Friday’s Recycled Instrument: Making A Box Drum

Everybody should know how to make a box. When I do instrument-building workshops for adults, I am invariably amazed and horrified at the number of people who think this is some kind of incredibly arcane process. It’s not. People have been making boxes for a long time.

If you make a box, but you don’t cover the top or bottom, you have a box frame. You can do a lot with a box frame.

Making a box frame drum.

Soak some rawhide goatskin in water. Round off the corners of one side of your box frame.

Glue and staple the skin across the rounded side of the frame. Use lots of glue (Elmer’s is fine) and lots of staples. Try to be neat. Wipe off the excess glue from the underside of the skin, and let it dry for twenty-four hours.

Attaching the skin.

You’ve made a square drum. If you can find real heavy-duty cardboard tubing (with a wall thickness of 3/8″ or more) you can make a round drum.

Once you make a drum with rawhide, you are bound up with the goat that gave its life for your drum. Failure to play the drum is a failure to acknowledge that a living creature died for your music. So play the drum, and honor the goat!


When I was living in India, I decided to buy a batch of goatskins to take home with me for instruments. Because of the caste status of people who deal in dead animal stuff, the drum-maker’s place was located smack-dab in the middle of the whores’ quarters. Rickshaw drivers would give me very knowing looks when I gave them the destination. And what could I say in my fractured Hindi? “No, actually, I’m just going down there to get some skin?”

Fortunately, you can purchase goatskins very easily and cheaply through online sources. Shorty Palmer is my source for goatskins.

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