Taiko Drums

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Blog entry by TerryDowning posted 11-10-2012 12:20 AM 4781 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch

I do a lot of volunteering for our local High School Marching Band.

The theme of our 2012 show is “Samurai, The Way Of The Warrior”

Last spring it was decided we really needed some traditional Japanese Taiko Drums to really make the effect.

Taiko Drums typically cost thousands of dollars each. So, some of our parents started doing some research and we built them ourselves (only hundreds each now).

Here is a pic of the end result. (Click any of the photos to see a higher resolution image on my skydrive account.)

Here is a link to all of the photos of the building that were sent to me. It took most of the summer, a lot of effort by many people, a couple of gallons of TiteBond III as each barrel stave had to be glued back into place and all gaps between the arched barrel staves and the plywood reinforcing rings had to be filled (Dust collection on belt sanders is great for making this filler along with the glue) and of course A LOT OF HARD WORK.

We purchased used wine barrels

Numbered the staves
Removed the rings and broke down the barrels
Wire wheels were used to remove the soft wine soaked wood from the inside.
We then reassembled using Titebond III to glue the staves together clamped and let sit for the glue to cure.

Each drum head needs to be reinforced as the end grain of the barrel staves is not enough support to beat on. Wine barrels are not concentric, so we made a jig to hold a router with a circle attachment to make the inside of the barrel concentric and match the reinforcing rings.

Plywood reinforcing discs were glued up to 2 inch thickness and cut approximately round on a bandsaw.

Using the jig we made the inside of the barrel concentric

Then we adjusted the circle cutter for bit thickness and matched the circle to the inside dimensions of the barrel.

The reinforcing rings are now glued and pegged into place 2” long 3/8 dia oak dowels were used to join the reinforcing ring to the barrel staves 1 hole centered on each stave glued and tapped into place.

We Removed the excess glue and the start of a lot sanding began.

Once the glue on the reinforcements cured, the center part of the rings were removed again using a circle cutter and a router to cut the center out.

The next step is to fill any gaps between the staves and reinforcing ring, we mixed sawdust and glue for this.


Then Sanding, Sanding and more Sanding, you can see in the build photos that we made some jigs to turn the barrels while sanding and put the barrels at a comfortable working height and then we sanded some more eventually to 220 grit on all barrels.

Did I mention a lot of sanding?

The barrels were then stained and finished with polyurethane (about 4 coats of gloss, they have a really deep shiny finish up close and these photos don’t do them justice).

Once the poly cured, it was time to start mounting the heads.

We purchased entire sides of cow hide from a pet food manufacturer and were able to get 2 drum heads per cow hide.
The hides were soaked in water to soften them enough where they could be shaped to the drum.
For shaping the heads, we rough cut the hides over sized to a circular shape, draped over a barrel steel rods are used to pierce the hide and serve as anchor points for tightening we used ratchet straps to snug the hides down to the drums. These were allowed to dry and set a basic shape to the head.

We tightened the heads against the top of the drum using this jig.

To tighten the heads and tune the drums, We then attached hand winches to the anchor points on the hides and tightened the heads down in sequence tapping the drums occasionally at each point to tune the drum to the desired pitch.
(No photos available)
Once the tuning is right, the real fun begins. The heads are tacked down to the barrel, each tack that is hand hammered in and must be pre-drilled, and they have to go in order to make sure they look right.
(No photos available)

The drums were then cleaned and polished.
(No photos available)

The metal rings and mounting hardware on the sides were custom fabricated by one of our band dads that has access to CNC machines and all kinds of metal working tools, these were then attached.

I was asked to handle designing and building the stands that the drums sit on. While I helped with some of the Taiko Construction, I was not a key player on the drum construction, my focus was on the stands. This is the fourth revision on the design.

1st revision (really just proof of concept)
No wheels and the height was way too high, but it did support the weight of a drum so I was on the right track.

2nd revision (No photos available)
I added the cart and reduced the stand height so when it was attached it matched the intial height in the first revision. The stand is screwed to the top of the cart.
The cart initially had a tricycle wheel pattern so it could be very agile and still hide the wheels.

3rd Revision (No photos available)
The tricycle was just too unstable and wanted to fall over all of the time. I had to change to a more stable wheel pattern, but the skirts would foul the turning of the wheels so I hade to make cutouts in the skirts.

Revision 4
The stands were still too tall for the desired appearance and play-ability and it was felt that there was insufficient support to keep the drum from sliding off of the cradle.
The lower portion of the X stand was completely removed, and the tail section that supports the drum was reinforced with a cross member. The front rails are no longer cantilevered and are directly supported from the cart below. (Not as elegant, but way more stable)
We actually transport the drums in these stands by wheeling them onto a trailer, strapping them down and covering them with moving blankets.

The Stands were painted satin black as gloss reflects too much light from the field lighting and distracts from what you want to see (the drum and the band). Fortunately the curve of the drum reduces the return glare so their gloss finish was allowed to remain.
Carpet sections were added on the platform under the drum to provide protection to wind instruments (Flute, clarinets, and a saxophone) stored there while the players are playing the drum.

The drum is attached to the stand by nylon tie down straps through the custom D rings mounted to the side of the drums.

Here is a link to the band in action at one of our competitions where we took the highest honor of Sweepstakes Award (Meaning we had the highest overall score in the competition out of 28 Bands)
High Percussion Caption Award,
High Visual Effect Caption Award
High General Effect Caption Award
First Place Colorguard (Flags and Rifles) in our division.

Our boosters are all very proud of the kids on this year’s performance. I am especially proud of of my Senior Baritone Saxophone player and of course, the Taikos (which we actually hope to sell to offset the cost of production and perhaps make a few bucks for the band as well)

They really are quite impressive and a local Taiko Group is very impressed with their construction, size, and sound.

We have materials for 2 more drums that we are going to build up and sell as a fund raiser.

-- - Terry

1 comment so far

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1004 posts in 3795 days

#1 posted 11-10-2012 08:59 PM

Way to go! They (and the video) are great.

-- Larry "Work like a Captain but Play like a Pirate!"

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