July 10, 2014

Drum Building with Deerhide

This spring, Becky ran a once a week native american club at the Somerville Growing Center for the kids and some other local homeschoolers. They did a number of neat things, one of which was making some hand drums from deerhide.

Becky bought these drum kits from Centralia Fur and Hide. Here she is putting together a test one with the kids the weekend before the class. The deerhide head and rawhide lacing was soaked overnight in the tub. Their frames were laminated maple hoops.

Stretching the part that goes over the edge of the hoop.

Cutting the lacing.

Lacing and tightening.

Making a drum beater.

These turned out very nicely and everyone was pleased with them.

Meanwhile, my chinese class was practicing a little routine for the graduation assembly. Last year, I started taking the girls to TCLS on sunday afternoons. I found out they also had an adult class, so I joined it, to brush up and advance my own chinese. I took chinese in college, and spent a wonderful summer on the mainland in 1995. But it has been a long time and my skills have steadily degraded. Attending the adult class at TCLS has been a lot of fun and has definitely had a positive impact on my language skills.

For our assembly skit, my classmates and our teacher came up with the brilliant idea of interspersing chinese tongue twisters (繞口令) with the chorus from this awesome song:

My tongue twister concerned a pole wishing to tie on a bench:
扁擔寬 板凳長 扁擔想綁在板凳上 板凳不讓扁擔綁在板凳上 扁擔偏要綁在板凳上 板凳偏偏不讓扁擔綁在那     板凳上 到底扁擔寬 還是板凳長
Anyhow, the real band has two guys on guitar and one on a djembe style drum. Luckily we had coerced one of the class members to dust off his guitar and learn the chords to the song. I felt it might be nice to have a bit of drums in there too. But I needed one which I could tuck under my arm and play two handed. The kids' recently made drums could only really be played one handed.

In typical fashion, I foolishly imagined I could whip up a longer drum shell relatively quickly, stretch a deer hide on, and have it ready to use for the assembly skit. Of course it took longer than I thought, but all in all we probably only spent about 8 hours on it, and I am pleased with the result.

I had built a pretty nice drum with some friends in college; it was tapered, which gives you more options for tensioning the head. That drum was made of alternating light maple and purpleheart staves, with a goatskin head. So I was not completely new to the concepts involved. Anyone happen to have a picture of that drum? I can't find one.

So I ordered a piece of hide and some lacing from Centralia. While the hide was en route, the kids and I picked out a couple pieces of red cedar

from the big pile I have sitting in my basement waiting to turn into a fence.

We chose some dark and some light pieces, to make the shell a little more interesting. The great things about clear cedar are that it is nice and lightweight, looks good, is very easy to work, and smells great during fabrication. The cons are that it takes a ding easier than chocolate mousse, and isn't as strong as hardwood. I've read that drum shells made from cedar are not particularly good sounding. But that is what I have sitting around, and making things with it is faster and more kid friendly than using hardwood.

For expediency, I made a non-tapered shell, with the help of this handy online calculator. I used a magnetic angle gauge to set the angle on the tablesaw, and set the width to make two staves from the 1x4 (19x89mm) boards.

We used blue tape to help test fit up the shell, and found that we needed some adjustment on the angle.

So I retrimmed them on the tablesaw, and we taped up the whole thing with masking tape.

Next, we cut apart the tape jacket along one joint. Meanwhile, Millie tried crushing various objects in the vise.

The girls spread glue in the exposed joints.

The mat of staves was rewrapped, then tied tightly with nylon string and more tape. It was left overnight to dry. We unwrapped it a day or two later and prepared for further work.

Millie and I used a jack plane to take down the corners all around. She used the blue tape we took off for a temporary skirt.

This plane is cast iron and far too heavy for her, but she enjoyed taking some shavings off for a spell.

She also loved frolicking in all the lovely spicy smelling shavings.

I rather liked the hand planing marks, so I didn't sand much after the planing.

 The shell ended up looking too long, so I cut some off. The cutoff is probably long enough to be turned into another drum sometime.

The router table was used to fillet the top edge where the head was to wrap around. I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do for tensioning, but I decided to try a crisscross scheme with the laces being anchored by castellated cuts at the bottom. One bottom notch per stave was made by first drilling, then cutting with a japanese saw, cleanup with a chisel, and finally some sanding.

I put on a couple coats of Waterlox oil finish during the week. Two days after the second coat, I put on a coat of furniture wax.

The hide and lacing were soaked during the day while I was at work.

I had marked up where I wanted holes with pencil on the back of the hide before soaking.

Stretching the hide. Incidentally, this obliterated my marks on the back. Oops.

Poking the lacing holes. Man, wet hide is surprisingly strong!

Ready to lace.

I worked out a scheme to catch two points on the perimeter of the hide with one cut piece of lacing, tied at the bottom between castellations.

 I gradually worked my way around, while lightly tensioning each one.

After I got them all in place I went around and tied them all tighter, to increase tension.

I wanted a kind of deep sound from this drum, so I didn't pull as tight as we did on the kids' hand drums. In retrospect I should have pulled it tighter. As summer humidity has set in, the drum has been sounding deader.

Added an extra strip of hide to clean up the look of the edge of the hide where the lacing went through. This may have been a mistake, I don't know, does it look cleaner or just kind of clumsy?

Some yarn was used to increase tension after I was done tying all the laces. Later I cut this off, but then changed my mind again and put it back on with jute twine.

After a day of drying, it sounded nice!

I laced on a wide ribbon strap to hang from my shoulder.

Here is Violet trying it out.

I had it ready by the week before the performance, so we had a chance to practice with the drum. No one told me it sounded terrible, so I brought it for the performance. I'm not a great drum player, but I think it added to the overall effect.

A video was taken, but I can't receive videos on my old fashioned phone, so I can't post it here. Here is a still picture though. While we can't compare to the guys in the video, I think it came off pretty well!

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