Carving Castanets

As suggested by Frances, over the last week or so I carved some castanets. Here is/are the finished article(s) together with most of the tools I used. (I typed this up as I went along, so the tense is all over the place.)

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Aside from a little gouge work with a mallet on the workbench, I did everything on this lap tray. It’s just a piece of 1/2″ plywood and some scraps with an old belt around the left and near sides. It means I can whittle away in comfort with the tv on in the background.

I found a chestnut floorboard end, about 21x12x2.5cm. Surfaces were a bit rough so have quickly planed. Drawn out shapes in felt tip.


Googling around yielded standard sizes (see also). Both Raven & I have quite big hands so opted for 9.5x7cm overall. So drew 3.5cm radius circle for outside, by eye 8mm wide lips looks about right. 4cm wide looked about right for tail piece. Other guide lines produced by drawing between the centre and the tips of the tail, centre of tail and outer circumference.

I never knew that :

“it is traditional for one pair to produce a tone one-third lower than the other. This bass pair, called the macho or male pair, is played with the left hand to mark the beat of the music. The treble pair, called the hembra or female pair, is played with the right hand in a way that embellishes the music.”


I traced around just outside the perimeter with a small gouge then went around again making vertical stop cuts on the line (the pre-stop cut trick helps stop the cut scrunching up the good side of it).

I’ve no power in the workshop right now (not got money for New Place electric bill*) so had to do the cutting out with a fretsaw. Was ok once I realised it was much easier having the cutting happen on the pull stroke (so long since I’ve used one, bandsaw always). * So why am I pratting around with a lump of wood rather than working..?

I suppose I could have hollowed out the bowls before cutting out, but there’s still plenty of flat back. I do need to remove about half the 24mm depth. Looking at it now, with a bit of care I should be able to use the tenon saw.


I made some guide lines on the back and then roughly cut between them to get rid of some mass quick. Then made the bowls a little more even, still not wonderful, the open grain and faults in the chestnut wood are a pain. Although I normally avoid sandpaper like the plague with carvings, I think I’ll smooth the insides of the bowls a bit more that way.

I’ve just done a load more paring & smoothing on the back. Would have been tedious but was fine in front of cop show TV on the laptop. Still a load more paring to do, then I have to decide what to do with the handle bits, I guess they should have some kind of simple decoration.



When I was looking to mark up the depth to remove from the bottom, decided that it probably wouldn’t be worth trying to saw it. Instead I trimmed around the edge a bit with mallet & chisel. Then hollowed out the cavities, first roughly with (I think) a 3/8″ No.5 sweep straight gouge with mallet, then tidied up a bit by hand with a 15mm No.4 long bent gouge. Took no time at all.





All haste…I might well have made one of them too deep (about 13mm). Not sure it’s a really good thing I didn’t make the blank thinner first or a bad thing – I might have been more cautious. Still, it is only my first attempt and only got online photos to work from. Might get away with it.










So, a little knifework later I drilled the holes. Can’t use the drill press so just marked & drilled by eye, and got lucky, perfect placement. Still a little more to do before they’re finished, but they’re near enough for a test run. Found some little tutorial vids on youtube and had a go. They are too big but it is possible to get a reasonably convincing (very slow!) click out of them. The ears need some more shaping, then a general tidy-up and maybe decoration. Think I’ll stain them darker but not black, just slap a bit of linseed oil on to finish.





I pared down the tabs a bit more and then spent a while smoothing, firstly with the knife then a scraper. The shape suggested what to carve next (and there is a field mouse loose in this room somewhere, despite there being a cat here too). The whiskery bits were done by tapping a panel pin just enough to pierce the surface of the wood (it’s a good trick for the background of relief carvings).

I can’t resist punching my name on things. Ok, it’s part ego, but the practical side is it’s a sign to myself that the thing, as far as carving is concerned, is *done*. (The line across the mouse’s nose is a bit rough, but I’ll just leave that as-is, need to stop somewhere…). I then gave them a quick rub with fine wire wool and a splash of linseed oil. I’ll give them another coat in a day or two.



So finally here are the finished castanets in action, I just need to make another pair and have a few year’s practice.



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