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How to Make a Berimbau

By Marjorie Gilbert ; Updated September 15, 2017

The berimbau is a Brazilian instrument that looks like a cross between a fishing rod and a very large pipe. It's played by drawing a bow across its single string, which is located on the back side of the instrument. The berimbau is used in the Brazillian martial art Capoeria, and according to "Experience Martial Arts," the instrument "sets the tempo for the game/dance." If you are a Caoperia practioner, you may wish to make a berimbau yourself.

Make the Body of the Berimbau

Select a stick for your berimbau; it should be about 5 feet long and 3/4 inch or 1 1/4 inch in diameter. Berimbaus vary in size from small to large. If you wish to make a large berimbau, go with the thickest of the range for the diameter measurement. Try to pick a stick with few branches. A green stick works better than a dead or dried stick because it provides the flexibility required for the instrument. Cut the stick from the tree with a saw.

Cut any twigs or branches from the stick. Try to make the cuts as close to the stick itself without cutting into the stick. Peel the bark from the stick. You may have to use a knife to help you in this process.

Smooth the surface of the stick with sandpaper. Start with a thicker grit so you can smooth down the bits that remain from the twigs you cut in Step 2. Use a finer grit to make the stick even smoother.

Place the stick in a warm, dry place. This can be beneath or near a radiator or heater or even in the sun (though preferably on the sidewalk or driveway). Lay the stick flat so it dries and stays pretty straight. Turn the stick occasionally to help it dry evenly. Let it dry for up to six weeks.

Cut a circle from a piece of leather that's the same size as the top or smaller end of the stick. Secure it to the top of the stick with two finish nails. If you're concerned about cracking, drill to pilot holes, smaller than the finish nails, before driving the finish nails home.

Turn the stick over and measure 3/4 inch from the bottom end and cut in 1/16 inch all the way around the stick. What you are trying to accomplish is making a 3/4-inch-long section of the stick's end that is 1/16 inch smaller than the rest of the stick. Use your knife to accomplish this task. Take off another 1/16 inch in that small section. Sand it lightly to remove any unevenness, being careful not to remove the shoulder you have made.

Brown the surface of the stick by holding it over an open flame or the heat of a stove's burner. You don't want to actually burn the stick, but cause it to change color as evenly as you can manage. Sand the stick lightly with a fine-grit sandpaper and repeat the process until you achieve the color you like.

Find a used tire and cut into its rim. You will expose a portion of wire that runs all the way around the tire; this metal comes into contact with the metal rim of the vehicle's rum. Pull the wire out from the tire. Use sandpaper to remove any rubber from the wire.

String Your Berimbau

Make a loop in one end of the wire and set it over the knob you made in Step 6.

Hold the top of the stick with both hands in front of your left knee. Force your knee against the stick as you pull down and toward you, bending the stick like a bow. Put the wire over the top of the stick and pass the wire around the stick several times until you are certain the stick will still keep its bowed position.

Tie some white string around the wire and the stick, about one-quarter of the way down from the top. Wrap the string around more than once before tying a knot.

Drill two holes in the back of a hollowed out-gourd. Thread string through the back of the gourd and hold it in place on the back curve of the stick near the white string you tied in Step 3, Section 2. Secure the gourd to the stick with the string you threaded through the gourd.

Find a large, flat stone and fit it on its end or edge in between the gourd and the stick. It is similar to a bridge on a violin or a banjo. When playing the berimbau, hold the stone in place with your thumb and forefinger and curl your fingers around the stick beneath the string, with your pinkie just below the white string that holds the gourd in place. Use another, smaller stick as a bow.

About the Author

Marjorie Gilbert is a freelance writer and published author. An avid researcher, Gilbert has created an Empire gown (circa 1795 to 1805) from scratch, including drafting the gown's patterns by hand.