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Hand Drum Construction

This page is also in construction so the text translation from French is not really done.

Photos

Here are some pics of the drum I had made.

dundun 2 djembe djembe Loriane Emilie drum drum under construction

The big djembe is made of maple and also the 2 djembe still in construction. The small djembe is made of hemlock tree. The big dun dun are spruce tree, the small dun dun are hemlock tree.

The small children djembe is made from fir tree. The other is hemlock tree.

Tools

tools mechanic tools

Some of the wood working tools.

ring roller welder and to make the metal rings, a ring roller and a stick welder.

Tips and hints

Firstly, if you never played hand drum and that you want to build some, I suggest you buy one before or at the very least that you to test some of them. This will give you a better idea of dimensions, form and of what you prefer.

Costs: A low end djembe may cost about 100$ (can). A good African drum can be in the range of 300$. If you think of saving money by building your own drum, you are wrong. The cost of the tools alone will exceed 300$ (quality gouge, mechanical saw, rasp, etc). The material will also cost some money : the skin will cost approximately 30-40$, the rope, another 30-40$ (it take lots of rope) and the metal rings 30-40$. If you buy a wood shell, this may cost another 100$. However, the end result will be priceless!

Note : small djembe (children size) cost less to do and are easier to make.

The first step consist to find a very large log. Small djembe have diameter of about 13 inches. This means that your log will need to have at least 13 inches in the smallest part (a log is rarely perfectly round). You should also take into account the bark thickness since this will have to be removed. Thus, the largest part of the log could easily reach a width of 20 inches or more!

For the djembe final diameter, you must know that bigger is not always better. A too large djembe will give powerful bass, but there will be lots of overtones in the sound and the slap will have lots of ringing in them. The best is to try some real djembe and see what size you prefer.

If you don’t have access to a property where you can find a tree, you can ask friend and colleague for wood (recently fallen tree, ). Since all people tend to over estimate the diameter of tree, be sure to ask for real measurement (in the narrowest part of the circumference) before you go to seek the piece of wood. Also, keep in mind that the size of log needed will make it difficult for one person to handle. You will need help and some vehicle with enough storage space. You will also need space preferably outdoor to work.

Unless making a small drum, it is not the kind of project one can make in his living room!

Finally, contrary to popular belief, some soft wood can made good drum that are lightweight too. However, each kind of wood have different humidity content and soft wood usually have more than hard wood, so this can gives problem while drying.

Removing woods

hollowing wood

security

oops

Drying

cracking when drying

This is the stage where all the work done so far could be destroyed: It is possible that when the drum shell dry, it crack a bit or worse, break completely.

I let the shell dry once the thickness is about 1 inch or a bit more. At this point, the shell is very roughly made, so I prefer to let it dry a bit, and see that there is not too much cracking, before investing too much time working on it.

I read that the wood dries at a rate of an inch per year. This means that the shell should stabilize after 6 months (since is dry from the inside too).

In fact, wood does not dry completely, but rather reach a point of balance with the ambient air humidity.

The important thing is to slow down the process of drying to prevent it happening too quickly, or else, the wood may split! The wood will have more chance to split if the outside of the shell, for example, dry faster compared to the inside of the shell. The wood shrink when it dry so if the one part of the shell shrink faster than the rest, the shell will likely split.

I usually put the shell in loose bags of fabric and leave it in a shed. I weight the shell from time to time to make sure that it does not dry too quickly and I adjust the bag consequently (add more layer or remove some). On the other hand, if the shell does not dry enough, it can develop mildew or stain on the wood. I found it the hard way on my first drum and I had some more carving too do to remove the stain. In Quebec, humidity varies much and quickly, so drying wood without split is complicated.

When the weight of the shell does not vary much any more, I consider the shell dry enough to remain stable. Plotting the weight of the wood drying will give a decreasing logarithmic curve. One can practically predict how long it will take to be dry enough after some measurements.

To weight the shell, the ideal is to have access to a scale with enough precision. Scale for people are not precise enough. Ideally, it is good to have a scale able to go up to 30 pounds with an accuracy of 0.1 pound. At some point, I had enough shell drying at the same time that I build my own scale having the necessary precision. The concept is extremely simple and I will detail construction soon.

homemade scale

Insects

insect carving wood

Finishing

sculpting

oil finish

oil

Adding the skin

skinning djembe

cow skin

rope

rope