If you choose to work with plywood, search for a lumberyard in your area that sells 5 or 7 ply furniture grade plywood with a thin laminate on both sides. The laminate will enhance the look of your finished project. If you decide on plywood it will also be necessary to modify the measurements of the plans, as the plywood will not be milled to thickness specifications. Begin by cutting the two sides with the dimensions below:

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JShaw Furniture was founded by Jesse Shaw in 2014, a Boston-based master craftsman and furniture designer. The company elevates furniture design to a higher level of art, producing hand-made bespoke furniture and wood lighting for individual clients and private collections, carrying on the tradition of sustainably-sourced and locally-made lighting, furniture and chuppahs (wedding arches). JShaw designs have been exhibited at the Wharton Esherick Museum, Fitchburg Museum, the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum. 

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