How to Build a Taiko Drum – Introduction, Selecting Materials


Master Morien (Bun'ami) among the drums that he, Sir Ogami and Sir Christopher have made.

Master Morien (Bun’ami) among the drums that he, Sir Ogami and Sir Christopher have made.


Taiko drums were made in a wide variety of sizes, and for different purposes. Drums were used for festivals, religious ceremonies, as part of the orchestra during theatrical performances (like Noh plays), as a way of keeping rhythm when planting rice, as signals for troop movements during battles, and just to dance to when people felt happy.

There were a variety of construction techniques used, depending on the purpose the drum was being made for. The most famous method was to hollow the body out from a single (sometimes massive) log. This method creates beautiful, wonderful, and unbelievably expensive drums.

A second (and less well known) technique was to create the body of the drum from multiple pieces of wood, as one would make a barrel. The drums made by this method were cheaper and would be more likely to be owned by farmers, artisans, and soldiers who weren’t very wealthy. Like with European armor, only the expensive stuff really survives in any quantity, so examples of stave construction drums are relatively rare.

This article will guide you through the stages of construction for building a medium or large sized Taiko drum (chu-daiko or O-daiko) from an oak wine barrel. For this type of drum the head is nailed directly to the body of the drum. (I will cover how to build a rope-tensioned drum of the shime-daiko style in another article.)

It is a long process, and some parts are a little bit tricky. Take it slowly and you’ll do just fine. You’ll notice that the photos, while true to the text, show the construction of different drums. Don’t be confused by this. Also in the photos you will see three different people. One is Master Morien, the second is Sir Christopher, and the goober in the big brown cowboy hat is me.

Selecting the Barrel and Rawhide

Use a wine cask made of heavy oak for best results. Nail barrels made from pine staves will not work. Dry them out completely.

Use a wine cask made of heavy oak for best results. Nail barrels made from pine staves will not work. Dry them out completely.

The wine barrel must be made of oak, and the staves must be at least 3/4″ thick. (If you are making a smaller drum, using a `nail keg’ won’t work since they are made of pine and the staves are rarely more than 1/4/” thick. Use a wine cask made of heavy oak.)

 Wine barrels can frequently be found at rural auctions and flea markets. The least I have paid for a small keg is $1.00, and the most I have paid for a large one is $32.00. (If you prefer, there are companies that will sell you a new one for $250.00 plus shipping.) The condition of the barrel isn’t very important, surprisingly. Old, nasty barrels that are grey and `shaggy’ from exposure to the sun seem to turn out just as well as pretty newer ones that were kept inside. As long as the staves aren’t cracked or broken and there are no gaps between them, it should work.

f your barrel still contains wine or is wet, you’ll need knock out the ends and let it dry completely. Put it someplace out of the way (like a garage) and leave it alone for a few weeks until all of the moisture has evaporated. It will probably smell pretty bad. You will need a side of rawhide. It should be dense and hard, with no holes, serious wrinkles and folds, or stretch marks. The current market price for a side of cow rawhide is between $100 and $130. Don’t use goat, pig, calf, deer, or anything else but cow. The rawhide should be about 1/8″ thick throughout. Linda Steffan of Steffan and Sons has good connections, and sells fine rawhide.

Making Japanese Armor

How to Make Japanese Armor

by Sir Ogami Akira

Preface: A Brief Overview

The articles that follow will explain and describe how you can build your own suit of 1550′s Japanese retainer’s armor (or ‘box armor’) out of plastic barrels and nylon lacing. The pattern is reasonably historically accurate, with a few modifications having been made to account for the reality of SCA combat. This series will cover every part of the armor with the exception of the kabuto (helm) and gauntlets.

It would be wise to read through every section completely before you begin. Get an idea of what you want the armor to look like, and think about how it all fits together. The plans are split into two major sections.

552067_10151092936094660_1224624998_nMaterials, Tools, & Techniques: In this first section we’ll cover the materials and the recommended tools you will need. We’ll go over the techniques of working with plastic. (Plastic is easier than steel or leather, but there are some things you will need to know to make it go smoothly and safely and to have it turn out looking good.) I will show you the different techniques of lacing you will need in order to put the armor together.

Pattern Making, Parts Construction/Assembly: This is the part where you get to play with tape, scissors, and construction paper! Then you get to play with  dangerous power tools and fire!



Momoyama Period Steel Armor

Conversion of a European Helm (coming soon)

(cross-posted on Armor page)