View Full Version : Sourcing hide for a drum head

01-05-2017, 06:14 AM
I'm looking for the opinions of musicians or ranchers on this one.

I spent most of my college years playing taiko drums, and I really miss it. I'm hoping within the next few years to build a couple drums and at least bang around and have fun with them with any of my drumming friends who are in town. I've built plenty of drums with the group before, so I know the process, but I was hoping that I might find a better source for the walls of cow that our group ordered from Texas to use for the skin.

I know there's a necessary transformation somewhere between killing the cow and using the soaked hide on a drum, so I couldn't just buy the outside of a butchered animal from anywhere. Is it common for ranchers, slaughterhouses, butchers, or anybody involved in the process to treat the hide? Does good hide come from specific animals, or can it be taken from animals bred for meat? Would a small time or family ranch be willing to treat the hide if I asked?

If this is out of the question, I can order something from our place in Texas. But for goodness sake, I live in the Midwest- drive 10 minutes out of town and there are cows all over the place!

Alessandra Kelley
01-05-2017, 06:51 AM
So far as I know*, drums are made from rawhide.

There are websites that will walk you through making rawhide, which I recommend looking up since I have not done this myself. The basic process as I understand it is this:

Take your animal flesh and stretch it on a frame.

Scrape every last bit of the fat and any meat scraps off the inside side.

Soak the skin in a big tub of water, stirring frequently, until the hair can be easily pulled out, about two days. Many people add calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime) to the water to help the process, although it's nasty stuff.

As soon as the hair can be easily pulled out, remove the skin from the tub and scrape off the hair with a flat knife or scraper.

Rinse the skin very well with clean water, adding a little vinegar or cream of tartar to help neutralize lime residue, if it was used. Then rinse with more clean water.

Let the skin dry (stretching it for this is optional, but may help with cutting later).

To store, roll lightly and tie.

To use, soak for 12-24 hours until soft, cut to desired shape with ordinary scissors. The remnants can be redried and stored.

*but my knowledge is pretty eclectic and random. I am a visual artist by trade, a leatherworker and textile artist by hobby, and I have mostly dealt with rawhide in the form of sheepskin parchment and simmering rabbitskins (to make glue). What I am is nosy and experimental.