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  How to make a gourd drum

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Painted Gourds
Robert Rivera
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The first thing you will need to do is purchase a gourd. During the fall when the pumpkins are being sold you can find gourds of many sizes at your local Farmers Market. You can also buy gourd seeds and plant your own. Many farmers have gourds now in their barns drying or just keeping until fall so ask around at the Farmers Market. Every city has a local county extension agent and you can try them for locating Farmers Markets or growers of gourds.

When selecting your gourd hold it to make sure that it will be comfortable and a size that you want. Take your time doing the selecting as this is probably the most important part in making your drum. Also if you want a carrying strap it will be important to consider that when making your selection. You will understand what you need later in the directions. Make sure that the gourd feels very firm with no holes. Black spots on the outside, which is mould, can mean that the gourd will be thin in that spot. Remember that the gourd in going to have a rawhide stretched over a cut opening so it needs to be strong.


Once your selection has been made you will need to clean the gourd. There are a couple of ways to do this; sanding, which I do not recommend as it weakens the gourd and lets fly all kinds of moulds which can make you sick, and my favourite a scrub in Clorox water. Fill my sink with warm to hot water and add about a cup of Clorox (you may need more depending on how much cleaning the gourd needs). Let soak for just a little while, maybe 15 min. then take a brush and start scrubbing, do this even if the gourd appears clean.

Once clean dry off and sit in sun or someplace that it can dry thoroughly (at least 12 hours). After the gourd has dried thoroughly you will need to cut your opening. An exacto knife works very well. Select your opening by choosing a place where the gourd does not curve in but the opening will have straight sides. If it curves in the walls will be too weak to withstand the rawhide drying and pulling. Use masking tape to define your cutting area, this will make it easier to keep the cutting straight and to see if you will like the opening position. After it is cut, clean out the insides of the gourd. Some gourds will be very easy and others are not. (do not go over board on this and weaken the walls).

Take a file or sand paper to smooth the cut opening, it needs just a little sanding. I always paint the inside of my gourd to seal and add to the life (my aunt had me do a drum for her from a gourd that had been in the attic for at least 50 yrs). You can use any paint for this and you can make it a solid colour or paint pictures or symbols. I feel that this is where you can really add your personal magick or medicine to your drum.


Now is also the time to decorate the outside of your gourd. This is personal preference, but whatever you do seal it with at least 2 coats of a polyurethane. If you do not want to paint pictures you can get some very nice effects from wood stains. Be sure that all paints are thoroughly dry and not just dry to the touch.

Next you will need the rawhide (thinner is better) which is cut so that it covers the top of your opening and comes down on the sides at least 1 1/2 inches. How much depends on how big a gourd so that it looks 'right'.

Soak the rawhide to soften as well as cut strips (1/4 in wide) for lacing the head (rawhide) on. You will probably be better off to soak your whole piece of rawhide and when softened cut out for the head and your strips (1 long one is better than several short ones). What I usually do to measure how much I need is to place the gourd cut side down on top of my rawhide, come out the amount I want it to go down on the sides and draw the circle in pencil. Since no gourd is perfectly round it is a good idea to make a key for yourself so you will know how to line it up when you start lacing it on.


With a hole punch make evenly spaced holes about a 1/4 inch in from the outside edge and 3/4 to 1 inch apart. You will probably need to re-soak after doing all this work on the rawhide. When you take it out of the water roll it up in a towel to absorb the excess water, you do not want it dripping on you or inside the gourd.

In order to lace the head on you will need something to lace it to. What I use is a metal ring that will fit over the gourd and be about 3-4 inches from the bottom of the rawhide coming down the side. You can find these rings at any craft store. You will probably need to take the gourd with you to find the size that fits best, remember the ring needs to be of a size that will keep a space and tension between the ring and the rawhide. I wrap my rings in deerskin, but it makes no difference if you wrap your ring or what you wrap it with.

The lacing on of the head is the most difficult part in constructing your drum. Be sure to line up the key when placing the head on. Leave enough of the rawhide lacing at the end to tie together with the other end when you get all the way around. Go under and through the head hole then down to the ring making a slip knot then back up to the next hole in the head, and continue all the way around. If you do need more than one piece of lacing do not tie them together until you have completely finished. You will be going around a couple of times tightening and making sure the lacing is smooth with no twists. When the rawhide dries it will not go anywhere so make your knots as smooth and simple as you can. While lacing you can add beads, charms, feathers, whatever you want. You may find that the rawhide at the holes pokes out and if this happens take rubber bands, tape whatever you can to make the rawhide lay flat and smooth. This will make your drum more comfortable to hold.


If you want a carrying strap you can tie one end to the ring and the other end could be tied to the stem at the end of the gourd. You could also make a slip knot that would fit over the round curved end. Super glue works quite well in attaching a strap and you can always just make a big loop and tie to the ring. I use deerskin for the strap as I like the feel but use fabric or anything you like that works.

If you choose to paint on the head of your drum be advised that coulored inks work best. Acrylic paints will come off if they get wet.

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