1. Obtain a raw skin. Goatskin is the type of head most commonly used for bodhrans. You can buy a fresh raw skin from a livestock farmer or a slaughter house. A hunter might agree to sell you a skin. Make sure that you get either a raw skin or a cured skin but not a tanned skin. The skin of a healthy two year old goat is ideal, or so I hear.
1. The next step is to de-hair and cure the skin properly. In regards preparing hides, my knowledge gets a little scarce, but here is what I know:
a) Removing Hair: (the following is paraphrased from a book on folk instruments for which I don't have the particulars) Rub lime into the outside of the skin. Work against the grain of the hair so that lime gets thoroughly under it. Fold the skin over once and then roll it into a bundle, flesh (muscle) side out. Tie it up and bury it in the ground for nine days. Take it out and then remove any hair by scraping, shaving and pulling. Then put the skin in running water for three days. Remove it and stretch it out upon a flat surface. (end of paraphrasing).
I've also heard from a few sources that an easier method is to place the skin in a barrel or bucket containing a solution of lime in water. After a few days the hair should become loose enough to pull off.
b) Scrape off any residual muscle and fat from the inside of the hide with a blade or a piece of broken glass. Here in Canada the Inuit people use an 'ulu' (a half-moon shaped knife) which is perfect for this. I think this type of knife exists in other cultures as well.
c) The stretching and drying of the skin is a very important step. This allows it to become a little more pliable and helps remove most of the oils. Place the skin on a large flat surface or stretch it within a frame and secure the edges with tacks or ties. Let it dry gradually. The skin should shrink markedly, become hard, and turn a yellow or whitish colour. By doing this you are making your own rawhide. Once the hide has dried fully, it can be removed from the frame. You'll have to soak the skin in water to soften it before you attempt to mount it on the bodhran rim (see below).
(Note: There is, an alternative to curing your own skin! You can buy pre-cured hides from some of the better folk music stores in your area. The prices that I've seen for pre-cured hides have ranged from fifteen to sixty dollars. Click Here to list some sources for pre-cured hides).
20. Soak the rawhide before you put it on the rim. The rawhide that I used required about an hour of soaking. It should get so soft that it is as limp as a rag. Sort of feels like a wet chamois.
21. Get a friend to help you lay the wet skin over the bodhran rim. Let the centre of the skin sag into the drum body about an inch to an inch-and-a-half as it will shrink by almost a fifth as it dries. Make sure that the edges of the skin hang well past the routed groove that you put around the outside of the rim.
(Note: You want the epidermis - the side that had the fur on it - to be facing outward. This is the surface that you will be hitting with the beater. If you look closely you will see that this side has pores on it, as opposed to the flesh/muscle side, which doesn't.)
22. Using wide headed, stubby tacks, or a strong staple gun, fasten the skin into the groove. As you insert the tacks or staples, alternate the location. For instance: drive in the first tack, then move to the other side of the drum and fasten the skin there (i.e. north then south, east then west, northeast then southwest, northwest then southeast and so on). Try to make sure that all while the skin sags evenly within the drum so that you won't get any wrinkles when it dries. Keep doing this until the skin has been fastened into the groove all the way around the rim. You might have to use about a hundred staples or tacks.
23. Leave the bodhran until the skin dries completely on the rim. This requires patience. It could take one day or one week to dry depending on the properties of the skin you used. During the drying process, do not do any more than occasionally tap the skin to test the tension (i.e. don't try to play the bodhran yet).
24. Once the skin is dry, it should be tight upon the rim. You will know that it is too loose if it sounds dead and flappy, and too tight if it's very high and tinny. It is just right when you get a nice mid-range *bong* out of it. Unfortunately, if a mistake has been made at this point, your options are limited. If the skin is too tight you can loosen it when playing by rubbing water into it. If it is too loose you could try removing the skin, re-soaking it and putting it on with less slack. It is a tricky business but it's worth a try. I've made my fair share of mistakes while carrying out this step.
(Note: I've found that if you put a coat of glue into the groove before mounting the skin, it helps to prevent the skin tearing away from the tacks later on. However, the glue will make it difficult to remove the skin if you ever actually want to take it off.)
25. Now, there are several things you can do to improve the look of the skin upon the bodhran:
a) You can cut away any extra skin hanging below the groove with a sharp razor or a modeling knife (don't cut too close to the staples/tacks as the skin might shrink a little more over time). Wetting down the extra skin should make it easier to cut.
b) If you've used nice looking tacks to fasten the skin on the rim, you might want to leave it just as it is. But if you've used staples or some other unattractive looking fastening device, you will probably want to cover them up. One option is to set a 3/4 inch wide band of leather or wood into the groove using furniture tacks (wood veneer edging looks nice, but some kinds can be brittle). This band will conceal the staples and the ragged ends of the skin and will make your bodhran look finished and attractive.
26. If the skin is yellow or translucent in places then it has probably retained a lot of its natural oils. This won't affect the sound of the drum and should fade in time. Rubbing shampoo into these areas will remove some of the oil.
I've heard of other ways to make the skin whiter, but I have not been completely successful with any of them yet. Some people slowly expose the skin to a low heat. This does indeed make quite a difference, but be very careful not to over-dry, scorch or cook the skin, as it will then parch, crack and probably rip. I learned this the hard way. Someone also told me that whitewash can be applied.
One final piece of information: I've heard that silicon can be applied to the skin to make it more resilient. I don't quite know how this is done but would be interested to see the results.
27. The bodhran is complete! Click here to see my completed bodhran .