How to Build a Music Box

Written by jo pick
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How to Build a Music Box
The musical movement part can be the most difficult to acquire. (music box image by Paul Moore from

Before the 19th century, the music box was the only mechanical device for producing music. Music boxes still have an Old World charm that is hard to capture with modern technology. It is not too difficult to build your own music box, and it makes a uniquely personal gift. All you need is a box, the part that plays the music, which is known as the musical movement, and a separator to protect the musical movement.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Musical movement
  • Box with lid
  • Drill (optional)
  • Separator (optional)
  • Jeweller screwdriver or glue

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  1. 1

    Collect all the parts you need. The toughest part to obtain is the musical movement. Several companies sell these, and they have thousands of songs. For a few dollars more, you can get a movement with any song. The movement is a compact, self-contained unit; some are sealed.

  2. 2

    Decide on the box shape and type. The box does not have to be square. You will probably be drilling a small hole in the box, so wood is an excellent choice; glass or porcelain is more difficult to drill into without shattering the material. The movement needs to fit easily into the box. Some music boxes have only enough room for the movement, but most have extra room for jewellery or memorabilia.

  3. 3

    Find the two extensions from the movement: the on/off switch and the winding stem. These are usually rods that extend from the movement. The on/off switch clicks back and forth, and the winding stem rotates. Sometimes the winding stem is a flat-folding key.

  4. 4

    Position the on/off switch properly in the box. The switch should be activated when the box lid is opened and closed. Opening the lid turns it on, and closing the lid turns it off.

  5. 5

    Position the winding stem correctly. This might mean drilling a small hole in the box so that the winding stem protrudes. If you have this type of a winding stem, the music box can be wound without you opening the box. Some movements have winding keys that fit flat against the movement--in which case, no hole will need be drilled.

  6. 6

    Prepare the separator. This is a "ledge" to protect the movement. If the movement takes up the whole box, the separator may be unnecessary. If the workings of the movement are visible (and attractive), you might consider a clear plastic separator. If the winding key is internal, then the separator will have to leave room to easily access the winding key.

  7. 7

    Attach all the other parts firmly to the box. Some movements come with tiny screws for this purpose that can be tightened with jeweller screwdriver. Otherwise, the parts can be glued into place.

Tips and warnings

  • If the movement takes only a small part of the box, you might want to build a more complicated separator so that the available box space is maximised. Lining the inside of the box with velvet or satin can be a nice touch.
  • Before you lock the movement in place with glue or a glued separator, you might want to think about how long the music box is going to last and if the movement is ever likely to be replaced. The need for replacement can be lessened by choosing a high-quality movement and a song that has such special meaning that it is unlikely to be changed.

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