Skinning A Taiko

First, a few recommendations on materials. To skin a taiko drum correctly you need to find a source for large pieces of raw leather. It may be difficult to find a wholesaler who can sell you large pieces of cowhide. The hides need to be heavy weight, and should not have any imperfections such as brands, holes, etc. You will also need some heavy tacks with large heads (cheap upholstery tacks will not work because they are not strong enough). Some tacks with a decorative color/design will enhance the look of your taiko.

There are two methods you can use to skin a drum. The method I am describing here I'll call the "traditional" method. This is accomplished without the help of modern technology (well sort of). The second, which I'll call the "modern" method, uses hydraulic jacks. Some rainy day, I'll try to write a description for that method of skinning.

The "Traditional" Method

A shopping list of things you will need:


Before you can start skinning, you need to make a grid out of 6 - 4x4's, 8 feet long each (for big drums). This grid is like a tic-tac-toe grid with an extra board in the middle. You should cut notches so the boards lock together (like Lincoln Logs).

You need a long strong rope, 8 big bachi (thick and about 16" long), 8 -1/2" or 5/8" lag bolts that are 6 1/2" to 7" long. A piece of strong plywood (1/2" or 3/4" thick) a little bigger than your drum head size. The plywood should either be cut square or round so it fits over the center of your grid.

You need the tacks for the skin, a hammer, some scrap pieces of 2x4 you can hit with the hammer ( to tighten the skin).

You need to make a pattern for the skin out of a piece of cardboard. This pattern is important. The width should be the width of the drum head, plus 8" on both sides (total 16" bigger than the drum head) for the "mimi" (the place you nail the tacks).

Once you have cut the cardboard into a circular shape, measure 32 marks around the circumference, equally spaced. You can use a compass to help you with the measurements. This is where you cut the skin to put the lag bolts in that will stretch the skin. These marks should be 3" in from the outside edge of the cardboard. Next, make 32 marks 5" in from the outside edge. They should be on the same line from the center of the pattern (like a dart board). This done so you can fold the skin over where the lag bolts are placed, for more strength.

Now, poke holes through the pattern at your marks. This will show you where to cut the hide. You will place the pattern on top of the hide to cut the circumference, and push a pen through the holes to mark the lag bolts.


Soak your cowhide for 24 hours in a bathtub. Put something heavy on it to keep it submerged in the water. Once it is really soaked, you're ready to skin the taiko. Place your pattern on top of the skin. Cut around the pattern (avoid brands, holes, & other weird imperfections on the skin). Take your skin with the pattern on top, push a pen through the 2 rows of 32 holes you made to mark the lag bolt holes.

Remove the pattern, cut at the marks you made (3" & 5" from the edge). These cuts should be big enough to push the lag bolt through. Next, fold the edge all the way around and line up the holes. Push a lag bolt through the bottom & out the top of the first 2 holes, then push it through the next 2 holes the same way. You should have enough bolt so that you can wrap a rope around the 2 ends of the bolt (don't make them too short). Repeat with another lag bolt. Do this all the way around the skin so that the edge is folded over all the way around, and the lag bolts are firmly in place.

Next, piece your grid together on a level floor. Put your plywood on the grid, put your drum on the plywood. Center the drum & try to square everything as much as possible. Place your skin on the top of the drum. Center it on the top of the drum. Tie the rope to one of the corners of the grid (the end of one of the 4x4's). Weave the rope up & around one of the lag bolt ends. Moving clockwise, wrap the rope around the other end of the lag bolt & down the next 4x4 end of your grid (it will look like a roller coaster: up & down). Go all the way around the drum. Make sure to take out the slack. Make sure the skin stays centered on the drum!

Tie off the end of the rope once you have gone all the way around the drum. Take your 8 bachi and weave them between the rope coming off between adjacent lag bolts (an "up" rope and a "down" rope - like the roller coaster). Twist the bachi so the rope tightens (have 2 people opposite each other do this at the same time). Be sure to do the same number of turns, about 2 full twists.

Take a hammer or wood mallet, and a block of wood (a 2x4 about 12" long will do) and pound on top of the lag bolts to stretch the skin over the drum. (Note: if you use a hammer, you should wrap the head in a towel to avoid damaging your drum & skin). Take your hand and push hard in the middle of the skin. Some people even stand on top of the skin to stretch it.

Repeat step 5. Twisting the bachi maybe 1-2 full twists.

Wait about 10 minutes. Repeat step 5. Don't try to tighten too much. Remember, when the skin dries it will tighten by itself.

Once you have the skin pretty tight, measure around the outside edge and mark your tack holes. You can use a tape measure, or tailor's measuring tape to do this. Calculate how many tacks you will need to form an evenly spaced band around the drum (the number will vary depending on the drum size, and the size of your tack heads). If you want 2 bands, repeat the measurements slightly below the first row.

Before nailing, I recommend using a drill to start your holes. It will avoid bending and wasting tacks. Drill & tack around the head.

After tacking, wait about 10 minutes, inspect everything, especially your tacks. Remove the bachi from the rope. If you want to skin the other side, put a towel under the new skin when you turn it over so it won't get damaged.

Wait 24 hours before playing, at first the drum may sound tinny & ring. Just play the hell out of the new skins for about a week & they'll sound better.


Copyright 1996 akudo3, used by permission.