Make a Goatskin Bodhrán Frame Drum




Introduction: Make a Goatskin Bodhrán Frame Drum

A frame drum is a handheld drum that's wide and flat. They can be found all over the world and have been around for tens of thousands of years. I'm going to show you how I made a traditional Irish bodhrán using a wood frame and a fresh hide from a goat. This kind of drum is played with a bare hand or a short stick called a tipper.


Step 1: Prepare the Goatskin

A drum needs a skin. One could go to the craft store and buy a piece of rawhide or maybe some Mylar . . . or one could kick it old school. My abattoir friend set aside a few local and humanely harvested goat pelts. Sheep and seal hides are also used for traditional bodhrán skins.

Step 2: Soak, Stretch, Scrape and Cut

The hides came to me fresh, slightly bloody and sprinkled with salt for preservation. Here's what I did:

  1. Soak. Place hides in a large plastic tote filled with cold water and liquid ammonia. I used a half litre of bleach to 40 litres of water The goal is to make a low pH (alkaline) bath so the fur gets released from the skin. Our ancestors used ash from the fire to make lye. Let it soak for a week or two. Too soon and the fur won't come off, too long and you get goaty gazpacho.
  2. Stretch. I made a rectangular frame with 2x4's. Make small holes around the hide's perimeter and tie it tightly to the frame with string.
  3. Scrape. Both sides. Some drums have furry skins but not bodhrans. Use a tool that's stiff but not too sharp. I found my ulu to be best, a crescent-shaped Inuit knife like an Italian mezzaluna. This part can be tedious and messy, but also therapeutic. Think of our sooty ancestors using rocks.
  4. Cut. I used a sharp blade to cut an 18" diameter circle of prepared goatskin.

Step 3: Make the Frame

A frame drum needs a frame. I used two layers of thin virola plywood.

  1. Cut. Two pieces, 48" x 4" for an almost 16" diameter bodhrán. C = 2 π r.
  2. Soak. Warm water in the tub, thirty minutes or until bendy. Over an hour and my plywood delaminated.
  3. Bend and glue. I used the shower curtain rod to impart a curve, the way we use scissors to curl ribbon. Once I got the right circle it was glue and clamp time.

Step 4: Assemble

There's more than one way to skin a drum. For example, this Mi'kmaq drum has a fourteen-sided wood frame and a moose skin held on with strips of rawhide. A bodhrán uses tacks or screws.

Soak. Put the skin circle in warm water until pliable, maybe twenty minutes.

Tack. Centre the floppy skin and attach with quarter-inch tacks or screws starting with the four quadrants. I put screws every half inch or so until my pack of 100 screws was almost empty.

Handle. This part is optional. One or two wood handles across the back, halfway in, gives the drummer a better grip on the instrument and stiffens the frame considerably. I used two lapped pieces of hardwood, 16" x 1" x 1/2".

Step 5: Play the Drum

Once the attached skin dries, you're good to go. It will be quite hard and semi-translucent by this stage. Some drums have features which allow you to tighten up the skin for a crisper tone, not this one. Use a hair drier or place it over an incandescent lamp. A good bodhrán player changes the tone with one hand on the back while the other strums away on the front.

Thanks for reading my first of perhaps many Instructables.

Slainte Mhah!

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    7 Discussions


    Question 2 years ago on Step 3

    Can you say more about the glue process? How does the circular shape hold?


    Answer 2 years ago

    I used regular yellow wood glue, tape and clamps. The frame is made with two curved pieces of plywood. Because you're uniting two almost full circles of wood - inner and outer strips - keeping it round is not a problem.


    2 years ago

    Not to make too fine a point but when you said, " The goal is to make a low pH (alkaline) bath" should have been HIGH pH.

    Acid is low pH.


    3 years ago

    I love watching people play these, I wish I knew how! Thanks for sharing :)


    Reply 3 years ago

    If you can keep a beat, I can't think of an easier instrument to learn. Almost all Irish songs are a jig (EN-er-gy, EN-er-gy . . .) or a reel (GEN-er-at-or, GEN-er-at-or . . ). Once you get the knack of the tipper stick it's a hoot. I never know what key a song is in and I don't care because I've got a drum.


    Reply 3 years ago

    The only time I've ever played the drums (outside of rock band) is a friend taught me how to play Sitting on the Dock of the Bay on their set in high school. :) I always wanted to learn though.