Re-skinning Your Djembe Drum

The life of a djembe skin is usually between one and three years, though they usually tear because of accidental damage

Re-skinning a djembe is not a job to be undertaken lightly, but if you like a challenge and have a weekend to spare, follow these steps - good luck!

drum with text The djembe consists of:

The shell: traditionally carved out of mango wood (heavy!) but these days available in lighter woods as well.

The head (skin): usually goatskin - goatskins vary in thickness and hardness and this affects the tone of the drum

The rings : At the top, two or three steel rings that grip the skin by friction and at the neck, a smaller steel ring that the lower end of the zigzag string is attached to.

The cord: The best cord is pre-stretched climbing or sailing cord but drums from Africa may have cord of nylon (stretchy!) or natural materials.

1/ Buy your goatskin.  You can get dried African skins from many places and these tend to be thinner than English skins and give you a higher, tinnier, treble note.  I often use skins from local goat keepers (here in England), they tend to be thicker and more robust and give a mellower note.  If you get your skin fresh I recommend you stretch it on a frame, paint the back with lime wash (slaked lime and water) and dry it before you use it (it will keep for a long time  this way).

Reskinning 1 2/ Check the state  of your cord and buy more if you need it (four millimeter pre-stretched climbing cord is best)

3/ Remove the tuning string.

4/Undo the zigzag string half way round the drum.

5/ Lift over the old skin and rings, remove the old skin and check the state of the steel rings.

6/ Soak you new skin (it needs to soak for five or six hours - I soak mine overnight.

7/ Wring out your new skin and lay your it over the drum hair upwards.

8/ Push the larger of your rings (the one that doesn't have the cords attached to it over the skin and the top centimeter of the drum ring.

      reskinning 2 9/ Bring back the second ring over the top or the drum and pull the loose ends of goat skin through it (see the picture).

10/ Thread the zigzag cord back through the loops as it was before you dismantled the drum.

11/ Tighten the cord, keeping the top rings level with the drum rim until they sit at least one centimeter below the drum rim.

12/ Tie the ends of the cord in a slip knot, (make a note of how this was done when you take the drum to pieces)

13/ Using a razor blade (while the skin is still wet) scrape the hair carefully off the drum head.  This is obviously a dangerous part 


14/ Put the drum somewhere warm to dry (don't cook it!).  When it is really dry (this may take several days), go round and pull the zigzag strings as tight as you can - this may take an hour or two little by little going round and round the drum.  Tie the slip knot again.

15/ Tune your drum using the technique shown on the Tuning Your Djembe page of this website.  Buying a 'jamcleat' from a sailing shop may save your hands from damage when pulling the cord.  If your drum skin has 'stubble' rub it lightly with fine sandpaper to smooth it.

Play that drum!!
have fun,          



Interactive drumming tutorial

Tuning your djembe drum    Re-skinning your djembe drum

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