Soundboard Shaping Process

Picture of Kantele Soundboard Process Materials - design printout, tracing of soundboard shape,, red transfer paper, pencil, metal ruler, and birch plywood top.

Picture of elements used to prepare for cutting out kantele soundboard shape


  • The Photoshop design files for both the top and bottom of the kantele were printed from the computer. Five printed 8.5 X 11 sheets were required for each of the top and bottom. These were taped together using X registration marks for alignment. The taped-together design shape of the kantele is shown at the top of the picture above.
  • The soundboard shape was traced onto tracing paper from the computer printout. This tracing is shown at the bottom of the picture above.
  • The soundboard shape was transferred to the sheet of plywood using red transfer paper, pencil and ruler. See the picture below which shows the bottom side of the soundboard after it was cut out, but with remaining red transfer lines showing the positions for glueing the sides of the soundbox later in the process.
  • The soundboard shape was cut out of the plywood using a circular saw and jig saw.
  • The edges of the soundboard shape were refined with a file and sandpaper.
  • The top and bottom of the soundboard were smoothed with sandpaper after dampening it with water raised the wood grain.
Image of red transfer lines on bottom of soundboard showing positions for glueing sides.

Red transfer lines on bottom of soundboard showing positions for glueing sides.

I originally wanted to make the top/soundboard of my instrument from a 1/4 inch thick piece of solid walnut. Due to my woodworking inexperience and naiveté I did not realize this would be a difficult and prohibitively expensive item to acquire for a one-off instrument of this size. Looking around at local sources, I found there were only available sizes up to 24 inches long. I finally decided to make my kantele top from Baltic Birch plywood instead. I was a bit disappointed at first but realized a couple of things that made me feel good about this decision.

First, I thought it would be very appropriate to use a native regional material – Baltic Birch – for this instrument since the Kantele belongs to the musical instrument family of Baltic psalteries. Many other countries in the region have similar instruments; the Russian Gusli is one example. Part of the tradition of the kantele as a folk instrument is that it was made out of whatever materials were available at hand since resources were often limited. It seemed appropriate for me to use Baltic birch as an economical alternative. I also remembered that I had seen Baltic birch used for many other musical instruments including hammered dulcimers, lap harps, and zithers. While it may lack the more sophisticated tone and prestige of solid a wood top, I find I like the brighter tone that results from its use on some instruments and the fact it is less prone to cracking. Although it is often painted to hide the side grain when used in musical instruments, I personally like the look of the top grain of this material.