Author Archives: drueckert11

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.

Kantele Design and Printed Plans

Image of Plan for Kantele - Top

David Rueckert – Plan for Kantele – Top

The design plans for my kantele were arrived at after looking at a number of resources. The approximate string lengths and gauges were determined from plans I purchased from English luthier Michael King. I own a Kantele purchased from Musicmakers in Stillwater Minnesota and looked at it as well as other instruments on the Internet for ideas. Through a synthesis of ideas from these sources I determined that I would create my own construction method and design shape that were appropriate to the tools and materials I would have available.

I used Photoshop to create my design and construction plan following closely the string placement from the plans by Michael king. The Photoshop file is 35 x 11 inches. To print this and use as a template for cutting the wood components it was necessary to divide the plan into 5 image tiles with overlapping X alignment marks and guides to depict page edges. The pages would be taped together to make the complete physical guide.

Image of Plan for Kantele

David Rueckert – Plan for Kantele – Bottom

Beginning the Kantele Construction Process

Image of John and Dave Rueckert reviewing kantele plans.

John and Dave Rueckert reviewing possible kantele construction plans.
(Photo by Susie Engle)

I had many questions about how to proceed with the process of constructing my kantele because I had limited woodworking experience and limited access to personally owned woodworking tools. I researched the Internet for information, acquired basic kantele plans, and observed Kantele examples. I asked several acquaintances if it would be possible to loan or use their tools. My brother John Rueckert and friend Charlie Engle agreed to allow me access to their tools, so I knew I could proceed with the project. My brother would also provide help with sawing and drilling as we used his tools, and Charlie helped as I drilled the zither pin holes.