Introduction: Drum Making With the Kwul 'I'tkin Maker Truck

About: We're the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum in Missoula, MT. We have a physical museum located within the Missoula Public Library, but also create science kits, lead teacher professional devel…

Create a drum using common craft materials, laser-cut drum heads and traditional techniques. This is a great way to explore the science of sound, practice manual dexterity, and create a working drum that sounds really nice!

This project is a part of the spectrUM Discovery Area and SciNation's Kwul 'I'tkin mobile makerspace on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Kwul 'I'tkin means "to make" in the Salish and Kootenai languages, respectively. For more information on this collaboration, see our article in Connected Science Learning or the curriculum .pdf at the end of this Instructable. All activities generated from this project were co-created with the SciNation committee, made up of local leaders from various organizations on the Flathead, as well as makers and artists from The People's Center traditional arts circle in Pablo, MT. Input from tribal elders at both the Salish Culture Committee and Kootenai Culture Committee, and the members of Tribal Council was a critical piece in this project, as was direct help with facilitation from local role models familiar with the traditional techniques used to create these crafts. The truck and development of these activities was funded through an NSF-EAGER grant, with facilitation at pow wows, county fairs, and in local schools in 2017 and 2018. All materials and activities funded through the grant are property of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, with curation and implementation of further activities and use of the truck supported by the CSKT Tribal Education Department and CSKT Natural Resources Department.

Step 1: Materials Needed

  • 3” diameter by 18” long by .070” thick snap-seal cardboard mailing tubes cut into 2” lengths. Available from Uline, item number S-637
  • Tyvek mailing envelopes, 12” x 15.5” pre-cut into 3.5” rounds with holes on the laser cutter. Available from Uline, item number S-5155
  • Rex Lace plastic beading and lanyard material (or equivalent) of various colors
  • Electrical tape of various colors
  • Scissors
  • Push pins
  • Wooden dowel sticks 1/4” in diameter cut into 4” lengths, available from local craft stores or Amazon
  • Felt pieces, cut into small strips
  • Hot glue and glue guns

Optional Supplies

  • Revolving leather punch, available from local craft stores or Amazon for punching additional holes or doing without laser cutting the drum heads
  • Simple circle-drawing compass to create drum heads without a laser cutter

Step 2: Prepare Materials

Some advanced preparation before facilitation with kids may be necessary. Specifically, you will want to cut the mailer tubes into 2" rounds and the dowels into approximately 4" long pieces. This is most easily done with a bandsaw that has a 14-24tpi blade, but can also be done with a handsaw or razor blade - USE CAUTION when using hand tools or power tools and follow all prescribed safety precautions.

The drum heads are easiest to cut out of the tyvek envelopes with a laser cutter. See the attached .dxf file and use the appropriate settings on your laser cutter (similar power/speed settings for paper seem to work well). If this is not a tool you have at your disposal, use a compass to draw a 3.5" diameter circle (but be careful not to pierce the middle of the drum head). Cut it out with scissors and punch approximately 20 holes around the perimeter. The exact number or spacing is not important, just make sure you have the same number of holes on both the top and bottom drum head.

It may be helpful to cut the felt into 1" wide by 3" long strips for making the drum sticks, but this is not necessary as a preparatory step.

Step 3: Prepare the Drum for Lacing

Put tape on your piece of mailer tube, as this will be difficult once the drum is laced - this is for decoration only, use whatever colors and patterns strike your fancy! You can also draw on the tube with marker if you don't want to use tape. Gather two drum heads - if they were laser cut, they come off the bed of the laser cutter attached together, so separate them. Either tape or use push pins to attach the heads at one point on the tube. This is to make it easier to lace, and is a temporary placement so don't worry about getting things too lined up or exact.

Take a piece of lace about 3 foot long. Put a knot in one end, and cut the other end at a 45 degree angle. The pointed end will be what you poke through the holes, the knot will keep the lace in place as you stitch together the drum.

Step 4: Lace the Drum

Push the lace through a hole on one drum head, then the hole across from it on the other and pull all the way through. If you've done sewing before, this is much the same process as stitching together two pieces of cloth with a needle and thread. Move the tape along as you stitch as necessary to make it easy to keep the two pieces of drum head on the drum - this will be the most challenging part!

You can experiment with different lacing patterns - straight across, overlapping, Xs, etc. How will this change the sound of your drum?

Continue lacing until you've laced together all of the holes. Once done, pull each stitch tight, working your way around from where you started to the finish. Pull the remaining lace tight and make another knot to help keep it from coming loose. Optionally, you can make a loop with the remaining lace that makes a nice handle or hook for your drum.

Your drum is now complete - thump it with your finger to see how it sounds!

Step 5: Make the Drum Stick

Making the drum stick is as simple as gluing a piece of felt to the 4" section of 1" dowel. Place hot glue on the stick, then wrap the felt around it. Either make a square and trim the side, wrap the felt around in a ball, or choose an alternative design - what do you think will work best for the sound you are trying to achieve? Additionally, you can decorate the drum stick with lace or tie the bottom of the felt piece onto it in addition to gluing.

Step 6: Further Activities and Curriculum Standards

This activity and other in this series is adapted from the Kwul 'I'tkin maker truck curriculum booklet. See the .pdf included in this step for further activities, and for information on how this beading activity best aligns with science standards and Indian Education for All standards (which may be different in your state or country). There is also a variety of resources included in this curriculum booklet with regards to the cultural aspects of these activities as they relate to the Salish, Kootenai and Qlispé tribes in Montana.