Rubber Drum Heads




About: 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 from discarded nylon fishnet and cement.

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

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

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

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. 



  • Backyard Contest

    Backyard Contest
  • Paint Challenge

    Paint Challenge
  • Barbecue Challenge

    Barbecue Challenge

24 Discussions


8 years ago on Introduction

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!

4 replies

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

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.


Reply 1 year ago

I finally made it! I found a wooden bucket that seems to be a fair drum shell.

Supernerd Sven

1 year ago

These are awesome! I was just looking into the same problem! They sound great and I'm looking forward to trying this. Your Instructable is well-written and has nice photos - it's all-around very well done.

I do have a few questions before I get started, though. First, what type of silicone did you use? The 100% silicone I usually use always seems to end up feeling a little sticky when done, and I couldn't tell what sort you used. Second, did you experiment with different types of fabrics or sealants? I also have acrylic latex, and I'm on the lookout for natural latex. I have a fair assortment of different fabrics; I had been thinking of using canvas.

2 replies
ThinkensteinSupernerd Sven

Reply 1 year ago

It has been a long time since I did these. Glad you like them. They eventually broke on me and I replaced them with pieces of rubber floor mat somehow. I used the 100% RTV silicone. Some brands seem to end up stickier than others, but they tend to lose the stickiness over time. Play, experiment, have fun.


4 years ago on Introduction

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?

1 reply

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


5 years ago on Introduction

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!

1 reply

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.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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.


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


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.


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.


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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.


8 years ago on Step 4

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