Things You'll Need
- Six pencils (at least 6.4 inches in length – preferably brand new)
- Two pencils with erasers
- Sticky tape
- Shoe box lid
- Ruler/tape measure
If you enjoy turning everyday objects into instruments, try using pencils to make a xylophone. You can take on this project with simple, household objects such as a pair of scissors, an old shoe box lid, sticky tape and, of course, pencils. You’ll be bashing out tunes on your personal instrument in no time.
Lay your shoe box lid down so that the large flat surface rests against the floor and the sides point upward. You will now be looking at an empty tray. This will be the base of your xylophone. Lay the lid out so that the longer edges run horizontally.
Put two horizontal strips of sticky tape across the middle of your shoebox. Run the pieces horizontally with about four inches between them. Be sure you lay the tape so that the sticky side faces up. Stick the horizontal strips onto the sides of the lid. Ensure that the horizontal strips of tape are taut. Stick one side down and pull the tape so the strips across the middle don’t bow downward before sticking the other side down.
Measure a large pencil 6.4 inches from the tip. If you aren’t using a new pencil, snip off the end with scissors and measure 6.4 inches from the cut-off, flatter end. Make a mark at this point using scissors. Cut the pencil at your mark to be left with a 6.4 inch section of pencil. This pencil will produce a C note when hit.
Snip off the tip of another pencil if it isn’t new. Measure 5.8 inches from the end of this pencil and cut it according to your measurement. This pencil will produce a D note when hit. You can label them as you go, but they descend in size with C being the largest. They can be easily arranged afterward.
Cut another pencil to 5.7 inches to make your E pencil. Cut the F pencil to 5.6 inches and the G pencil to 5.3 inches. Finally, cut the final pencil to 5.1 inches to make an A pencil.
Stick the pencils on the sticky tape, so that they are arranged vertically in order of size. Remember, your C pencil is the longest. Arrange them any way you like (C to the left or to the right), because you can just spin the shoe box lid around to play them in the other arrangement. Use the metallic band of two pencils with erasers on as beaters. Strike the pencil xylophone keys with the metal to produce a note.
Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.