Low Cost Practice Drums

The following pictures are here to aid you
in building inexpensive practice drums from PVC pipe.

One of the many problems facing new Taiko groups is practice drums. Many of us cut our Taiko teeth on old bald tires. I will agree that they are tough and you couldn't hurt one if you wanted to, but they aren't drums.

Tires are too hard, turn your bachi black and don't rebound like a leather head. Besides, they aren't any fun to play on. No Taiko sound!

In order to teach taiko to seven grade schools full of kids, I needed a bunch of taiko. I decided to make them out of PVC drain pipe. This stuff is strong, comes in many sizes and can be gotten free if you find the right contractors. Mine came as cut off ends from a Bay Area pipe contracting company. I got 3 to 10 foot lengths of 10, 12, 15, 19 and 24 inch pipe. I cut this into 12 and 24 inch lengths and stretched leather heads on them.

I used the standard taiko head system, heavy rawhide stretched over the end of the body and secured. The main difference is I secure the heads with pan head screws and washers rather than the much more expensive tacks. A few of the drum bodies were painted with spray paint I had left over from another project.

In the beginning, there was pipe. And it looked like this. Here
is a 10 foot section of 12 inch PVC sewer pipe. We had it
donated by a local pipe contractor. In the background you
can see cut lengths of pipe.

More cut lengths of PVC pipe. Two pipes have rawhide pre-stretched over one end.

The next step is to soak rawhide in cold water. Soak for about two days. I like to add one half ounce per gallon of Clorox bleach to the water to insure that no bacteria start growing in the water or attack the leather.

The leather is soaking in a 33 gallon plastic trash can. When adequately soaked, it will be fairly soft and pliable.

When soaked, lay out a circle on the wet leather. I use a circle that is 5 to 6 inches larger than the pipe I am using. Cut out the head.

Now you need to lay out the 8 sets of slits in the edge of the leather, these are used for the large stretching pins. For pins, I use 8 inch long heavy gutter nails.

The easiest way to locate the eight locations for slits is by folding and marking the leather. Fold the round piece of leather in half. Mark the inside of the fold in the leather - just at the ends of the fold. Now refold the leather so the two marks you just made are together. Now mark the inside of the two ends of the fold again.

You should have the head neatly marked off into quarters. Now place two of the marks on top of the other two. Mark the inside ends of the fold. You now have six marks. Fold the three marks on one side onto the three marks on the other. Mark the ends of the inside of the fold for the last time. You should have the head neatly divided into eights.

What I am trying to show here is how I cut the slits in the edge of the head leather. About one inch in from the edge, cut four slits. I use a 3/4 inch sharp wood chisel and a hammer to cut them. Place eight sets of four slits around the edge of the head. The slit spacing is one inch, two inches and one inch. This gives you two slits that are one inch apart, a two inch wide space of leather and then two more slits that are an inch apart.

The placement of the pins should be obvious in the next photo.

Here I have woven the pins through the four slits at 8 locations on the head. I have then used four 4X4 timbers to make a tic-tac-toe grid. I then placed four 4 ton hydraulic jacks on the timbers and several layers of heavy plywood on top of the jacks. Don't have the plywood much larger than the drum body or the rope pull angle will be bad. Look at the rope angle here - not too good!

I then string a 25 footlong 1/2 inch polypropyline rope around the timbers and over the pins. Make sure that you do a better job that I did in getting the slack out of the ropes while keeping the head centered on the body.

Two Stage Stretching Procedure.

Head stretching must be done in two stages. The first is usually called the 'Pre-Stretch" and the second the "Final Stretch". The reason that this is done is that the stretching edge (mimi) of the head is wet on the pre-stretch and thus will not stand much of a pull without ripping out at the nail slots. In the pre-stretch, only tighten the heads with the jacks until the edges of the nail slots start showing "distress". Don't tighten to the ripping point!

If you wish to neatly tuck the mimi edge under for a finished Taiko look, it must be done during the last of the pre-stretch.

After completing the pre-stretch and optional fold under, let the head dry under tension until it is good and hard again, like it was before soaking.

After a good drying, let off the jack tension and remove the pre-stretched head. Do not remove the nails. Lay the head on a flat and level surface ( playing surface down) and carefully pour in enough water to cover the inside of only the playing surface in 1/4 inch of water. Do NOT get the side skirts wet. They must remain stiff and hard to withstand the final stretch.

Soak until the playing surface is soft enough to stretch well. Usually 2 or 3 hours. When soft, carefully dump the water and wipe out the inside with a towel. Place back on the drum body and relace the rope around the nails and 4X4's.

Now, jack up the jacks until you get the head tight enough that it is starting to sound like a drum. It takes experience to know how tight is right. Watch the slits with the pins in them. If they start to tear out, it's getting too tight.

Now drill a pilot hole every 1 1/2 inches around the head, 2 inches down from the edge of the body. Screw in a #8 by 3/4 inch pan head sheet metal screw, with a flat washer, into every pilot hole. Let off the jacks and remove the drum.

If you did not fold the mimi under, now take a sharp knife and trim off the excess leather 1 inch or so below the screws. Don't play the drum for 3 days to allow the leather to dry well.

Now repeat this process ten or so more times!

Not all pipe drums are cheap or drab. Here is a shot of a beautiful 19 inch diameter, 24 inch tall PVC Taiko that I made for a client. The tone is delightful, the design is authentic and the client was pleased!

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