Skinning a Nagado Daiko

A project by:

Gabriel B. Soares, Ananya Mishra


Spring 2013

Build Time:

One Weekend

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Skinned 1.6 Nagado

One of the perks of being a part of a self-funded, self-run group is that you have to be as resourceful as possible. During my four years as an active member of Yamatai we often found ourselves having to restore drums that had taken quite a beating over time. Buying a new drum is normally out of the question since these can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Whenever the heads wore out (from being played on for years), we would typically buy the rawhide and re-skin the drums ourselves. I have covered in a previous project post how we re-skined the heads of shime drums, and now I will cover the process of how we stretched the heads on some of nagado drums, adding a few more years of play time.

Over the years we have re-skinned 1.4, 1.6, and 1.8 Nagado all using the exact same technique as described here. The only variation between the three is typically how much pressure needs to be applied on the head to get the desired tone.

Stanford Taiko has a great detailed writeup of the stretching process which I highly recommend following if you are interested in skinning your own drums.

Rawhide Preparation:

The preparation begins by letting the rawhide soak overnight. You want to make sure that the head is fully submerged otherwise you will end up with patches of the hide that are less malleable than the rest and the head won't stretch evenly. The first step in the process is to mark the head for the location of where you will want to place the mimi (translated to "ears"). For this drum we are using 8 dowels to stretch the head evenly around the drum and creating four cuts per dowel (once these dry you will get the characteristic look of the nagado head).

The dowels are what we are going to string the rope around and what will transfer the tensioning force that we apply onto the head, so you want to make sure that the dowels are thick enough to withstand the force, and that your cuts aren't close enough to the edge so that you don't risk ripping through the hide.

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Platform Preparation:

You will want to engineer your stand in order to be able to withstand a lot of force without breaking! The stand you see below was enough for this job, but I wouldn't trust it to be able to do multiple head stretches. We could sometimes hear the wood giving signs of cracking as we applied more force to the frame. In subsequent rigs we moved towards 4"x4" pieces and even bought a metal rig for the larger drums.

For this stretch we used four bottle jacks, but we have found in other stretches that you can get the job done with three (depending on the size of the drum). With four bottle jacks you just need to be a little bit more careful with keeping all the jacks in contact with the platform (with three jacks you will always form a plane and the platform will always be in contact). As you slowly lift one side of the platform you want to monitor the other bottle jacks to make sure that they haven't lost contact with the base of the platform.

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First Stretch:

You want to begin the stretching process by placing the damp hide centered on the body of the drum, and weaving the rope between the dowels and the stand. You want to take your time with this and go around the drum multiple times slowly removing the slack from the rope. You then want to tuck the excess hide neatly back on itself (you want to do this before any significant of pressure is applied on the hide).

Now begins the fun part: adding tension. For this step it is better to do it in pairs working at opposite ends so that the head is stretched uniformly. Begin by twisting adjacent pairs of ropes with long rods until the head is evenly stretched. You want to try to get as tight of a head as you can with this method before using the bottle jacks since you can more easily adjust tension on a specific side. If the hide is not of uniform thickness all across, then at this point you can adjust the tensioning to take account for that.

Once you have tensioned the head by twisting the rope you can begin slowly lifting the bottle jacks (at this point you are working with A LOT of tension and want to be very careful so that nothing snaps and goes flying off). As you continue building up force, from time to time you want to get on top of the drum and massage the head with your feet in order to break the fibers of the head (you can tell the fibers are stretching as the color changes from beige to white). If you don't do this in the stretching process, the head will loosen over time as it is played. As you continue to crank up the jacks you want to check the tone you get when you hit the head.

Once you have reached a satisfactory tension level, you want to leave the hide to dry as is.

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Second Stretch:

Once the head has dried on the body of the drum after the first stretch you will want to use a wet cloth and saturate the flat portion of the head but leave the sides of the head completely dry. We achieved this by turning the head upside down, adding a thin layer of water and placing soaked towels on both sides of the head. We are essentially trying to get the playing surface of the head to a malleable state again so that we can stretch it further but we want to leave the mimi alone.

Once the head has soaked overnight, we go and repeat the exact same steps that we did for the first stretch. Weave the rope, remove any slack, twist pairs of rope, crank up the jacks, walk on the heads, etc. For this stretch, however, you want to tension the head to a pitch a bit lower than what you want the final head to sound like (as it dries it will shrink and the pitch will go up). Only with practice will you be able to tell what pitch you want the wet hide to be at for a desired end result.

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Tacking the Head:

With tension still being applied on the head, you now want to tack the head into place. Begin by creating some sort of jig that will allow you to mark the lines for where the tacks need to go. Without this line it will be very tough to nail the tacks in a straight line, and after all this hard work the last thing you want is to end up with a crooked line. We rigged a jig by using a square and a compass which worked surprisingly well for us.

Once you have tacked the head you can begin to release some of the tension on the head by first lowering the jacks, untwisting the ropes and removing the dowels on the mimi. You will most likely find that the toughest part of this whole job is removing the dowels which after all that tension and exposure to moisture have lodged themselves into their cavities... A mallet, a chisel, and some elbow grease will hopefully do the trick.

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Hopefully with the information presented above and with other online resources you will be able to re-skin any sized drum. Feel free to contact me if you want more details about the whole process.