How to Make Cottonwood Drums

by Kim Blakesley Google

Drums are used worldwide to create music. The drum's sound has a direct correlation with the type of material in the drum frame and head. A cottonwood drum is made from a hollow, dry cottonwood log. The drying process takes about six months. To dry the log, set it on a platform that allows air to circulate beneath the log and store it in a dry place. The platform can be as simple as two scrap pieces of lumber placed under each end so the air can circulate around the log.

Items you will need

  • Dry cottonwood log, a minimum of 12-inches long and 12-inches in diameter
  • Wood carving tools
  • Sandpaper
  • 18-inch square of .75 to 1.5 mm elk or deer hide
  • Drill
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Water
  • Plastic tub
  • Large kitchen trash bag
  • Water-soluble pencil
  • Scissors
  • Sharp knife
  • Tape measure
  • Awl
  • Hard rubber mallet or rawhide mallet
  • 20-feet rawhide lacing (must be one continuous piece)
Step 1

Place the dry cottonwood log on a flat work surface so the cut edge is on top. Carve the interior of the log out until the edge is about 3/4-inch thick. Sand the surface to create a smooth interior.

Step 2

Remove the bark from the outside of the cottonwood log. Carve away any unwanted protrusions. Sand the surface to remove all splinters and nicks.

Step 3

Sand the outside ring of the top edge to form a rounded surface similar to the rounded edge on the handle of a toothbrush.

Step 4

Fill a plastic tub half full of water. Submerge the elk or deer hide in the water for 30 minutes.

Step 5

Cover a flat work surface with a large kitchen trash bag. Remove the elk or deer hide from the water. Spread the elk or deer hide on the trash bag so the front side of the hide is facing down.

Step 6

Turn the drum so the sanded top edge is on the bottom. Position the carved and sanded drum frame over the center of the elk or deer hide. Put the drum frame on the hide. Draw a circle or desired drum head shape about 2 1/2-inches from the outside edge of the cottonwood log.

Step 7

Remove the log. Cut the drum head from the hide along the traced edge with scissors or a sharp knife. Place the drum head in water for 15 minutes. Place the rawhide lacing in the water.

Step 8

Drill a series of 1/4-inch holes around the circumference of the cottonwood log 8 inches from the top edge. Place the holes 1 1/2 inches apart.

Step 9

Remove the drum head from the water. Punch a row of holes with the awl around the circumference of the hide 1 1/2-inches apart and 1-inch from the outside edge of the hide.

Step 10

Turn the cottonwood log so it is laying on one side. Remove the rawhide lacing from the water. Insert the end of the lacing through one of the 1/4-inch holes drilled around the circumference of the log. Begin on the inside and lace to the outside. Pull the lacing leaving an 18-inch tail inside the drum.

Step 11

Sit the log upright so the sanded top edge is on top. Remove the drum head from the water and center it over the top of the log. Line up the holes on the drum head with the holes on the log. Insert the lacing through the hole in the drum head directly above it. Insert it from the back to the front of the drum head.

Step 12

Insert the end of the lacing through the next hole in the drum head to the left. Insert the lacing from the front to the back.

Step 13

Insert the end of the lacing through the next open hole to the left in the 1/4-inch holes drilled around the circumference of the cottonwood log. Pull the lacing tight. Insert the end of the lacing through the hole directly above it in the drum head. Pull the lacing tight. Repeat Steps 12 and 13 until all holes are laced.

Step 14

Pull the lacing to remove all slack. Do not be afraid to pull hard. Continue the pulling process around the drum until you feel all slack is removed. Tie the two ends of the rawhide lacing together inside the drum. Cut the ends of the lacing to leave about a 4-inch tail.

Tips & Warnings

  • Carve or paint designs around the cottonwood drum.