Making a bodhran from a light fitting - Hacking Homebase #1

On a recent shopping trip to homebase Rob Forkner and Paul Marshall chanced bodhack_price_wee.jpgupon some light fittings in a sale that were too good to pass up...

Rob and Paul retired toPaul's workshop and set about creating a drum using skin off-cuts plus the tools and industrial fixings available.

bodhack_tuning02_wee.jpgBecause they were so cheap, we had bought two of the light fittings in the store intending to make a couple of different drums.

The Shell

The wood from which the lights were made was cheap hardwood and built using a barrel-stave method with a vertical grain.

We didn't buy anything other than the light fittings, all the other materials were as we found them  in my workshop. Given that I'm in the business of manufacturing musical instruments, we had a reasonable range of power tools at our disposal including a router and


a bench drill however we were missing an important part - a table saw. We improvised in ways that it's not safe to tell you about here but I still have all my fingers as does Rob.

We started on the dark shell and separated the top 20mm using our improvised 'table saw hack'. It didn't make the cleanest of cuts but was perfectly acceptable for an afternoon hack.

bodhack_router_edge_wee.jpgThe small ring was then given a lovely sharp 45 degree angle using my trusty router table 'hack' that Rob and I had constructed the last time he was here.


The simplest method of providing tuning was through the shell . bodhack-rob_drill_wee.jpg

However the smallest bolt fitting in my workshop of the full depth of the drum was 8mm in diameter.

Having to use such unsubtle industrial technology meant that we ended up boring significant holes in the shell into which we then countersunk a 10mm socket and screwed in threaded inserts.

In doing all of this we knew that  we had significantly weakened the shell but doing the hack was more important to us than the likely lifespan of the drum so we charged on ahead - all appeared well.bodhack_shatter_01_wee.jpg


We installed the stainless coach bolt tuning system, it worked smoothly, the metal receivers in the bearing edge were aligned acceptably so Rob started mount the head.


He was almost finished the first round of tacks when the shell simply just disintegrated in his hands and fell to the floor! It had broken along the lines of the bolt holes.

It was a great bodhran comedy moment.

Undeterred and chalking that up to experience, we started on the 'blond' light fitting, the second of the two 'shells'.

We had learned a lot about the structural strength of the wood from our first attempt and the second was significantly improved simply by downscaling the hardware. We still ended up with a hairline crack although not at the tuning points - just an unfortunate weakness in the wooden lampshade.



Not having an alternative bolt for a full length through-the-shell-system, we scratched our heads a little and devised a cunning plan to extend some 5mm dia 1" long thumbscrews that I had.

My thanks go to a [now] defunct clothes drying rack.

The tuning ring from the first drum had survived the shell disintegration and so we simply re-used it on top of the  new shell as a tuning ring / bearing edge.



In the image to the right, Rob is drilling the holes to insert the threaded nut - I have plans to eventually place the thumbscrews within the shell ... that may or may not happen!

The skin

I have a small collection of lambeg & other skins that I have collected over the years - I also don't throw away large scraps. Rob advised me to put a couple of the skins away for 'special drums'.

I do have to say that it was fun to watch a skin alchemist at work. Rob pored over the ingredient labels of various everyday home & garden  'compounds' and selected what he wanted to use. If you knew what half the things that we put in/on our bodies and use in our gardens and workshops are made from, you'd probably not use them. That's an education for me.  We used nothing more than everyday stuff and the skin reacted very well.

bodhack_groovecut2_wee.jpgNot having Rob's regular tensioning device we had to devise a better way of holding the skin in position whilst it was tacked.

Taking inspiration from my article on reheading a bendir article, we routed a shallow groove in the shell using a regular handsaw mounted to a fixed block as illustrated.

This allowed us to improvise a tourniquet that would hold the skin in place. It also provided a tidy skin cutting point

To fit the skin this time we created an anvil-kind of affair with some 2" aluminium tube and tacked the skin on successfully. Rob treated the skin and we left it overnight to dry.


The next day to my delight we had a lovely wee drum that looks well and sounds great. There is some more work needed to refine the skin for playing but the tones are all there and it will certainly improve with playing. The drum does still have that wee hairline crack but it's about to be fixed.


I see the potential for drums and musical instruments in just about anything and re-purposing any object into an instrument is a joy. It is part of my job. I'm going to see if I can find a few more hacks to try. It's not about fine quality craftsmanship, although that is appreciated, it's more about creating something from nothing, problem solving and the satisfaction of just making something cool..bodhack_box_wee.jpg

If you have hacked something to make a bodhran, why not share your story with us.

Even better, do a Bodhacker Build Blog, like this one! Bodojo is happy to give you a permanent webpage.

Anyway I hope this has been interesting, it was a fun exercise for us and the results were remarkably pleasing. We entered homebase with the aim of buying glue and modesty blocks. We forgot the modesty blocks :)

If you wish to comment in this article or ask any questions, here is a link to the discussion thread on the Bodojo members forum - hacking a light fitting to make a bodhran

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