"Thunder Head" Djembe Drum

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Project by Olaf Gradin posted 12-16-2008 06:34 AM 2492 views 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I recently attended Stan’s (of drum-building workshop. Stan provides the experience, drum shells and skins, and supplies needed to build your own drum. The students supply ingenuity, creativity, and anything else they want to bring to the workshop.

I chose a 13”x27” monster made from clear (northeastern) maple. Stan uses stave construction to build all of his drums; while not a traditional technique, still very beautiful. He finishes them up on a large lathe. A student begins by choosing how they’ll finish their wooden shell. Since I was dealing with such a pretty wood, I wanted to be sure and sand it down to a smooth finish. The drum had been sanded to 120 grit, so I pushed it further to 220 with a palm sander, then 320 by hand. I then used a woodburner to create my cloud and water lines as you see at the base of the drum. I painted those areas in with aniline dyes that I mixed with water. Since I was using a water dye, I first wiped down the wood with a sponge to initially raise the grain. I then hit it with the 320 paper again to minimize the effect after applying the dye. Having applied the dye, I can tell you that you need to sand more to get rid of the grain. 320 grit paper was probably too soft. When everything had dried, I simply wiped down the dyed surfaces with teak oil (contributing to an additional color change), and linseed oil to the untouched maple on the foot. After that had dried, I rubbed two coats of bowling alley paste wax into the shell. It left the drum with a wonderful sensation of touch – and a far better smell than varnish!

The head is made from an African goat skin – mottled black and white. I stretched the head between steel rings while wet and laced the rope to an additional ring locked into position at the base of the drum’s bowl. As the head dried in a semi-stretched position, I shaved the hair from the playable surface. It’s a tedious, risky job, but worth the sound effect when complete. I have to wait a few more days for it to dry completely before I can finish stretching the head. When it’s done, I hope it will live up to its namesake: Thunder Head!

-- It takes a viking to raze a village. &mdash Blog'r:

6 comments so far

View Broda's profile


313 posts in 3757 days

#1 posted 12-16-2008 08:20 AM

looks good
i hope it sounds good too

do you drum?
how much was the course?

-- BRODY. NSW AUSTRALIA -arguments with turnings are rarely productive-

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4112 days

#2 posted 12-16-2008 12:24 PM

That’s cool! I like the woodburning/dying effects. I’ll bet it sounds great.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4243 days

#3 posted 12-16-2008 12:33 PM

That looks like a fun project!

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View Olaf Gradin's profile

Olaf Gradin

73 posts in 4077 days

#4 posted 12-17-2008 04:35 PM

I do drum! I actually run a weekly drum circle and provide lessons where I live. The drum-building workshop I took cost $175.00 – his prices can be found on the website. The workshop doesn’t cost anymore than he’s built into the price of the materials. It’s a really great deal, though to host a workshop, you’d need to have enough people to make it worth his while.

-- It takes a viking to raze a village. &mdash Blog'r:

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18618 posts in 4399 days

#5 posted 12-20-2008 09:57 PM

I was signed up for a drum-making event once but life jumped in and I had to cancel.

This is amazing. Just amazing. Perhaps you could make a video of you playing it when it’s ready so we can hear the thunder.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View smoke's profile


123 posts in 3259 days

#6 posted 03-02-2010 02:37 AM

i, too, am a drummer—michigan, where are you? how did the drum sound when complete? i started to make my own drum once-without any knowledge of the how to, nor the physics of the drum, but the piece that i had, well the center of it rotted out too large and i made a table out of it. i posted a picture of it if interested.

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