Woodworking: How To Make A Didgeridoo (The Traditional Way)

On this page I’ll show you how to make a didgeridoo the traditional way. Adapt the instructions to suit your individual circumstances.

Termite hollowed trees – the raw material you need to make a didgeridoo – can be found over a large portion of Australia, but you have to know where to look. In my experience termites usually eat out trees in poor country (land where the soil is infertile). The tree is also usually a eucalyptus variety or gum tree.

  1. First, try to see where termites may be active. Sometimes termites build their nests on top of the ground, but some often build nests hidden below the surface. If you cannot see any termites around then you have to look at the trees.

    Sometimes termites will build a visible second nest up in the tree itself. If this is the case, then you know that termites are active in the area. This doesn’t mean, however, that this particular tree has been hollowed out, because the termites may have found their way up the outside of the tree. Termite hollowed trees usually have more droopy leaves than those not hollowed out.

  2. Once a tree is suspected of being hollow use a tomahawk or piece of hardwood to tap on the side of the tree. If it sounds hollow then cut the tree or tree branch down at the base and measure the required length. If it looks properly eaten out on the inside take it back to camp (or home). Traditional didgeridoos were always properly eaten out. The thinner the walls of the didgeridoo the better, because those with thin walls were considered to have the best sound. These days, however, didgeridoos seem to have a range of thicknesses.
  3. Back at camp (or home), bang the sapling or branch on each end on a hard surface to remove dirt, old timber and a honeycomb structure from the middle that the termites have left behind. Sometimes you need to use a long stick to achieve this.
  4. Next, peel off the bark. It is best to peel the bark straight away when the timber is green because it is harder to do so once the timber has dried out.
  5. Once the didgeridoo is peeled, you can sand it smooth and seal it with a sealer immediately. Didgeridoos need to be sealed, otherwise they can dry out, shrink and crack overnight. If you’re going to make a didgeridoo, you need to make sure it’s going to last. Traditionally, newly-made didgeridoos were buried in moist sand near a river for six weeks so that they dried out slower and reduced cracking. These days, however, an appropriate timber sealer is used.
  6. The next step in your quest to make a didgeridoo is selecting the best mouth piece. Once the didgeridoo is sealed you can put a wax mouth piece on it if the playing end is too large or if the player doesn’t want to wear the skin away from his lips too readily.

    Traditionally, Aboriginal people used the wax from the wild honey bee’s nest to form a mouthpiece for the didgeridoo, but these days any type of raw wax is used. A wax mouthpiece is also handy because you can mold it to the size and shape of your mouth, and this is important (as will be explained later).

  7. The didgeridoo can then be either polished or painted. Traditionally, it was first polished with emu oil or other animal fat, then it was either painted with the owner’s own symbols or markings for the ceremonial occasion. These days aboriginal people usually paint each didgeridoo from a spiritual or intuitive aspect.

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