Picture of Making an atabaque from A to Z

Update: We are now selling them. Visit our page: https://www.facebook.com/malucoatabaque

An atabaque is an Afro-Brazilian drum similar to a conga, but not as refined in the sound or the manufacturing process (but that does not mean it does not sound or look good). It's the 'rough' appearance that makes it stand out from other drums.
It is used in Capoeira and Candomble (Afro-Bahian religion) as well as some other activities.

First off, I'd like to express my gratitude to Chapa de Frente for his tutorial on how to make an atabque.
I did quite a lot of research on the topic, watched a good amount of footage and DIY videos
(links are given on the last page) here and there and the work of Chapa de Frente was the more reusable.

Still, all units and materials are specific to the US, and being in Australia, I just couldn't do the same.
Also, there was a number of things I wanted to attempt in a different way.
Lastly, there is no word whatsoever on the metal work involved. I tried to get quotes for that here in AU, and it was ridiculously expensive (like 100$ for a ring that costs 6$ a meter at the shop).

In Australia, capoeira is still developing and not as widespread as other places, but import restrictions are EXTREMELY tough. Wood and Skin are an absolute nightmare to get through. It's also very expensive to buy an atabaque in the first place (say 800$ plus shipping).

For all these reasons, I set out to build 'meu atabaque' from scratch, using methods explained in various places (including coopering ) and in the beautiful tradition of sharing for others to try themselves, I present my humble (sometimes very humble) construction methods.

It will cover
- build methods for both body and stand
- woodwork
- metalwork
- ropework
- notes on skin (unfinished)

I do not have any prior instrument-making skills, but I like a good challenge and above all I like fixing and tinkering.

If you're keen to make your own atabaque for a cheap price, read on. Bunnings has most of what you need.
The information presented here can be used in pretty much any country, providing you are motivated enough to find the materials and a way to use them to achieve the same result.

Targeted end result
A 24 staves atabaque that looks the part, 1m tall, 300mm at its widest point, 250mm at the skin, rope tensioning system and a matching stand.

A word on materials
The list presented here is probably not the most suited for the task, but it did the job.
The wood I used for example, is Tasmanian Oak because it is a local wood, cheap, pre-cut to the dimensions I needed at Bunnings. My research indicated that atabaques made in Brazil used to be made out of Jacaranda timber, but being now a protected species, nearly all of them are made of Pine. Bunnings has pine (that did not look good or flexible/strong enough to bend without breaking) and then Tassie oak. That's it. Short of going to an expensive special-purpose timber shop (that I have since found), the oak had to do it.
The metal is mostly scrap I collected. If you can buy it to the right dimension, go for it.
The skin remains an issue. I have not sourced a skin (calf/cow) yet and used a large piece of leather instead. It does the trick but I think the sound would be sensibly better with a real skin. Since it involves re-heading and thus re-doing the ropework, I'll save that for later :)


Drum Body
8x 40x10x3000 Tasmanian oak boards
3x 10mm x 10m Sisal rope
1x 6mm x 5m Sisal rope
1x 12mm x 1000mm steel rod
2x 10mm x 1000mm steel rod
4m 1mm x 30mm steel strip
7mm x 4mm steel rivets
wooden glue
wood stain
wood varnish
1x 700mm diameter skin/leather piece
black metal paint
hard wood for pegs

3x 40x10x3000 Tasmanian oak boards
1.5m 2mm x 30mm steel wrap
7mm x 4mm steel rivets
wooden glue
wood stain
wood varnish
tapestry nails
200mm x 1000mm leather piece
black metal paint

(the more the merrier)
circular saw (better: bandsaw, even better, router)
drill with drill bits and countersunk bits
sand paper
hand saw
hammer (large heavy for metal work, smaller ones for other work)
ropes and ratchets

In the course of making the drum, I had to make multiple jigs, for cutting, bending, adjusting etc. I had to get creative for some of them. You will likely find a better way to achieve the same result based on your own resources. Assess them !

IT TAKES TIME so don't rush it. you WILL get stuck at some point. You WILL make mistakes, be it in the preparation, cut or assembly. It's OK. just think before you act. You may have to fix things like I had to, that's OK too. Take your time. Between week ends and evenings, it took me 6 months to make mine.

On to work
This is how we are going to proceed:
1 Making the Base Stand
- woodwork
- metalwork
- finishing
- leather padding
2 Making the Body
- woodwork
- metalwork
- finishing
3 Heading the Body
- metalwork
- ropework

Chronologically, I made the stand after making the body. But this does not matter much.
There is a fair bit of specialized metal work that I completed using very humble means. People with more experience and machinery will likely laugh at it, but I got the job done nonetheless.

I had to pull trigonometry and primary school math to get it done. It was sort of fun. Angles and dimensions are approximative but they do work as intended.

Diameter at the base: (TO MEASURE)
Diameter at the top: (TO MEASURE)
Staves: 24
Stave length: 300mm
Stave cutting angle: 7.5 degrees (180/24)
Stave cutting point at the top:
Stave cutting point at the base:
Metal hoop cone angle: 5~6 degrees

Diameter at the base: (TO MEASURE)
Diameter at the widest point: (TO MEASURE)
Diameter at the top: (TO MEASURE)
Staves: 24
Stave length: 1000mm
Stave cutting angle: 7.5 degrees (180/24)
Stave cutting point at the top:
Stave length from top to mid-section:
Stave cutting point at the base:
Stave length from mid-section to the base:
Metal hoop cone angle: 5~6 degrees
Metal ring diameters: (top) (below top) (bottom)

Total weight after assembly: (TO MEASURE)

maluco (author) 1 month ago

Fast forward a couple years. I have now made more atabaques and am in the process of making even more. Will be trying new building methods, but I can already tell you that using a bandsaw is a good option. More news and photos can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/malucoatabaque

ritab15 months ago

I am learning how to play Capoeira instruments just now and i am starting with the Atabaque. Never though about building one myself so these instructions are great. Thank you


bojouoss7 months ago

Hi your instructable is really awesome ! I'm planning on making my own atabaque and i worry about the cuting part for the staves, i don't get how your cutting jig works. i know it's a bit old but if you can give me some advices that would be great :)

Axé !

maluco (author)  bojouoss7 months ago
Hey ! All the best with the adventure. It's VERY rewarding in the end.
My jig essentially pins down a wooden board so that I can cut it at a 7.5degree angle with the circular saw. The staves have sort of a coffin cut shape, extremities are thin, 3/4 down is the thickest point. That makes it 4 cuts (2 for each side) for every stave. My jig allowed me to reposition the staves for each cut. I did the first cut 24 times, then modified the jig and went on for the next 24, and so on. To be honest, my latest atabaque was cut on a bandsaw. Seems much better (even with a crappy bandsaw like I have). The ultimate cuts I have seen is made with a custom router table. 5 second job per side. That's for later.
bojouoss maluco7 months ago

Thanks a lot for the tips ;) i only have a circular saw so i'll try to make the stand first and see how it goes :D

fre217 months ago

Legal! (cool!)

artlife2 years ago
Excellent! This is going in my to pile.