Tag: 1249

Rope Tension Drums (part 3) (Job No: 1249)

In the previous part of this post – 1249: ropey drums (pt2) I was making up new lengths of rope and repairing the buffs, all preparation to do most of the drums.  However I was left with three drums that needed new buffs to be made because I have changed the rope to match all the others in two cases or there were several missing in the third case.

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As you would expect, there were also repairs to be made, whilst the drums were in pieces in my workshop.

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Flesh hoops had to be made the correct size for the heads to be lapped onto.

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But finally, having everything needed and repairs and parts made, I am ready to put new heads on the drums.

The first thing I do is to spray the heads with water to make the skin become soft and pliable.  There are a few reasons for doing this, skin (and wood) are hygroscopic which means that they absorb and release moisture.  If it is cold and dry, our own skin suffers, if we stay in the bath too long it becomes baggy soft and wrinkly.  Therefore we utilise this property to our own advantage.

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First of all by wetting the playing surface (but leaving the lapping dry), the strain is taken off the flesh hoop allowing it to flatten.  When the head is put on the drum, the skin will mould itself to the profile of the bearing creating a good contact.  If this is not done, then the head may buzz in the areas where there is a fraction of a millimeter gap.  Lastly, it can be easily stretched, so that when I put it on the drum, I can pull the skin down the sides of the drum and create a collar.

However, in use, the hygroscopic nature of the skin can be a problem,  well judging on what I see coming in for repair, it is a problem.  Therefore I have written a post in the Every Percussionist Should Know…   series called: …How to look after vellum heads.

Whilst the drum heads are softening, I prepare the bearing edge by lightly sanding it so that all the dirt and proud wood fibres are removed.  I want a nice smooth surface for the head to slide over when it is being tuned.  To further help the head slide, and to prevent it from sticking to the wood (the proteins in skin make exceptionally strong adhesives) I lubricate/seal the surface with tallow.

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Now it is just a case of threading the long bit of rope through the counter hoops and buffs, and tightening it up.

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The drum above is the shell that I painted to make it look, “as natural as possible,” as was the remit.  It has new rope and the new buffs I made above.  To remind yo what it looked like I shall end with a before after picture.

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Rope Tension Drums (part 2) (Job No: 1249)

A lot of rope has now arrived. In 1249: ropey drums (pt1) I started to dismantle and paint stuff whilst the materials I needed were on order.  Now they are here, I can start tackling the pile of drums and try to reduce its height.

When these types of drum are sat on the floor, the rope going around the counter hoop gets abraded.  Obviously this considerably weakens the rope until it snaps, but it also makes getting the rope off the drum all but impossible without cutting it anyway.

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What I get invariably are drums with various types of rope on them.  What I always notice is that some ridiculous made up knot is used to join the rope.  There is a guideline for rope work; “if it looks like shit, it probably is”.

So, what knot should you use?  One of the easiest, the Reef knot.  Used to join dissimilar ropes, also lies flat so it is also used for tying bandages and slings – so everybody should know it!  If you can play a paradiddle, then this knot is similar:

Right over left and under.
Left over right and under.

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Compare the two pictures, and you can see immediately what I mean when I say, “if it looks like shit…”  Without getting too in depth about why, but the reef knot is also a lot stronger, and a lot easier to untie after it has been tensioned.

I often get amused by how many of my life experiences get used in my work.  When I was a boy scout I learnt about knots, we had to know, we built everything we needed when we camped.  Then rope was a tool, and different applications required different knots.  Later as a rock climber I was using knots to protect myself and others, in two instances it was my skill that got fallen climbers off cliff ledges and into the back of ambulances (that makes me feel proud!)  Now I am reminded about all this when I am making drums.

So I will have been about eleven when I learnt to splice a rope, which simply means weaving rope together.  On these drums it is an eye splice that is needed to create a loop for the rope to feed through.

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The splice doubles the thickness of the rope, so it won’t physically go through the hole in the counter hoop.  So a back splice (just folded back on itself) wouldn’t work on the other end.  In order to stop the rope from fraying a whipping is tied.    

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The whipping is very tight, using special thread it actually compresses the rope.  It certainly makes it easier to thread the rope when assembling the drum.

With the rope prepared, the last part of the equation are the buffs or tensioners.  These are tied together with vellum or gut.

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If they are present but broken, I cut a strip of vellum off an old drum head, and repair them.

In the next post, 1249: Ropey Drums (pt3) I might even get around to assembling a drum!

Rope Tension Drums (Part 1) (Job No: 1249)

I have a big pile of tenor drums, snare drums and field drums to repair.  All have calf skin heads, and are rope tensioned.

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Just like doing the job, it is difficult to decide where to start.  All of the drums have something broken, missing or worn out, so whilst waiting for materials to arrive, I just started doing what I could.

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There are two drums like the one above which I am changing.  The maker has used the wrong type of rope.  These drums are often to be used on stage as a period prop, the rope used is a 16 strand weave which is modern.  I’m not sure what the material is, (I know what it isn’t) but it is thin, course and aggressive (just like me!)  So I can modify the counter hoops to accept the same diametre rope as all the other drums.

There are two drums that require some sort of aesthetic treatment.

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The drum on the left has just been really badly painted, the drum on the right, well it’s just hideous!  Both need to painted so they look more natural – brown then.

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According to the man at the Dulux shop (I only use Dulux oil paints) who has worked there for 22 years, he has never mixed up brown paint.  I’m not surprised, the previous owner of my house liked brown – I have it on all the skirting boards and doors, and yes it does look horrible.  Because of this, there are only three shades to choose from, so I went with hazelnut which was actually the only one close.

To break up the brown and make it look a bit more natural, I used black to replicate knots and grain.

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For now, the paint has to dry, and rope has to arrive, so in 1249: Ropey Drums (pt2) we will see a lot more knots.