How to Make an Indian Water Drum

by Elizabeth Sobiski
Wooden buckets can be used to make a drum.

Wooden buckets can be used to make a drum.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

Water drums make different sounds depending on the amount of water in the drum. These drums are popular with some American Indian tribes, such as the Iroquois and Ojibway. The level of water in the drum determines the tone produced by the drum when it is hit. Some drums are made from a single piece of wood that is carved out, while others make use of readily available materials. Wooden buckets or firkins are a good choice.

Items you will need

  • Wooden bucket, about five inches in diameter
  • Hole saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Aluminum, 18 gauge
  • Metal snips
  • Rivets and rivet gun
  • Cotton or muslin cloth strip, 2 inches wide
  • Tanned hide
Step 1

Remove the handle from the bucket. Take off any hardware that held the handle on. That way you have smooth sides to work with.

Step 2

Make a hole at the base of the bucket, about 2 inches above the bottom rim. Water is added or removed via this hole. Save the piece that is removed to use as a plug for the hole.

Step 3

Measure around the outside of the bucket, about two inches below the rim. Add one inch to this number. Cut a piece of aluminum to that length, with a width of one inch. Overlap the ends by 1/2 inch and rivet together. This is the band that holds the hide in place.

Step 4

Wrap the metal band with the cotton cloth. Begin at the rivet joint and work your way around, overlapping the material as you go. Tie the end off when finished.

Step 5

Use a piece of hide that is larger than the opening of the bucket. The hide needs to be big enough so the cloth-covered hoop slides over it with no gaps.

Step 6

Test your drum. Get the hide wet and wring it out until it is only damp. Lay the hide across the bucket opening and secure it into place with the hoop. Hold the hide as tight across the opening as possible. Remove the plug and add water to the drum. Replace the plug. Hit the drum with a heavy stick. Adjust the amount of water in the drum until the desired tone is achieved.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the hoop is too loose and does not hold the hide well, wrap more fabric around the hoop until it holds tightly.
  • Wrap the head of the stick with leather or cloth. This helps to produce sound as well as protects the hide from the edges of the stick.
  • Paint or stain the bucket as desired.
  • Keep the hide on the bucket damp, otherwise the sound will change.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images