Creating an anachronism: practice taiko made from hardware store supplies.

In October, 2008, I attended a local performance by Emeryville Taiko, as I have friends who are members of that dojo. Afterward, while congratulating them on the show, I got a closer  look at the okedo-daiko slung over Chris' shoulder. To my surprise, it was made out of cardboard tubing and strapping tape. 

I got a wild notion to attempt to build some drums for Rising Sun, our Asian themed Estrella encampment, and perhaps teach my friends few basic rhythms.

Before going any further, I would like to thank Brian Pound for giving permission to link to his excellent page on building okedo-daiko. It answered a great many of my questions and made this project a great deal easier. You would do very well to read it. Go on. I'll wait.

There. Now, assuming Brian has not inspired you to do this with proper wooden drum shells and hide drumheads, we shall proceed.

One 12" x 48" concrete form tube ($12.99 US), enough to make two okedo-daiko. These are available from hardware or building supply stores. A variety of diameters exist, however, 10" and 12" diameters appear to be the most common.

One small can (1/2 pint) Rustoleum gloss black paint, left over from a previous project. If you prefer working with spray paint or other brands or colors, that's your choice.

Masking tape.

2" x 360" strapping tape, about $3.00 per roll (I needed about three rolls to build the six drums shown here). Buy a generic, Scotch brand is often double the price.

One package 100' 1/4" braided nylon rope, about $6.00. I always feel it's better to have too much than too little. Besides, I am not untying a drum to tell you how much rope each needed. Be sure to select a braided rope, not a twisted one.

2' x 4' plastic sheet. Tap Plastics had just what I wanted for $3.50 apiece. The specific kind I used does not appear on their website. You want something about the thickness and rigidity of poster cardboard.

Djembe rings, 14" diameter, two per drum, $8.00 per ring. African Rhythm Traders carries them in a variety of sizes, which means you don't have to buy steel bar stock and hammer it into a ring yourself! They also offer a price break if you order ten or more rings, which is nice if you're planning on building multiple drums. I discovered after acquiring the concrete form tube that the diameter was actually bigger than 12". Had I known, I would've ordered a slightly larger set of rings.)

Shime daiko:
One 6" x 14" cardboard tube scavenged from a cable spool found in a dumpster at work, free. Because free is good!

One package 50' 3/8" braided nylon rope, about $4.00.

Djembe rings, 8" diameter, see above.

2' x 4' plastic sheet, see above.

Bachi (drum sticks):

Two 3/8" x 48 and two 5/8" x 48 poplar dowels, price varies based on diameter, $2.00 - $3.00 per dowel.


Sharpie or other marking implement.

Saw. I used a small pull-saw that did the job quickly and easily. If you have power tools and a shop, use your weapon of choice. 

Utility scissors or knife for cutting plastic sheeting, tape and rope.

Paint brush.

Cutting out the drum tubes:
Measure the distance between bottom edge of the tube and the height you want your drum shell (I used 22" for my okedo-daiko and 4 1/2" for the shime-daiko. You may prefer different proportions). Mark this measurement at several points around the tube and connect the dots, making sure you have a level line. Saw the tube into requisite sections. Cover roughened edges left by the saw with masking tape.

If you are concerned about the spiral seams in the cardboard, you could try covering them with tape, however, I didn't feel it was necessary. Once the ropes are on, you have to be right up against the drum to even notice the seams.

Making a cardboard tube not look like a cardboard tube: Avoid wood-grain contact paper. it looks like contact paper. I used Rustoleum gloss black to imitate lacquer, however, there's no reason you can't use other colors if you prefer. (The author assumes no responsibility in the event someone wishes to paint Hello Kitties on their drum shells.)

Multiple coats of paint may be necessary. I put two coats on to assure coverage of the yellow cardboard on the concrete form tubes.

Making the drum heads: Cut circles out of the plastic sheeting with a diameter 1" smaller than the diameter of each djembe ring. Keep these handy.

Cover the drum rings with strips of strapping tape. You don't need to cover both sides. Simply cut a strip of tape long enough to enough tape to wrap each end securely over the bottom edge. I found that slitting the end in the center of the tape allowed me to wrap the tape a bit more neatly around a curved edge.

If you start by making a cross with the first two pieces of tape and working evenly in a "star" pattern, you can eventually cover the ring, leaving eight small, evenly spaced gaps around the outer edge. These should be just big enough for the drum rope to be threaded through. At left, the large ring at the top is partially taped, the one at the bottom is completely taped.

The sticky side of the tape will very happily pick up sawdust, lint, hair and anything else that wants to stick to it, which I learned the hard way and which is why I instructed you to cut out your plastic circles first. Center the plastic circle carefully on the sticky side of the tape, then press it into place.

Now it's time to tie the drum heads onto the tubing. Unroll your rope from the skein the manufacturer put it in so that you have no tangles. Wrap a small piece of tape around any cut rope-ends: this will prevent unravelling and make it easier to thread the rope in and out of the holes in the drum heads. 

Again, I direct you to Brian's website, as he has already provided excellent photos (click on the thumbnails for a larger view) and instructions on how to rope the heads onto the drum. It's not as complicated as it looks.

Bachi (drumsticks):
One 48" poplar dowel will yield three 16" drum sticks. Whether you're building one drum or five, it's never a bad idea to make extras: bachi get broken, and you might as well do this while you have your tools out.

I used 3/4" and 5/8" poplar dowels. The smaller diameter will do for the smaller shime-daiko.

Measure and mark your dowels. Cut. Sand any rough edges. Congratulations: you have just made a big stick into a bunch of smaller sticks. 

Rounding the edges of each end with a sander will prolong the life of your drum heads. 

The finished product: I am very pleased with the results I got. 

They look good. 
They sound pretty good: the plastic under the tape gives a solid, drum-like thunk and a decent rebound from the stick, and there's an appropriate difference in pitch between my baby shime-daiko and the bigger okedo-daiko. 
They're light weight, making them suitable for playing either on a stand or katsugi-style (slung from the shoulder). 
They're easy on the budget.


Additional taiko resources on-line:

Pickering, Phil and Tatsumaki Taiko: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)About "Do-It-Yourself" Taiko Construction
(FAQ on building wine-barrel taiko.)

Clark, Greg: Low Cost Practice Drums
(How to build practice drums out of PVC pipe.) The dojo I study at uses some of these.

Clan Yama Kaminari's taiko links.
(Includes information on building drums, drum stands.)

Rolling Thunder Taiko Resource.

San Francisco Taiko Dojo.

Copyright 2008 Lisa A. Joseph, with thanks to Brian Pound for his inspirational example. 


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