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Building a Kalimba

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Kalimba as completed from this guide.

Kalimba features:

OK, I know I don't have to tell YOU this, but...
Please take all necessary safety precautions when working with hand and power tools, torches, and the like.
The FIRST step to take when building anything is to do it safely!

Making the instrument body:

The instrument shown was made from a scrap of Cherry, but any wood will do.
1. Lay out the 7-1/4" by 4" body shape on a piece of 3/4" thick lumber and route out the soundbox area, leaving 1/8" thickness for the instrument bottom.
2. Cut out the body outline.
3. Cut the top out a little larger overall than the body and thin to 1/8".
4. Layout the soundhole's location on the top. Cut out the soundhole.
5. Glue the top to the bottom making sure the surfaces are aligned correctly.
6. Lay out the location of the 1/4" X 20 tine retaining bolts and drill completely through the body.
7. Flip the body over and drill recesses to house the 1/4" tee nut flanges 1/4" deep with a 3/4" Forstner drill bit.
8. Drill at the same location with a 5/16" drill bit deep enough to house the barrel of the 1/4" tee nut.
9. Remove most of the tee nut tangs (with diagonal cutters if you have them) and press them into place.
10. Cut two short sections of 3/4" dowel and glue them into the 3/4" recess behind the tee nut using glue only on the edges to make sure no glue is allowed to enter the threaded portion of the tee nut.
11. Sand these flush to the body when dry. Radius and sand all edges.
12. Continue sanding the instrument proceeding through 100, 150, 180, and 220 grit sandpaper.
13. Finish in whatever manner you choose. Two or three applications of Tru-oil would be appropriate for this type of project. A wipe-on satin polyurethane could also be used.
14. Cut 2 pieces of 1/2" by 3-5/8" dowel rod and flatten so only a little less than half remains. These serve to rest the sound producing tines on.
15. Cut 1 piece of 5/8" by 3-1/2" dowel and flatten so a little more than half remains. This piece serves to hold the tines in place. Drill a 1/4" hole at locations that correspond with the 1/4" holes in the body.

Making the tines:

All tines start out as 5" long pieces of a discarded electrician's "fish tape". You can usually look around and find someone with a few feet of this material to spare, otherwise a fish tape refill is available from most of the home improvement stores at a reasonable cost. A short 25 footer is going to make a LOT of Kalimbas!
Each tine is grasped with vise grip pliers and held in a propane torch flame until about an inch is cherry red. The tine is then hammered against a block of steel or something similar until it is flattened to about 1/4" wide. This isn't really necessary to build the instrument, but it looks cool and is easier on the fingers while playing it. Round the playing tip and smooth all with sandpaper when cool.


After placing the two smaller pieces of dowel rod flat side down against the body, position the tines in their approximate locations, place the retaining dowel section (rounded side down) over the tines, and fasten everything together with round head 1/4" by 20 bolts that are 1-1/4" long. Leave the bolts loose enough that the tines can be moved to their final position and slid in or out to be tuned. Tune the longest tine to "G" using another instrument for a referance pitch. You can get fancy and use a electronic tuner if one is available. Slide the other tines in or out to produce the scale as indicated on the drawing. There are no tone police here, so feel free to experiment if you wish.
After you are satisfied with the tuning, tighten the tine retaining bolts to prevent anything from shifting. Make certain you do not over-tighten the bolts to the point that they are bearing against the rear plugs. If necessary, add a small flat washer under the bolt heads. The overlapping tine ends at the rear of the instrument may now be cut off with diagonal cutters or a Dremel rotary hobby tool fitted with the tiny metal cut-off wheels available for it.

Click on drawing below for larger view.
You may wish to right-click on the larger image and save the picture to a directory on you hard drive.
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