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Build your own Djembe (and End Table)

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Long ago I was a member of my high school's Drum Circle where we played African drums. As a college student, that's one of the things I miss most. So given my hobby of building musical instruments (marimba), the logical solution was to build my own djembe.

I could buy one. You can find a cheap one for around 200 US dollars. But what would be the fun in that?

Additionally, Percussionists are notoriously protective of our instruments (As all musicians should be). The problem is drums and mallet percussion instruments like the Marimba and Timpani are very large, very expensive, and about waist high. So other non-percussionists frequently mistake them for tables.

This Djembe is going to fix that problem by doubling as a table. This is an easy fix, all you have to do is place a glass top on it.

First you have to decide what "build" means to you. To me it means carve up a tree myself.
However, if you prefer you can buy ready made djembe shells from suppliers such as African Rhythm Traders. If this is the best option for you, you can skip the next few steps of the instructable. However this instructable will focus on making the shell, and I'll refer you to some other sources for tying the ring knots and verticals.
 
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tspady3 years ago
I have read that the flue should be hand carved in spiral pattern.
Whargh3 years ago
There are some kind of lumber that is worst for the construction or all of the trees can make good Djembes?
mista.v3 years ago
If I use two rings, is an x-ray film head possible? Or should I just cannibalize a conga/bongo for the upper ring and run rope thru the bolt holes?
mista.v3 years ago
Is there any preference for the kind of wood?
gemtree3 years ago
LOVE it. I had a dead tree fall on my fence knocking it down. One of the drought victims. I knew eventually it would come down (the tree) but it hit my fence when it did. So I decided it was a gift for a drum. Anyway, I cut it all up (thinking drum as I worked) and then repaired the wood fence. Unless you knew what to look for, no one would be the wiser about where I got my drum blanks from. :D Thanks for the 'ible. I shall use your direction. My tree was dead and dry for at least a couple years before throwing itself into my yard for my use. :D

There is at least one more tree that is dead. Hm, actually three more. Two in my yard that are oak. One long dead pine in the woods outside my yard. Is pine usable? Or should I just make table bases out of it and cut the oaks down? They are not so wide as the pines.
How much did it cost to build this?
lemonie4 years ago
Very good. You are certain the wood is properly seasoned after only that much time?

L
RocketScientist (author)  lemonie4 years ago
Yes I'm fairly certain. I must admit I rushed things a little.

I won't claim to be a carpenter but my grandfather certainly is. He's taught me most all I know and helped me extensively with this project as well as my marimba.
Any oval warping(most likely "problem") will be minimized, first, by the nice symmetrical, even hollowing. As an added bonus, if it DOES shrink a bit, with continued drying, it'll do so quickly, with all that interior wood removed.
From the look of that downed log.. it's either spent a good deal of time lying down already, or the trunk was dead and weathering BEFORE it fell. Just judging by the bark condition about halfway up the fallen log.

If cracks are going to develop, you should know within  a few weeks.

Second, At worst, it will require a slight adjustment to the tension ropes. The head and ring don't care about round, oval, square...


Anyway, I guess I'm saying, Treat a drum shape like this, the same way as you would with a bowl. IF you're worried it's too green... carve the rough shape, let it sit a few weeks, then finish. You'll know it's ready for finishing, by how the wood works. Green and seasoned are VERY different beasts.



As a personal question... bark off drying? Is that based on the type of wood? personal technique? folk tales? "that's how my grand pappies grandpappie taught him"? I ask because I was taught to dry timbers bark-on. To slow the drying, and a few other magicks of wood, to reduce chances of checking. It has worked good for me so far, But I'm always willing to learn more!
yeah i worked (kind of) at this youth art program in chicago. For a field trip (hence kind of) we went to the Chicago urban forest project. They collect any trees the park district or private owners cut down, mill it, and sell it. In doing so they save trees from a low level recycling (woodchips, paper). They really know their stuff, and though i might be taking what they said out of context, they said it is better to let a log dry slower for longer to avoid cracking. They use a kiln to dry their wood, but they mentioned someone who packs freshly downed logs in cardboard boxes filled with sawdust and leaves them in his basement to dry. Also, i'm not sure how desirable it would be for a djembe, but they also mentioned someone who lathes out bowls green, then lets them dry and warp. I think the thinness prevents cracking in that case. btw, i once chiseled out a bowl, end grain, and it is ALOT more difficult and time consuming then i expected. Its certainly do-able, but perhaps not ideal.
RocketScientist (author)  ironsmiter4 years ago
 I removed the bark because I was impatient for a project to work on and wanted it to dry quicker. I assumed I would be able to get away with this because the tree had been down for quite some time before I got to it. Additionally it came down during a storm so you're probably right with your "dead and weathering" guess.

Thanks for your comment! You've got a lot of good advice there so I'm probably do a copy and paste sometime soon. (If you don't mind.)

I enjoy wood working but I'm far from professional. And oddly I consider myself to be more of a mallet percussionist (marimbas, xylophones, and vibraphones) rather than drummer. So this project was quite a learning experience for me.
Appollo644 years ago
 I was gonna try to make some bongos, any tips?

RocketScientist (author)  Appollo644 years ago
 I was actually going to make some over the summer.

Since bongos are smaller, you should consider making them on a lathe. I'm just learning lathe working but I don't think bongos would be too difficult. If you don't like the lathe idea ... hammers, wood chisels, and patience will work!

And, as with djembe s, I presume a thinner shell will give you more volume.

Finally, remember to take lots of pictures and make an instructable!
jclaw4 years ago

i don't have a chainsaw...how would you suggest i best hollow out the log?

peach_fart4 years ago
an easier way would be to use a lathe but not everyone has access to one
starrymirth4 years ago
 Ah! Marimba's and Djembes.. :)
I'm from South Africa - I played in my High-School Marimba band for about 4 years, and nothing beats tapping out a good rhythm on a hand-carved Djembe with your friends playing marimba around you. 

I don't think I would have the willpower/energy to make my own Djembe, but this is a cool instructable! 

tim_n4 years ago

Health and Safety brigade here - if you're doing this kind of fine work make sure you use a new chain and don't wear jeans - wear chainsaw safety trousers! Or alternatively don't use a chainsaw!  Working in a job where we fell a lot of trees I'd really recommend you don't unless you've got a lot of experience with one.

Great ible though! I love the finished product - we've got about 2,500 trees coming down in feb (Before the bird nesting season) and I'm tempted to ask for a chunk. I can probably do this with a hand chisel though rather than a chainsaw! :D

frollard4 years ago
I love the ible!  I've always wanted one, and always wanted to make one :D

I would recommend (request) that you put the knotting instructions here on instructables - if those websites go down, there will be no record of how to do those steps.  Perhaps request from the author of the website permission to repost their instructions verbatim (with copyright notice, image watermarks etc.)
Doctor What4 years ago
 O.o

That's an intense project!  How many hours did you put into that?
RocketScientist (author)  Doctor What4 years ago
 About 30 work hours including cutting down the tree. I did the entire project (minus cutting up the tree) between finals and Christmas.
Jayefuu4 years ago
Wow.....
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