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How to Build a Wooden Drum

What could be more fun than playing your own handmade wooden drum?
soirée africaine image by pucci raf from Fotolia.com

Wood has always been one of the most popular materials for drum making because it is abundant in most parts of the world and produces a warm, resonant tone. Some of the warmest, most resonant tones come from hollow log drums made from a single piece of wood. If you can find an intact section of log, you will have the chance to make a truly fine wooden drum.

Things You'll Need:

  • Draw Knife
  • Chisel
  • Leather Punch
  • Leather Cord
  • Skin
  • Saw
  • Mallet
  • Knife
  • Rasp
  • Hollow Log
  • Sander

Making the Shell

Find a hollow log of some sort of soft wood such as cedar or cottonwood. There should be no large cracks on the outside of it.

Cut the log to the desired length with a saw. Double-skin wooden drums are usually slightly less than twice as long as they are wide, but you can make yours in any size you wish.

Smooth down and even out the outside of the drum. You can use a sander, a rasp or a draw knife to trim away bark and small cracks and to even out the surface.

Use a mallet and chisel to cut the wood from the hollow center. Vigorously drive the chisel into the wood with the mallet to quickly chip away the wood.

Slow down as you get near the edge. Once there are only 2 inches left, you want to be very careful to not to jar the log too hard or else you might make a crack in it. Slowly work the wood until the shell of the wooden drum is 1/2 inch thick or less.

Use a rasp to round the edges of the top and bottom rims of the wooden drum. They should be even and have no sharp angles that can hurt the skin and the hands of the player.

Stretching the Skin

Get two skins, each at least about 8 inches in diameter bigger than the wooden drum head. Drums can be made with goat, elk, deer, cow, horse, buffalo and even fish skin. For a discussion of some of the more common types of skin and recommendations about where to order them, see the link below.

Soak the skins in water until they become soft and pliable. For most hides, this takes about 24 hours but some hides such as goat can be used after only a few hours of soaking. Since leaving your drum skin soaking for a long time doesn't hurt, let it soak for 24 hours.

Pound small tacks or nails through the skin and the side of the wooden drum to temporarily mount the drum heads on both sides of the drum. Pin it so that it overlaps the sides of the drum evenly and there are no wrinkles in the drum heads.

Use a leather punch to cut holes about 1/2 inch from the edge of the skin evenly spaced every 3 or 4 inches around the top drum head. Cut holes in the bottom drum head so that they are directly below the holes in the top.

Lace the drum together in a zigzag pattern. Lace a piece of leather cord between two holes, then run it diagonally to the next hole over as in the picture. Continue all the way around the drum, then tie the ends of the lace together. Wait for the skins to dry, then start playing your handmade wooden drum.


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