How do I turn raw animal skin into a hand drum head?
November 30, 2006 10:11 AM   Subscribe

How do I prepare animal hides for use as the skin of a hand drum such as a djembe?

I am wanting to build some hand drums of various styles, starting with a djembe.
I have absolutely no problems with creating the drum shell start to finish and building a system to hold/tension the skin.

What I am having trouble wrapping my mind around is how to go from animal hide (raw, just sliced off of the deer) to something that I can mount on the drum?

Does the leather have to be "tanned"? Just dried? What stops it from rotting or turning gross when it gets moistened by sweat on the players hands?

I have googled around and have not come up with anything really satisfactory.
posted by davey_darling to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Drum-making is a difficult craft, as I understand it, and I think your best bet is to find an expert who you can apprentice with.

In any case I found this which might be useful. It has a full procedure starting from a rawhide, which you have to find yourself.

And this says "The word "rawhide" means just what is says - raw animal skins with or without hair. These are usually untreated, scraped to an even thickness, stretched and left out to dry." (and there's lots more that I think will help you).

mostly found by googling 'drum rawhide' and 'drum "whole hide"'.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:44 PM on November 30, 2006

Don't use deer skins. Djembes have goat skin heads. Most people that make djembes import the goat skins from Africa. You still have to shave, wet, and stretch them appropriately. More information here.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:42 PM on November 30, 2006

You have to scrape the flesh off the hide. Once you've done that, you have rawhide, which is what you want for your drum head. For a djembe, you want to mount it with the skin on, and then shave it after it's mounted.

It's an arduous job, but mechanically it's pretty simple. You lay the hide over a smooth log, hair down, and use a somewhat blunt, somewhat sharp edge to scrape the fleshy bits off. No matter how artfully the beast was skinned, there will still be fleshy bits.

It's not easy to describe accurately. I've done a few, and I'm still getting the hang of it. The first couple I ruined by soaking too long beforehand (soaking is not necessary), or bearing down too hard or at the wrong angle. I got more successful after watching this DVD, which demonstrates the process (and also a lot more about making tanned leather that you may or may not find pertinent to your needs). I also bought the scraping knife he sells, and it was a good investment. (I am not affiliated with the guy or his company in any way; this is an unsolicited and totally uncompensated endorsement.)

Why doesn't it get gross? Dunno, it just doesn't. You don't get that much sweat on the drum, and you don't store it in a damp place I hope.
posted by bricoleur at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2006

Er, that should have been, "mount it with the hair on."
posted by bricoleur at 5:19 PM on November 30, 2006

Umm... watch out for anthrax.
posted by billtron at 12:12 AM on December 1, 2006

Mythbusters did this. Watching Kari shave a (dead) goat was nice.

Paging Adam...
posted by veedubya at 11:44 AM on December 1, 2006

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