Leather drum heads can last a long time, but if one tears or splits, knowing how to make a drum head from tanned leather can save you the trouble of buying a new drum or paying for expensive repairs. For drums built specifically for leather drum heads, such as bongos, tribal drums or bodhrans, a well-made tanned leather drum head is essential for the best possible sound.
To make a drum head from tanned leather you will need:
- A piece of tanned leather big enough to fit over the top of the drum
- Leather awl
- Shears or scissors
- Choose your tanned leather. Tanned rawhide can be purchased at a leather supply store. Be sure the leather is not too thick to produce a good sound. Goat skins are excellent for drum heads–cattle leather is often too thick for good resonance. If you're not sure what to buy, ask for help from a fellow musician or an expert at the leather supply store.
- Soak the tanned leather to make it pliable. Soaking the leather in water makes it easy to maneuver and manage. This might take as long as twenty-four hours or more.
- Trim the tanned leather. If your leather is pliable and well-soaked, you can do this with regular scissors. You'll want the drum head to be large enough to cover the top of the drum and provide a large margin around the drum to attach it. It's better to cut the drum head too large than too small. If you're replacing a drum head, use the old head as a guide and cut the new head an inch or two larger than the old one.
- Attach the drum head to the drum. If the leather has lost its pliability during the trimming stage, soak it again until it is soft enough to work with. How the drum head is attached to the drum will depend on the type of drum, so be sure to observe how the original drum head was attached and save any hardware or other materials after you remove the previous head. Carefully stretch the drum head into place. Wetting it with a sponge as you work will help reduce the risk of tearing the head. Secure the drum head to the drum with existing hardware, laces or other mechanism.
Rawhide works well for drum heads. You can also use braided rawhide laces to secure the drum head to the drum. Goat skins are the leather of choice for bodhrans, and Native American drums are often made from elk or deer skin.