How To Make A Civil War Banjo

Need to know how to make a Civil War banjo? During the Civil War, thousands of men set out on foot to battlefields across the nation. Without the advances of modern radios and music, the men looked to easily transportable instruments to entertain them and help pass the time. One of the most popular instruments during the Civil War was the banjo. Not only was it light weight, but the resources needed to make it were readily available in the wilderness.

To make your own Civil War Era Banjo you will need:

  • 1 piece of soft wood measuring at least 37" long, 2" wide and 1/4" thick
  • A piece of card board at least 12" x 12"
  • Steam Cleaner
  • Safety Gloves
  • 2 Metal Clamps
  • Wood Glue
  • 4"x4" wood post that is 3' long
  • Band Saw
  • Ruler or Tape Measure
  • Wood Stain, your choice of color
  • 2 brass screws
  • Hammer
  • 20 upholstery tacks (1/4")
  • 10 violin pegs
  • Guitar String
  • Thin animal hide, such as goat skin
  • Optional: 1/2 quart of red or green paint, paint brush

Follow these steps to create your own Civil War Era Banjo that would be the envy of any Confederate or Union soldier:

  1. Do your research. Visit local music shops, browse Civil War web sites and look for images of Civil War era banjos in order to visualize what you will be making.
  2. Make the Banjo Hoop. Using a piece of soft wood such as ash, pine or mahogany,  cut a strip that is approximately 37 inches long, 2 inches 2 wide and ¼ inch thick.  Using cardboard and a saw cut out a circle that is approximately 12” in diameter. Using a steam cleaner and wearing gloves, apply hot steam to the wood in order to make it soft enough to bend. Gently curve the piece of wood into the shape of the circle and secure the edges together with metal clamps.  Let the wood sit over night and cool so that it will retain the circular shape. In the morning, release the metal clamp and glue the wood ends together using a strong wood adhesive.
  3. Carve the Neck. Using a four by four square post that is 3 feet long, measure and mark of the length of the banjo neck that you want. Usually 18 to 24 inches will work. Be creative and sketch design elements on the wood in the pattern that you want. Carefully carve out this design using a band saw. It should be about 1 ½ inches thick.
  4. Attach the neck to the hoop. Carve the bottom, unused portion of the neck into a 1 inch by 1 inch rod that remains attached to the neck.  Stain the wood and let sit over night to dry. For an added historical touch, you may want to paint the inside of your hoop bright green or red. Cut out a hole in the top and bottom of your hoop to slide the rod through. Secure with 2 brass screws and wood glue.
  5. Tack a hide to the banjo.  Soak a thin piece of hide in a shallow tub of water for about thirty minutes to make it easy to work with.  Stretching the hide over and around your hoop, tack it tightly using a hammer and #2 upholstery tacks.
  6. Add strings. Nail five violin pegs in a diagonal pattern across the top of the head of your banjo. Carve a 3 inch by 1 inch decorative corbel to attach to the bottom of the banjo. Attach 5 pegs across the top of the decorative corbel as well. Run guitar string from the pegs on the head to the pegs on the bottom and tighten.

Enjoy your new Civil War era banjo. You can take it camping and share tunes with family and friends or simply hang it on your wall to display your new hand craft.

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