The Barrel

My first
obstacle, as the old wooden barrels are nowadays more and more replaced by ones
made in other materials like for example plastic/PVC was finding one in a size I
could handle easily this first time, dough one advantage we, as (apprentice) “
barrel” drum builders have is that the state of the barrel (for example, if its
leaky or not) is not that important as long as the wood of the staves is in
fairly good condition. For me, almost a year later at the beginning of autumn
2003 something that until then was only a vague plan in the back of my mind
became a reality when call it beginners luck, I found a small wine barrel in a
waste container at work. In my eyes, it had the Ideal size for a first time drum
building project.

This is
how the barrel looked like after a first cleaning to get the cob webs and dirt

Height :14.5 inch – 37cm
Belly Wide : 35.2 inch – 89cm
Finished Head
Size (playing area) : 9 inch – 23cm

The Big barrels are easier to find,
 a good place to start looking might be
your local garden center…
If they don’t have e’m in stock, its worth it to
ask if they can’t order you one…


it apart and back again

I took
it home with me and it stood in my practice room (my attic) for almost a year. 
Don’t know why I hesitated so long to start (talked about it enough, making
plans how I would do it) but I did… Anyway, time slipped by until I was ready to
go ahead and when I did at last, I started with de-assembling the barrel. First
I removed the hoops and then used a light weight wooden round hammer to slowly
tap the staves loose from the top and bottom lid. I also took care to number
each of the staves so I would know the order to put them back after I cleaned



For this
ing job,
I looked around for an easy way and found these finishing wheels in a local
hardware store, I bought me grade 60, 100 & 150. They worked like a charm
and not for long I had the staves cleaned up.

 Tip: Don’t sand the sides of the staves; they are
at a very precise angle towards one another…
I learned this the hard way
when I reassembled the barrel…

So now,
I was ready to reassemble the barrel, if you think easy done… think differently
as its not, not if you never seen how a barrel was made anyway… I tried putting
one head hoop on the floor and setting the staves in the ring while desperately
trying to hold them together… Hopeless, I tried with sticking them together with
painter’s tape but also to no avail, the staves kept falling over…   This went
on for days, me playing my Bodhran while looking at the staves thinking what I
could try next, I even tried to make the barrel in a box… Meanwhile I did
multiple searches on the internet to find examples of how coopers did this in
the olden days and finally found a page
with a
little movie of a cooper assembling a barrel. (See links below). All I needed to
do was to press the first stave against a small piece of wood I slid over the
top hoop, press the first stave against it, and then continue further putting up
staves one against the other, always keeping the pressure on there… One drawback
I encountered was that the barrel had shrunk, this was caused by the staves
lying so long apart on the attic table… You can see this in the picture below by
how deep the hoops went down if you compare with the picture above (To get them
of initially I needed a hammer and chisel).

Barrels inside

was mid summer of 2005 by now, I know folk… this project is taking me forever
<grin>, by then I  had decided not to use the hoops again, and was going
to fix the staves permanently into one solid shell using fiberglass mats on the
inside of the barrel, a bit expensive but as this was a small barrel I did not
need that much. This and the outside finish I planned to apply is also why I did
not glue the staves…


On a
sunny day, I waited until it cooled down a bit late afternoon, secured the
barrel on a improvised stand so I could work on it from both sides without it
rolling over and applied the polyester… This was

: I bought mine in a yacht/boat repair shop near the harbor, ask in the shop for
details on how to prepare the mixture…

I’ve cut
the mats up in pieces I could handle easily and  gave the barrels inside with a
small paint roller a coat of the prepared mixture, a bit bigger than the size of
the cut mats. Carefully to avoid wrinkles I lay the mat into this and sealed it
of with another coat of the varnish. Did this until I covered the whole inside
of the barrel. I’ve repeated this whole process four times to get a four layer
thick polyester mat inside, I also was careful that no two mats lay equal inside
but one always overlapped two or more others…

Tip : preferably do this outside when temperature is around 16°C to
if not possible make sure the room is well ventilated., don’t make more
than you can handle in 10 to 15min…
Have a few spare rollers for your paint
roller… The ones I used dissolved slowly.


around this point the barrel really became a drum in progress for me, when I
started work on…

Bearing Edge

This is what I had to transform into the bearing edge, as the staves
had dried differently some had bended a bit more other shrunk a bit or got
taller (straightened out) … again I hesitated to start… Then suddenly one
Saturday gave myself  an imaginary kick in the bud and took the barrel, chucked
it between my legs took my jigsaw and cut of  the top of the drum so it was
approximately straight to the eye, wondering why I thought so long about it
(like what could go wrong or “best way to do it…).  Now In retrospect I think
maybe this was because as much as I liked building the drum I enjoyed the talks
with my friends (Thanks Me Squire for al those
Friday evening way past midnight ramblings on
J…) After
this I used a combination of sliding the drum back and forth with a turning
movement over a concrete slab to get the top even and a wood rasp to shape
bearing edge…

found me this “old” beauty to do the Mini’s on,
 its just perfect
only I knew now how my grandfather used that old washing machine’s motor to let
a bicycle wheel turn slowly in the wind to dry fish)…


All that
needed to be done next was to fine shape the edge with the finishing wheels.
Keep in mind this is a work of love and a crucial step in the building of your
drum so don’t hurry it…The more even you get the bearing edge the better it will
translate into the sound of your drum in the end. After that all discrepancies left in the shell, inside and out
where treated with a light oak wood fill product, I then took the drilling
machine with the sanding wheels again to remove any left polyester stains on the
outside and finish the shell completely smooth (Used a grade A60 and then

The Dohl

I got
ordered mine from “JAS” online and I must say that delivery was very quick (took
only a few working days). When they arrived and I wanted to place them through
my drums
side I
encountered my first problem. The thread on the brackets was not long enough for
the thickness of the staves. I solved this by making a round hole so the bracket
went a bit
I did this for esthetic reasons on the outside of the drum and also because the
barrel’s inside was to small to do it from that side.

Its very
important that these holes are made as vertical as possible so the brackets are
fixed straight. A quality washer was placed underneath the bracket to finish it
of (with these you can correct any discrepancies in the angle of the hole). Once
those in place,  the brackets where fixed firmly on top.

trouble came my way… As I made the holes, I made them at a height from the
bearing edges I found esthetically pleasing to my idea for a drum this size…
Well, a word of advice, don’t let this guide you, but instead take in account
the height of the thread on the hooks and the estimated amount the skin will
travel down the shell when tensioning and getting played in… (let say a total of
5cm)  In my case see picture above the thread ended to quick. I thought no
problem I will just re-cut it a bit higher up the hooks shaft using a tool like


this proved to be easier said than done as I found out the hard way… As the
hooks came from “JAS” the thread on it had a UK/Indian size… I’ve looked in
every local shop I could think of but was not able to find a thread cutting
knife for the tool that exactly fitted the thread on the hooks. So I eventually
ended up with “the closest I could get”… The thread knife turned supple over the
UK thread so I thought it was OK and bought it. It was not, as I found out later
when I’ve put tension on the skins, but I’m running ahead of the story… Not
aware of this next problem that would arise, I finished the outside of the drum
a last time completely
with the
finishing wheel (grade 150), whipped it of with a damp cloth to remove any dust
and gave it a light oak color finish, when this dried out I also applied three
coats of colorless (transparent) “stairway” varnish. The result was a baby
bottom smooth drum shell with a beautiful wood grain design to it… The tap hole
is left open so the air can escape the drum during playing, It’s also a
convenient entry point when you want to mike the drum…  (I plan to enlarge this
" Sound Hole" a bit, I’m also thinking about what influence it would have if one
constructed a barrel drum with evenly spaced Sound Holes like this all around
the belly of the barrel… Something to try out a next



the shell

Think I
don’t need to say that again this took some time, talks and mails for me to
start with… Summer had gone and autumn 2005 was here already. After some
searching and asking around, I had acquired two goat skins… One thick grayish
one was send to me from New Zealand (Thanks again Peter) and I also was able to
buy one big round extremely thin one from N.I. through that same group. The one
from New Zealand was to small to cover both heads and the N.I. due to it being
so thin, I wanted to save for when I build me my first Bodhran(s). Yup I have
plans in that direction to… So there I was… with, but without suitable skins.
Again Paul came to the rescue when he offered to send me two pieces of Deer Skin
he had left over from building the big pelo’s and once those arrived, I could go
ahead again… I soaked the skin in water for a small hour or so, by then they
where completely softened and t
stretched one of them out as even as I could on the kitchen table and lay the
flesh ring on top positioning it as center as I could. At a distance of 2cm of
the ring I punched the holes for the two tensioning ropes I needed for this size
of drumhead (at location 12-6-3-9 and 2-7-10-4 approximately). The ropes were
then inserted and the skin folded over the ring with as much tension put on the
ropes as I dared applied to them to avoid ripping the skin.

placed the drumhead centre on top of the drum shell and placed the second hoop
over it. Inserted the Dohl hooks and turned the bolts on them until the hooks
stayed in place and started carefully tensioning the skin… like you would
tighten the bolts on the wheel of your car… working diagonally so the tension is
spread evenly around (starting at the hook you call 12 ‘o clock, then 6, 10, 4,
2, 7 and so forth, trying to keep the amount of
equal for each bolt. Did this until the skin was completely evenly stretched
over the bearing edge and I had achieved a clear tone. I repeated this for the
other side and then let the drum dry for 24 hours.
Then finally, two days
later I cut away the excess skin carefully with a Stanley knife to finish off
the head.

include this practice example I got from Paul, In the picture below the Minipelo
gets played with Dohl sticks,
Dugga and the Thilli. The Dhol has one very high pitched skin and one very low
pitched skin, If you are right handed the thilli (thin cane) is held in the
right hand and hits the high pitched head, the dugga (thick curved cane) is held
in the left and hits the low pitched head. The basic pattern is the chaal it’s
an 8 beat pattern with the thilli hitting all 8 beats and the bass on 1, 6 and
7. you need to shuffle the thilli beat so instead of it being 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 it
goes 1 23 45
67 81 23 45 67 8 etc (bass beats shown here in

: Once the heads have dried, you can loosen the hooks and the head can come off,
just like a hat.
 Of course the flesh ring will still be and should remain
inside the skin.
This makes it easy to experiment with different types of

after all… Well… not really…

I still
have a few things to deal with in regards to the self inflicted troubles with
the Dohl Hooks…See, after this drying out period and the extra tension it
ought on
the hooks & bolts, I noticed some of the bolts loosened by themselves due to
the wrong thread I’ve cut mentioned earlier. In my local metal workshop I went
to they said they could not make me the custom sized hooks I was looking for…
(Think that was more a question of working time and expensive wages versus what
they could charge me for (only) 12 hooks). An option they presented was to cut
of the hook part of the “JAS” hooks (the part without thread)  and weld those
onto pieces of M8 continental standard “TisFul-T” as we call thread staves over
here… ( don’t ask me why
J ). So
that’s what I will do…

As you
can see also the brackets are still a bit to deep for the hooks to be completely
straight versus the shell. I have a solution for this to, Once I have the M8
hooks, I’m going to fix a thread joint in the holes and turn the brackets into
those… That way by turning them more in or out,  I can adjust each brackets
individually as I need them to be compared to the drum shell.
But despite
those hiccups after almost two years in the making finally there stood the first
Mini-pelodaiko… Think that everybody who ever ventured into something similar
knows how I felt… It felt … well… great. For those who did not… Hope
reading this gave you the spark I got from Paul’s report on the big bro’s of the
growing Pelodaiko family…

A last
advise, play the drum softly for a few days, then its all up to where you live
and how much your neighbors and house mate’s will stand for, Have fun


Me “home alone” giving the first version

Mini-Pelodaiko drum V1.0Beta

first real beating

A few of
the Web Pages I came across:

about Barrels :



about those Skins :






for the Builder:



Marshall Online:


©Verplancke Johnny

Veldstraat 30

B-8450 Bredene


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