Advice and questions on making and fixing instruments
By bighammer
I'm a woodturner and a friend in a drumming circle mentioned something about djembes, and I decided it would be a good project. I found a large, freshly cut maple log on the side of the road and took it to the shop. I probably should've started here, but I have turned the shell, bent, welded, and covered rings, laced the rope, and I'm about to stretch the head over it.

I guess my biggest question is about how tight to pull while wet. I'm not even sure i have the correct hide, but it is from a goat and was labeled as a bodran/djembe skin. No hair on it, so I'm not really certain of what side goes up. :doh:

I'm thinking I will make a foot pedal style, under bench (OK, table saw outfeed table) rope puller, but I don't want to go crazy. Dry, this skin is like a heavy paper/posterboard thickness, and I don't want to blow it out while wet and soft. (maybe that's not even likely?)

By bighammer
OK, I got impatient and jumped into it. Seems good so far. We'll see....
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By boromir76
Looks pretty much OK to me. Wet pull should not be more than around one inch (max) bellow the drum playing surface with goat hide. To bad you cut off ropes on hide already. I usually leave hide rope untill the skin dries out, so the edges do not stick out in every possible direction away from drum. If the hide is still wet, you can wrap it tight against the shell with rope.
Last edited by boromir76 on Fri Feb 17, 2017 7:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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By the kid
Looks really nice job on the shell. The maple looks nice

The skin is probably too thin. A raw african hide is thicker and sets hard after drying.

The skin you have looks processed and will probably stretch a bit more and have fluffy sound. Also you may not reach the tension a raw hide can take. Its a similar skin to an Indonesian djembe shaped drum. They sound crap imo.

Raw Deer, goat,calf, horse can all be really good. You'd probably get a proper skin for less than 20 bucks/euros, or a free be. Loads of sellers in the states like drumskulls etc. When you get into real skinning up you'll prefer to use specialty skins so not to waist your time, cos after a nice bit of work you don't want skin breaking or not achieving satisfactory sound although experimenting is the base of learn how to build drums really, unless someone can explain everything but then people do develop different techniques that work for them.

There are good posts in the past from dugafola and others very worth reading.
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By drtom
I love you man. :hug2: You're my new hero. Nobody does better or even near as well on their first go. :clap:

The shell is lovely. I'm curious about the dimensions.

The skin is Pakistani, thin, processed and has no business near a djembe, but that's OK, 'cause that Indonesian rope doesn't either. Neither will hold up to the tension necessary to get a djembe up to snuff.

Don't cut corners. A djembe requires incredible tension to get that really clean, crisp tone and bullet slap. The quality of the skin and rope are vital.

Live and learn and please do share your progress.
By bighammer
Thank you all for the compliments. :dance:

I took it to a local music shop and they were impressed. A few people gave me the same name of a local drum expert and I contacted him. He's got a couple gigs this weekend and he said he'd be glad to check it out and give me his honest opinion and suggestions for the next one(s). Hopefully I can get a video clip of him actually playing it. It sounds good to me, but I really know nothing about them.

I re-tensioned the rope and moved the knot closer to the bottom. It was pretty high and looked like crap. I cleaned up the ends of the ropes on the rings as well. So far, they seem to be holding well. Lots of tension on them and it really doesn't have much give to it. Bought thru Amazon, but cam from a place called Rhythm Traders. A 100' bundle of 3/16" (4.5mm) was $29 shipped. The hide was also from Amazon; a Pamir range 22" hide for $22 shipped. We'll see.

Besides the free log, the steel rod was from a local supplier and cheap. Bending a round (or pretty close) loop was pretty easy. I marked the desired length, then clamped them around a plywood circle scrap, and used a pizza pan to check the final shape after cutting and welding.
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By bighammer
The one thing I didn't catch when reading about the knots and roping was a photo of the bottom ring with the drum flipped. I ended up with my lower ring knots upside-down. I didn't think it would matter, so I left it. Between that and the shape of the shell, when tightening the ropes, I really had to pull to take up the slack and prepare to pull the next down rope. I didn't have to clamp anything because it was pretty easy to hold.
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By korman
Well done, man!! It's so great to make something on your own.
Next time you see a log, make the dunduns, you'll be set up for a mandeng percussion group:)

By the way, I remembered somewhere on this forum there was a picture of precise measurements of one djembe, but I can't seem to find them now.
By bighammer
Korman, thanks! I think I had found the post or thread you are mentioning before I started. I think a favorite was being re-headed and they gave inside diameters and heights.

It sounded good with the thin skin, but it was stretching pretty quickly. I bought a hairy (and a little stinky) Ivory Coast hide and just put it on today. Considerably thicker, and what the local expert recommended. I'm excited to get it dried, shaved, and tuned. I'm donating as a silent auction item for a group of high school students heading to Washington DC in June. I'm hoping it will generate a lot of interest (and money) for their cause.

The bottom looked a little too plain, so I used my router to cut some flutes. Gives it some texture and additional visual interest.
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By Crispy
That first one, aside from the skin choice, is an exceptionally good skinning job for a first time! Well done!

As someone else mentioned earlier, retie the drawstring on the excess skin on the new one... you'll end up with a much cleaner finish when you cut the excess off.
By bighammer
Finally getting around to turning another. (I was out-bid on my first one, so somebody else owns it :cry: )

Using a piece of walnut this time. Some really nice color to it; a little purple and green, but I sort of doubt they will stay. Just started it today and forgot to take photos. Should be able to finish the shell tomorrow and I'll post some pics then.
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By the kid
Looking forward to seeing your new work.

I'm interested how did you approach the inner texture of the bowl. Did you consider any recent threads when working it.
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By drtom
the kid wrote:Looking forward to seeing your new work.
Me too, three and four!
the kid wrote:I'm interested how did you approach the inner texture of the bowl. Did you consider any recent threads when working it.
Me too, three, four and five.

If so, forethought would come in handy. The shell could be lathed out on the thick side to allow for any carving or routering or who know what.