Introduction: Rubber Drum Heads

Picture of Rubber Drum Heads

I first replaced the rawhide heads of these cheap bongo drums with X-ray film heads, which was an improvement.   (see: )  Unfortunately, the tension hardware broke on one of the drums recently , so I replaced the head with cloth-reinforced silicone rubber. 

I like the sound, which is deep like a much larger drum.  It didn't combine well with the remaining X-ray head sound, however, so I changed the second head also. 

The heads are hand-stretched and stapled in place with a staple gun. 

You can hear how they sound in the last step. 

Step 1: Making the Head Material

Picture of Making the Head Material

Silicone rubber doesn't stick well to some plastics, such as the polyethylene plastic kitchen cutting board I have. 

I used some synthetic cloth material that I scavenged a long time ago from the underside of a box spring mattress to reinforce the silicone rubber against tearing.  It allows for tighter stretching of the finished material, also. 

Cut a circle of the material out, large enough to give a skirt around the edge of the drum to grab onto and pull while stretching it.  Excess will be cut off later.  

Cover an area of the cutting board with silicone and spread it out with a palette knife, or similar spreading tool.  This makes sure that the bottom surface of the skin will be completely covered when you peel it up later.  If you try to squeegee the silicone through the cloth from the top, you might have areas of bad penetration.  

Set the cloth material on the wet silicone and immediately start stroking it with good pressure using the palette knife.  The idea is to squeeze the silicone up through the cloth from the layer below.  It is easier to make sure the cloth is saturated that way.  Depending on the amount that squeezes up through the pores, you might want to add a little more on top to make sure it is completely covered.  

I let it dry overnight and then peeled it up in the morning.  

Although the polyethylene cutting board is an ideal work surface for silicone, you can also stretch out some trash bag material with tape on a table as a non-stick work surface.  Eliminate any wrinkles, and work on that.   

Step 2: Stretching and Stapling

Picture of Stretching and Stapling

Stretching the drum head is similar to stretching an artist's canvas.  Always work opposing sides to eliminate wrinkles and create a uniform tension over the whole surface.  If you think of it like stretching over a compass;  staple North, stretch South and staple South.   Staple East, stretch West and staple West.  Staple NE, stretch SW and staple SW.  Staple NW, stretch SE and staple SE.  Then keep dividing those areas in half and stapling opposing sides until the entire circumference is stapled.  I used two staples at each point. 

If the staple gun doesn't have the power to drive the staples in completely, you can tap them in the rest of the way with a hammer. 

Step 3: Wrapping With String and Trimming

Picture of Wrapping With String and Trimming

After you finish stapling, wrap the whole skirt a couple times with strong twine.  I used nylon twine and dabbed a little glue on the knot to keep it from unraveling, as nylon tends to do. 

Then trim off the excess skirt material. 

The two drums were then reunited with the connecting bridge and bolt that held them. 

Step 4: How They Sound

Click on the icon below, that looks like a piece of paper with the corner bent over, to open an MP3 file and hear how they sound. 


InTheGarage (author)2015-03-29

How are these holding up? Looking for an alternate to cow hide for Taiko drums. Im making some for our high school marching band next fall. From all your advice I'm thinking of using fiberglass window screen as the fabric. Pros/Cons?

Thinkenstein (author)InTheGarage2015-03-29

I suspect that this would not work well for big Taiko drums. Hard to tension a head that big. If you want to give it a try, though, you might discover it works. You will undoubtedly get sound. Whether it is a useful sound or not is the question

iamahappyman (author)2014-01-05

Hey there, I want to use silicone rubber for a drum skin for my school project, but one question.

Where did you get the silicone rubber sheets?
Thank you if you respond!

I made my sheets. Get a porous cloth that has good tear strength and work silicone into it with a palette knife, or other spreading tool. Work on a non-stick surface, like a Teflon cookie sheet. The silicone head has to be stretched and silicone can tear, so the cloth acts as reinforcement. For longevity, I think synthetic fiber cloth may be better than organic.

gemtree (author)2010-12-21

Wow, how did you know I needed this? LOL! Since I know nothing about tuning a drum head, I will have to research that to understand what tuning one means. Thanks for perfect timing!

gemtree (author)gemtree2013-10-15

So how is that drum head holding up?

Thinkenstein (author)gemtree2013-10-15

The heads are holding up pretty well. They sounded a little too similar to me though, so I added a layer of sand and silicone rubber to the larger one to weight it down a little and change the pitch.

Drums are usually tuned by changing the tension on the head. The more tension the higher the pitch.

gemtree (author)Thinkenstein2013-10-18


rimar2000 (author)2010-12-15

Very interesting, Thinkenstein!

It sounds nice, too.

Thinkenstein (author)rimar20002010-12-16

Thanks. The main disadvantage is that they are not tunable. Time will tell if they stretch and go slack, but they are holding up well so far.

peach_fart (author)Thinkenstein2011-01-29

tacked drumheads are tunable, its just difficult. it involves a lighter and several gallons of patience

Thinkenstein (author)peach_fart2011-01-30

Tacked rawhide heads that have gone slack by absorbing humidity can be dried out that way, and tightened. The material in this head is all synthetic and doesn't go slack from humidity, nor will it tighten by drying it out.

peach_fart (author)Thinkenstein2011-02-09

wouldn't it have the same effect as a lighter on a shoelace or piece of string line?

Thinkenstein (author)peach_fart2011-02-10

I'm not sure what you mean, but it might depend on whether the string was of natural or synthetic fiber. Personally, I wouldn't risk tightening a drum head with a lighter, to avoid local hot spots. Better would be near a campfire for broader heat. I saw a synthetic head once that had a hole burned in it from someone trying to tighten it with a lighter.

zzoe (author)Thinkenstein2011-03-28

If it turns out that they slacken, you might try some kind of rope tension... a rolled edge (around a bit of rope or something?) with tightening cords down to another band or to a series of downward angled pegs drilled in a ring parallel to the rim.
Might work.
Great sound- cavernously 'woofy', and a great inst'ible.
Thanks, Z.

friger (author)2011-01-26

So cool, I wounder if your silicone idea would work as the head on a banjo?

goniometer (author)friger2011-02-21

bridge support ... too soft?

Thinkenstein (author)goniometer2011-02-21

Sometimes with experiments you get something unexpected. It might not end up being a banjo, but still might be something useful. As far as bridge support goes, resting the bridge on something that spreads the pressure out on a wider surface area might work.

Thinkenstein (author)friger2011-01-26

It would be a different sounding banjo. Give it a try and make a new instructible on it. I like the idea.

ebubbula (author)2011-02-01

Nice work sounds great!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm a refugee from Los Angeles, living in backwoods Puerto Rico for about 35 years now and loving it. I built my own home ... More »
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