Building a Xylophone, Part 1: Xylo-troduction

One day, I woke up and decided to build a xylophone. There wasn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to this decision — it just seemed like a fun project to occupy a month-long lull in my schedule, and easy enough for a woodworking beginner. I had played xylophones, bells, vibraphones, and other auxiliary percussion growing up, and I thought it would be nice to build an instrument for myself. Little did I know, it would be a long descent into a rabbit hole of acoustics, structural engineering, and programming.

‘Beginner,’ though, might be a wild understatement, because I had never done any woodworking before in my life. I’ve shown many a salt-crusted boat dooflicker some love, but that was limited mostly to sanding and varnishing. Luckily, I had a fountain of knowledge nearby in my dad, who has been a woodworker for a long time, and who has cultivated a small armory of a woodworking tools in our basement.

I spy a kitty.
Another cloudy day on Lake Washington (outside the shop)

He also had a large block of padauk given to him by his brother over ten years ago. Padauk happens to be one of the woods commonly used for xylophones (along with rosewood) due to its hardness, which gives it a bright ring when struck. It is also a very pretty purplish-red color, though this piece was dark on the outside due to its long exposure.

Ready to come out of hibernation

With a block of wood in hand, a small wood shop at home, and access to a bigger wood shop at the art school nearby for a couple weeks, I was ready to get started. My first step was to research how one would cut the blocks to the right pitch, and I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of music math, which plopped me into a rambling stream of simulation software, which finally carried me down into the comforting coolness of a code cave. We like the cave — sometimes the light of day hurts our eyes and it drips Mountain Dew.

Next Up: Xylo-brations