Recently my friend Julie and I decided to try our hand (no pun intended!) at making our own drums. Julie was interested in possibly using them in a women’s support group she runs, and I was just curious to learn about making one…especially since I am now drum-less, thanks to the jerk who stole my beloved Ashiko drum Minerva.
Julie had done some research and learned how to make drums from cardboard form tubes – the kind used by builders for setting up concrete and the like. Basically you saw the tube in half, staple on the head, cover the form in fabric, and you’ve got a drum.
So off to Home Depot, Hobby Lobby, and JoAnne Fabrics to gather up our equipment.
Besides the cardboard form tubes, we also had to get handsaws, stapler and staples (the heavy one, not a simple desktop stapler), glue, embroidery hoops, pack cloth (or other material for drum head), electrical tape, clamps, and fabric to cover the tube.
We both had fun at JoAnne’s selecting material to cover the body of our drums. Julie picked up a number of different fabrics including a really pretty batik…while I got a watery print that looked like marbled fabric, and a red material with spirals decorating it.
Then armed with our goodies, we headed back to Julie’s place to begin our project.
tools used to create our drums
brushes and drum head material
our pretty collection of fabrics
The first thing we had to do was cut the cardboard tubing in half. It normally comes in 4-foot lengths, in various diameters. Julie and I got the 12-inch size, which is what I would recommend. You could also do an 8-inch or 10- inch diameter for a smaller drum head if you desire.
cardboard concrete form tube before cutting
We had hoped that Home Depot could cut these forms in half for us, but unfortunately we had to do it ourselves. It’s not TOO difficult, but it does require a good sharp handsaw and some effort. It will take some time to do this. I do recommend two people – one to hold the tube while the other does the sawing.
sawing the tube in half
Once we were finished sawing the tubes, it was time to glue on the embroidery hoops. These hoops are made from wood, and are glued to the inside of the tube to help reinforce your drum and provide a place for stapling the drum head fabric. Using wood glue, we applied it inside near the top edge of the tube…
wood glue applied to the cardboard tube
fitted our embroidery hoops into place (we used two – one on top of the other and glued together), and then clamped everything to hold it in place while the glued dried, which took 30 – 45 minutes.
embroidery hoop glued and clamped to tube
now waiting for the glue to dry
once dried, the second hoop is then glued on top of the first
for double strength
Next come the application of the drum head. There are a variety of materials which can be used for such – I’m not sure exactly what we ended up using, it looks like some type of synthetic leather. You could use packcloth, oilskin, rawhide, leather, goatskin, plastic cloth, etc. I’ve even read about people making them from old beach balls! The important thing is that it be thin and pliable. While many drum enthusiasts prefer the sound of natural skin, it may be more difficult and more expensive to obtain. In addition, some individuals may dislike using animal products. It’s really up to you.
If your material is not very pliable, you might need to soak it in water for awhile first so you can work with it easier. We didn’t have to do this with ours, but you may find it helpful to do so.
the fabric we used for our drum heads
I would definitely say that this is a two-person job. You need someone to help stretch this skin and hold it tightly while you’re stapling it to your tube. You want the drum head to be as tight as possible…otherwise it won’t drum well and you won’t get good sound off of it.
Start with putting a large square of the drum head material big enough to cover the opening over your tube, and staple it into place along the outside edge. Staple it so that your staples go into the embroidery hoop inside the tube. Then turn your tube around, and while your partner holds and stretches the material as tightly as possible, staple the opposite side. Then staple the other two sides so that you’ve got your material stapled on all four directions. Then begin working your way around, keeping the material as tight as possible, stretching and stapling.
holding material tightly while stapling to create drum head
Once you have finished stapling your drum head, it should look like this:
finished stapled drum head
Then just take a pair of scissors or shears and trim off the extra material close to the staples:
trimmed drum head
The next step is to cut some “sound holes” on the bottom of your drum. These let the sound filter out from your drum so that it will sound better while you are playing it. Use your hand saw and cut at least one or more triangles, rectangles or scallops (half circles) in the bottom edge of your drum. If you look at the picture below, you can see the sound holes cut into the bottom of the drum. We only made one triangular sound hole in the back of our drums, but I think if I make another in the future I will add additional holes like we see in these drums.
drums from the collection of Eldermusic/Annie O’Shea
Now you are ready for the fun part…decorating your drum! We chose to cover ours in fabric, but this is not the only option available. You can paint your drum (be careful not to get paint on the drum head!), cover it with wallpaper or scrap paper, or use fabric like we did. I like fabric because it comes in so many different colors and patterns, and you are sure to find something that you will like to match your personality.
We used Elmer’s Glue mixed with water to make it a bit more liquid so it would spread easier and not be quite so thick. You could use a fabric glue or spray on glue. I do recommend doing a small section at a time, and work TOWARDS yourself on the drum tube, so that you can flatten out bubbles and wrinkles along the way. Just spread glue on your section, and lay your fabric over it, then use a DRY foam brush to smooth it out and get rid of the wrinkles and air bubbles. Don’t worry if you can see the glue under the fabric…when it dries it will become invisible and you can’t see it.
smoothing out wrinkles and bubbles after glueing on fabric
working on the second drum…about half finished with fabric
Now, we glued our fabric on right underneath the staples, and then later the staples were covered with electrical tape and a fabric band made to wrap around the drum edge and cover up the electrical tape/staples. This is one way you could do it. Or you could glue your fabric and then use pretty colored electrical tape or duct tape that matches/contrasts with your fabric to cover the staples. Or you could cover up the staples first with tape, and then cover the whole body from edge to edge with fabric. You can use a fabric band, or ribbon or fringe or rope or whatever. It’s really up to you. As I said, this is a chance to express your personality!
If you use fabric, you can “hem” it at the bottom of your drum by cutting it just a few inches longer than you drum, then turn it up inside your drum and either glue it or tape it into place. Or you could choose to just trim it off at the edge. Be sure to wrap it around or trim it at your sound holes as well. You might want to put some pretty colored tape or ribbon about the bottom of your drum as well.
You may want to spray your drum body with Scotchgard to help protect the fabric. If you decorate using paper, I would recommend putting a coat of varnish on it for protection. Although these drums can be used outdoors for drumming circles, bear in mind that they are made from cardboard and not truly waterproof. I would consider them better for indoor activities.
(notice band made of the same fabric around upper edge, covering staples)
(I made my band double-width, using two different fabrics;
one is the same fabric as the drum body, other is a contrasting fabric)
Making these drums was a lot of fun, and not really that hard. It’s mostly just time-consuming. It might make a fun project for a group. I would recommend that if time is an issue, you might want to prepare the drums in advance by doing the sawing in half, cutting the sound holes, and glueing in the hoops. Then the group can staple on the drum heads and decorate them as they desire. Although perhaps not quite the same as having a nice wooden ashiko or djembe, these drums can still serve a purpose.
I’m looking forward to making my next one!
If you would like to learn more about making your own drum,
check out this site for more information and instructions:
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