How to build a tea chest bass

A cup of tea surounded by tea bags image by Wallace from

Folk instruments have a long history. All over the world, modern instruments got their start as musical pieces made from found objects and household items. Some of these instruments disappeared when their modern, and more melodic, counterparts took the scene.

Others, like the tea chest bass, still exist, though in limited quantities. The tea chest bass is a modified version of the washtub bass. Since the tea boxes used to ship tea overseas are made of strong, thin plywood, they resonate wonderfully. Plus, these instruments are very easy to make. Add a tin pipe flute and a washboard and you have a real folk band.

Dust off and clean out your tea chest box. Try to find one without cracks or holes. If your box has a lid, discard it or set it aside for future projects. Flip the box over so the bottom faces up. Drill a 2.5 cm (1 inch) hole down through the centre of one of the edges, about 6 mm (1/4 inch) from the edge.

Turn the box so your 2.5 cm (1 inch) hole is on the side furthest from you. Drill two more 2.5 cm (1 inch) holes in the right and left sides of your box, placing them in the lower corners furthest away from you. If you draw a line with your finger up the right side of the box, across the top and down the left side, all three of your holes should be on that line.

Measure across the top of your box. Cut a length of 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick dowel 5 cm (2 inches) longer than your measurement. A box 60 cm (24 inches) wide needs a dowel about 65 cm (26 inches) long. Drill a 6 mm (1/4 inch) hole about 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) from either end of your dowel. Cut two pieces of 6 mm (1/4 inch) thick dowel about 5 cm (2 inches)long.

Slip your dowel through the holes in the bottom corners of your box so it spans the space inside the box. Gently tap your 6 mm (1/4 inch) dowel pieces down through the holes in your 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick dowel. These pieces hold the larger dowel in place.

Find the point directly across from the hole on the top of your box. Place the corner of your chisel against that point at a 45-degree angle. Tap the chisel until you get a notch about 6 mm (1/4 inch) deep. Cut a second dowel about 1.2 m (4 feet) long.

Cut a piece of rope about 1.5 cm (5 feet) long. Tie one end of the rope to the centre of the dowel running through the box. Pass the rope up through the box and through the hole in the top of the box. Tie the other end of the rope to your 1.2 cm (4 foot) dowel. Place the free end of the dowel in your notch and pull the dowel toward you until the rope is taut. Pluck the string with your fingers to play.