Friday, November 19, 2010

Drum Dress Rehearsal

Drum skin and sinew drying
Since this post discusses musical instruments, I feel obligated to disclose the following information:

In elementary school I was in a drum and bugle band.  It was a marching band and I thought it was the coolest thing.  The teacher in charge started me on the bugle, but my mistakes were a little too shrill and noticeable, so after a few days I was moved to baritone bugle.  I guess the idea was that with fewer parts and lower notes my screw ups would be less distracting.  They weren't.  The teacher told me (actually he told my dad and I overheard) that "Tim has no ear for music". Thanks a lot, Mr. Crosby.  I spent the rest of my career in the marching band as a flag bearer.

The sinew cord fits into a groove
The Central Arctic Inuit drum reproduction that I'm working on is taking shape.  The canvas skin and sinew binding that wraps around the circumference of the drum and holds the canvas in place are drying.  Assuming the braided sinew dries correctly and gives a nice tight fit, the only step left will be to trim the canvas to match the shape of the skin on the original drum. 

I used a cloth to moisten the canvas so that it would stretch a bit while I pulled it tight across the hoop.  I held it in place with clips and clothespins until I wrapped the braided sinew cord on.  I also moistened the braided sinew so that it will shrink and dry tightly in place.  At the moment I have both the canvas and the sinew drying at the same time.  Its possible that the shrinking canvas will pull against the shrinking sinew.  I'm hoping that tension will create a stronger bond, but the shrinking canvas might pull the sinew out of the countersunk groove.  If that happens, I might try keeping the canvas damp while the sinew dries so that there is enough flex to allow the drying sinew to sink into the lashing groove.  

Tamarack (L) and pine (R) drumsticks
I want the drum stick to look well worn, so I've been burnishing the handle with antler to give it a nice hand worn polished look.  I've also been distressing it with the blow torch and hammering it against wood and antler to dent and wear away the drumming surface.  I have two drum sticks on the go, one made from tamarack and the other from pine.  I haven't quite decided which one I like better, but I think I'll probably go with the pine stick.  I'd forgotten about tamarack's tendency to split between grow rings and the stick started to rapidly wear down while I antiqued it.  Grow rings started to split and peel off like layers of an onion.  On the one hand that's the effect that I want, but it happened too easily, making me think its probably not a good wood choice for this kind of drumstick.

Handle lashed into place with sinew
The handle is attached to the drum frame with sinew.  Its laced on wet and dried very tightly with a small amount of hide glue.  I was a little worried that the handle would have some wiggle in it because the actual point of attachment between the handle and the frame on this style of drum seemed quite small to me, but the shrink dried sinew made a rock solid bond. 

When the canvas is secure, I'll trim it
Its not essential that this drum be a playable instrument - its intended to be wall mounted in a case, but I am happy to say that when the canvas is damp it has a nice rich tone.  When the canvas is dry its doesn't sound like much, but when its damp it definitely sounds like a drum.  That's about all I'm qualified to say on the sound of the drum - remember; "Tim has no ear for music".

It doesn't take long to reset the canvas and rewrap the braided sinew lashing, but it takes a while for the whole thing to dry.  I might try a blow dryer if I start to get impatient.  Hopefully everything should be done this weekend and I can ship the finished reproduction off first thing next week.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

1 comment:

  1. *The following is a comment on this post that I received by e-mail - Tim*

    Completely baffled by that teacher. I'm almost sure you díd hear something wasn't what it had to be. Though too much fun blowing on to let you stop by that. If so, nothing wrong with your ears! Just not familiar with the instrument and probably with reading music either. That's to say: in need for instructions from a decent teacher. Exactly what that Mr. Crosby seems NOT to have been. Such a pity for the enthousiasm you had. And for your musicality too! It's very very rare a kid not having some form of that. I teached many kids [recorder], but never met one, that rare that is.
    Reading backwards, because I discovered your very nice blog recently. Therefore a bit late with my comment. But that upset by this horrible story I have to.
    Nice drums by the way. The video here has disappeared, but the newer ones I've enjoyed :)

    Toos Spee


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