Building a Cookie tin Banjo.

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Blog entry by scrappy52 posted 12-18-2007 11:20 PM 31322 reads 6 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I am going to try to list as much info as I can in here about how to build a cookie tin banjo, it may take some time, so keep checking back, and if you have questions, that is great. I hope others will build them aswell, and improve on them to.
banjo neck

First, finding the cookie tin is the hardest part, I prefer a tin from 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Next the neck. The only critical thing here is the length of the neck from the nut [ where the strings start down the neck ] to the tin. I use a 19 inch neck, as that is the length on the commercially built banjo I have aquired.

From the nut to the end of the head is 6 inches. And from the end of the finger board on the neck, it will need to be long enough to reach through the cookie tin that you have.


You will notice that the neck is narrower for the first 6 inches down from the nut, this is because this is a 5 string Banjo. The first 4 strings run the entire length of the instrument, but the 5 th string starts at the key that is placed 5 1/2 inches from the nut, on the side of the neck. So I used 1 1/2 inches wide for the first 6 inches, then expand to 1 7/8 inches for the rest of the length of the neck, with a thickness of 1 1/4 inches.
The dimensions of the head are not critical except for appearance, just make it how you like, as long as you have room for the keys. I used a router to curve the edges of the back of the neck.

O K , Frets, Listed here are the measurments for the frets for a 19 inch fingerboard, of neck. Beginning at the edge of the nut that touches the fingerboard, the 1 st fret is 3.75 cm. #2 is 7.2 cm. #3 is 10.5 cm. #4 is 13.65 cm. #5 is 16.6 cm. #6 is 19.35 cm. # 7 22 cm. #8 is 24.45 cm. #9 is 26.8 cm. #10 is 29.1 cm. #11 is 31.2 cm. #12 is 33.1 cm. #13 is 35 cm. #14 is 36.8 cm. #15 is 38.45 cm. # 16 is 40.05 cm. #17 is 41.55 cm. #18 is 43 cm. # 19 is 44.25 cm. #20 is 45.45 cm. #21 is 46.6 cm. #22 is 47.65 cm. wow that is a lot of numbers. Oh and the Bridge, to support the strings is placed 23.6 inches from the first fret, not the nut. You can buy fret wire, but on this one I made my own from scrap hard wood. they must be even in height for ease of use. I cut small notches in the nut to hold the strings about the thickness of a dime above the frets, and on the other end just build your bridge to hold the strings maybe double that of a dime above the last fret. The bridge is free standing and not attached to anything, the pressure of the strings hold it in place.

banjo neck

In the 2nd and 3rd photos you can see the neck has been notched down where it passes into and through the tin. This is done to control the distance of the strings above the tin. To find the distance of the notching, you will need to prepare the tin. Cut a whole in the tin for the neck to enter, try to make it a tight fit . On this one I used only the bottom of the tin, so as to make it an openback. With the whole cut you can measure from the top of the lip around the bottom of the tin, { which is at the top of the photo } , down to the top of the opening, which should be the inside bottom of the tin. On mine it is only about 5/16 inch, your will be different, as all tins are different.

banjo tin

Now we come to the tail. This is just a piece to attach the strings to. I made this one about 2 inchs wide, 2 1/4 tall and 1/4 thick. Drill 5 evenly spaced 3/32 holes for the strings, and a couple clearance holes to screw
the tail through the tin into the end of the neck where it touches against the inside side of the tin.

banjo tail

Something I have not mentioned is the keys, I used metal tuning pegs my dad gave me years ago for this one, but you really should buy good metal keys from a music store. make sure you get the ones for a 5 string, as I do not believe you can not use standard pegs for the 5 th string, on the side of the neck.

As far as strings go, I use from 30 to 60 pound test monofillament fishing line, it works great. The only problem I have had is that you must tune it every time you use it for the first couple weeks, until the line settles in.

To hold the strings, You can just tie a knot in the tail end of the string big enough so it will not pass through the holes you put in the tail piece, thread it through the holes, thread the keys, put in the bridge and tighten to tune it.

This is my first time at trying to write instructions, so I hope I did not leave out too much, or just really mess it up. If you have any questions, or suggestions, I will be happy to try to answer them, and I hope you can all improve on these designs.

-- No matter where you are going, once you get there, there you are.

7 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4213 days

#1 posted 12-19-2007 12:46 AM

awesome. I can’t wait.

My sister-in-law and I go on little excursions to an antique store in the area about once a month. Today, for the first time, I saw an old banjo. Thought of you, of course.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Karson's profile


35128 posts in 4452 days

#2 posted 12-19-2007 01:07 AM

You bet we need pictures.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Robert Smith's profile

Robert Smith

102 posts in 3973 days

#3 posted 12-19-2007 01:08 AM

Sounds like a fun project,this winter i am going to build a guitar (in apperance) but in side will be a small portable cd friend’s can play so at least this way i can fit in.

-- Robert,

View roy's profile


134 posts in 3846 days

#4 posted 01-24-2008 04:03 PM

nice job. i love the wood frets
keep on building!!

-- tn hillbilly.." tryin to do the best i can with what i got "

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3926 days

#5 posted 01-24-2008 04:12 PM

Can you lay down a sound clip of this guy? I’d be interested in hearing the sound.

View Demowen's profile


121 posts in 3449 days

#6 posted 04-13-2009 06:43 AM

oh man! I love it! I’d love to hear how well it sounds. You used walnut for the neck, any reason? Do you have to use a truss rod or anything like that? What material did you use on the fret board?

-- Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish the work of our hands- establish the work of our hands! Psalm 90:17

View lew's profile


12147 posts in 3807 days

#7 posted 04-13-2009 05:37 PM

Ditto what rikkor and demowen said!

Been trying to learn to play one of these things for more years than I can remember!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

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