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This season’s color obsession is purple and turquoise. I pick it to sew with. I wear it. I’d decorate with it if I was into redecorating my house. Last season it was other colors. Next season it will be still other colors.

This season's favorite colors

This season’s favorite colors

I do the same obsessing with gourds. I’ve gone through obsessions with Art Nouveau designs, Native American designs, Celtic designs, horses and wolves. My latest obsession is unlike the others. It isn’t any kind of design. The obsession centers around the thunder drum. A thunder drum is a gourd with the bottom cut off so a drum head and spring can be attached. When the spring is wiggled, it vibrates the drum head, which in turn creates sound waves inside the gourd. The gourd amplifies the waves and releases it through other holes in the gourd and sounds like thunder. Think cello or bass. It is so amazing.
Each drum reverberates differently. There are many variables that make up the drum’s tone. such as: the size of the gourd, the size of the drum head or opening, the shape of the gourd, the placement, shape, and size of the holes in the drum, and the smoothness of the inside of the gourd. I was so intrigued with the differences in the sounds, I asked Becca Chavarria, a friend, a music student, and cellist at a local university to analyze them. Even she couldn’t predict why each sounded the way is does. The best theory so far has to do with the size of the drum head, but there is more to it than that.

Becca checking out the different tones of the Thunder Drems

Becca checking out the different tones of the Thunder Drems

So how do you make one of these fascinating gourd creations? You can order detailed and professional instruction along with the drum heads and springs from Ron Swank at http://www.risingsunflowerflutes.com/. Or you can do what I did, order the supplies, study a drum that was already made, and then go figure it out as you go.
Here are a few pointers that I have learned by inspecting completed thunder drums and asking questions.
– Pick a sturdy, thick walled gourd. It will be banged around a bit when it is finished.
-The bottom of the drum has to be cut and sanded absolutely smooth and flat. My saw and Dremel didn’t work so I got a sticky backed sanding pad that I attached to a solid surface. I rub the cut part of the gourd over it in a circular motion to get it absolutely smooth and flat.

It is essential to have an absolutely flat and smooth bottom.  I use sticky backed sanding pads.

It is essential to have an absolutely flat and smooth bottom. I use sticky backed sanding pads.

-The inside of the gourd needs to be fairly smooth so the sound doesn’t become muffled.
-There has to be a hole or holes somewhere on the gourd other than the bottom to let the sound out. Holes that are too large decreases the depth of the sound. Plan your hole or holes when you do your design. I use a tiny keyhole saw that uses an Exacto blade handle or a mini jig saw to cut the hole. You can even use a cutter bit or drill bit with your Dremel to gouge out the shape. An emery board, the kind you use for your finger nails, words great to smooth the edges.

I love the red handled saw.  The machine there is actually a jig saw.

I love the red handled saw. The machine there is actually a jig saw.

I design the sounding holes right into my designs

I design the sounding holes right into my designs

-A hanger cord needs to be attached before the drumhead is put on. The cord need to be pretty hardy, like leather or parachute cord since it will be hard to replace after the drumhead is on.
-Dark paint on the inside looks nice and will hide blemishes if you look into the holes. I spray paint it before I cut the extra holes to help prevent overspray onto the outside of the gourd.

I spray paint the inside black.  Note the different thickness of the bottoms after they are sanded flat.

I spray paint the inside black. Note the different thickness of the bottoms after they are sanded flat.

-I trace and cut the drumhead before I attach it. Other’s might find it easier to cut it afterwards. The drum head is best attached with an industrial strength super glue. I use CA Thick that can be found in woodworking shops.

The drumheads each have a unique shape and size.  I draw a line on each to align my tracing.

The drumheads each have a unique shape and size. I draw a line on each to align my tracing.

-Watch the video by Ron Swank on how to heat shrink the drumhead and attach the spring. The link to the video can be found on his website shown above. Mine doesn’t always work like his, so sometimes I just keep at it until I have the look and feel I want. I do have to say I have ruined a couple trying to get it right. Once you have this last step done, you can finally hear what the drum will sound like.
-You will notice I gave no advice on how to design the gourd, the methods of putting on your design, or finishing the gourd. It is those things that make the thunder drum uniquely yours.
One of the nice things about this new to continue using the skills I developed with my old obsessions. I also get to continue adding new ones, like my newly emerging skill of chip carving. I wonder if that will become my next obsession?

Could this become my next new obsession?

Could this become my next new obsession?

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