This is part of a series on preparing deer hide. This article is about making a rawhide drum head. The previous post is Deerskin:Fleshing a hide.
I let this piece of hide sit in a pot full of water and wood ashes for about 3 days. Wearing rubber gloves I reached in and pulled at the hair. When it slipped (released without any effort) I dumped it out in the field and shook off the majority of the ash sludge, then hosed it off and put it on a work table (outdoors) to scrape off the hair. I used a paint scraper. Probably this is something I could use that scapula for…. It came off very easily for the most part, except for one little patch which must have been in a fold that was less exposed to the ash solution. Next time I will use a larger tub and less ashes, so I can move it around more.
Attention: The wood ash solution is lye. People used to use wood ash leachings to make soap. Definitely use rubber gloves and some kind of eye protectors- sunglasses or dime-store readers will do, but eye protection is really useful for many outdoor tasks so get some anyway. You can feel the soapy slipperiness on your fingers if you touch it- your fingers prune up instantly, and I got a tiny drop of the solution in my eye while scraping off hair which really hurt. You can really hurt yourself with lye. Seriously. You can go blind. If you get some on you or a little spritz in your eyes, stop what you are doing and go flush it with water until it feels better. If you really get some in your eyes, flush well and seek medical attention. So I told you! Wood ashes make lye strong enough to hurt you.
The hair smells kind of nasty, and it feels rubbery and waterlogged, as if it had been boiled. The hair that is coming off is sort of softened, like when people use hair remover on their legs. Altogether a bit gross. After the hair was off I soaked it for a few hours to clean it and remove the lye. Too much lye can make the leather crack. Then I hung it up overnight. It froze, so I thawed it by the fire and punched holes all around the edge- about an inch and a half from the edge and an inch and a half apart, by draping the hide over a stump, placing the tip of a large screwdriver against the spot I needed a hole, and striking the back of the screwdriver with a hammer until it went into the wood.
At this point I tried several experiments. I wanted to stretch the hide and work it a bit, and I needed to get it so it was tightly stretched around the ring we took the split drumhead off of. First I put the adjustable rim from the conga on one side of a locust stump that was the same size, and the wire ring on the other side, and wrapped some cord about the thickness of clothesline through the holes I had punched, down the log, around the rim, and back. It looked cool, like the log was a primitive drum, and it stretched the hide pretty nicely, but it didn’t get the hide on the ring. (Sorry I was recharging my camera batteries and I was having too much fun to stop and wait.)
So I took the hide off the log, trimmed the shape a bit rounder, made fresh holes where I had trimmed, and wrapped it around the ring. I did this by making a small ring of rope which I put in the middle, and then laid the edges of the hide over the ring so the ring was enclosed in the hide, and looped the rope from the edge of the hide to the the rope ring, until the whole thing looked a little like like a Native American hand drum or a bodhran. I hope you can see what I mean by looking inside the drum.
Once it was tied, I kept tightening it more and more as it stretched. Finally I decided to try and put it on the drum temporarily. My theory is that the leather on the ring will dry, shrink, and stiffen, and then I can take it off and trim away all the excess rawhide that is making bulges under the head and dulling the sound, but the hide will stay on the ring. Then when I put it back on it will be stiff enough to stay in place and tighten up when I tighten the screws on the rim. We’ll see.
Come back for the update! OK here’s the link. It worked!