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
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. LLSteffan@bluefrog.com