Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Building a Drum

Laying out the unfinished drum pieces
I started assembling the Central Arctic reproduction drum yesterday.  The first big step was to bend the wood.  I started with two slats - one poplar and one red oak.  The finished drum needs a diameter of about 20.5" and with a little bit of overlap at each end to fasten the hoop together, the wood needed to be at least 70" long to start.  My wood steaming box wasn't long enough to fit the slats so I decided to try heat bending the wood instead.

Bending the wood 1 degree at a time
I've had a lot better luck with using dry heat to bend wood than I have with steaming, so it was an easy switch to make.  Bending the hoop over a blowtorch would also save some antiquing time at the end thanks to the soot staining and give the hoop a more authentic looking, imperfect, segmented bend.  I started with the oak, because its supposed to be one of the easiest woods to bend.  It shattered the first time I tried to heat and flex the wood.  Lesson learned - don't try to bend oak with dry heat.

Almost there!
The poplar slat fared much better.  It took 3 or 4 hours to bend it into the 360 degree hoop one tiny bend at a time.  Occasionally the outer surface of the wood would tear slightly, but nothing too dramatic or deep that would endanger the integrity of the finished drum.  I sanded those scars down, and they'll be held together with the canvas drum skin.

The hoop clamped in place
The ends of the hoop overlap by 8 inches.  I found the middle of the hoop much easier to bend than the ends, but thinning the overlapping ends down to create a shallow scarf join helped make the tips more flexible.  The handle will be attached at the join, and an additional brace piece is tied on to the inside to the drum hoop to reinforce the join and provide a sturdier attachment point for the drum handle.

Brace piece on hoop, handle and drumstick
Everything will be tied together.  I'm chewing on a wad of sinew as I type this to lash the hoop and brace piece together.  While that's drying this evening, I'll keep braiding the sinew line that will tie the canvas into place.  Hopefully I'll be able to finish antiquing the wood and lash the handle and canvas skin in place tomorrow.

An hour or two into the bend
Its a different kind of build for me - I only have two reference photos of the front of the drum and a couple measurements to work from.  When I have the canvas on I'll be sending it to B.C. where someone else will finish antiquing it and install it for the client.  There's a bit of educated guesswork on the interior design of the drum and I don't have the usual fussing over the final antiquing and matching with the artifact to worry about.  Its just a nice, simple opportunity to learn about drum building.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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