reheading a bendir

Replacing the head on a framedrum

Cooperman 'Randy Crafton' Bendir

Headless BendirIn 2003 I purchased a beautiful bendir from my good friend and fellow FDG contributor Bill Smith. It was one of my favourite drums to play. Toward the end of the year, one of the sky-scraping stacks of drums in my studio was toppled and the skin became ripped by something with a sharp edge falling into it. I was a little upset.

Skin thicknessIn early 2004 I gained a contact who would be able to supply me with an occasional Lambeg skin. These skins are superb for framedrums because they are scraped exceptionally thin, this also makes them ideal for bodhrans because of their flexibility and pitch-bending capability under low tensions, but I digress. You can see the macro image (right) of the skin showing its thinness, the ruler measurement is in milimetres. I reckon this is 0.2mm.

The job in hand was to re-head the bendir using the Lambeg skin. I have tried to take photos at each critical step to help illustrate. If anything is unclear, please e-mail me and I'll try to fill in the blanks.

What you need.


  • Cleaned drum shell with all traces of the old head and any adhesive removed
  • Goatskin
  • Pencil / Sharpie
  • Scissors
  • Bucket of Water
  • Strong string or long hose clip
  • Water-based woodworkers glue & small paintbrush (or finger :)
First thing is to lay the drum skin flat on the ground with the playing side face down, Mark around the skin with your sharpie leaving 2" or so all around. This provides a skirt that can be pulled upon to place the initial tension on the drum. Cut around this line

Marking the skin.....Cut out Skin

Take the skin and soak it in a bucket of cold water, you may have to fold it, that's fine. With a skin this thin it only needs 20 minutes or so to become soft and pliable. If it gets mushy or starts to become 'fat' then it's overdone. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of the smell of goat then you have a new experience coming your way. If it stinks then chances are it's from a billy. Nannys make the best drums I believe.


When the skin is ready, take it out and let the excess moisture drain back into the bucket. Place the skin on an old towel (I keep one just for skins) roll it up and wring it. This really sucks the excess moisture out of it and from this point in you're on a clock as the skin will start to dry and harden.

For my own skins, I then take the skin, roll it into a cylinder and stretch it as hard as I can pull, I do this in all directions. This will help to break up the fibres in the skin and will stop it from de-tuning so much when the skin is fresh. You may be surprised at how much stretch is in the skin. You will not break it unless you use some mechanical stretching device. You may or may not choose to do this, it works for me.

goatskinNext step is to apply a layer of the glue to the shell where you wish the skin to be attached, I have found that it takes more glue than I would have thought prudent but make sure that it's not too thick and oozy. With this drum there was a handy fixing groove routed in the shell and this gave a natural boundary for the adhesive. You may wish to use some masking or other lo-tack tape to give a neat line.

goatskinI couldn't find a paintbrush to use so I used my finger to apply the glue, I'd not do this normally, but I was missing this in my preparations, I was on a skin-drying clock and couldn't quickly source one.

After application of the glue, I laid the damp skin flat on the towel again with the playing side face down.

goatskinPlace the drum shell on top of the skin and lift the edge of the skin so that you can press it against the glue (see right). It should be tacky and the skin should stick at least part of the way around. The dampness of the skin re-activates any glue that will have dried slightly. You can now turn the drum over (image left)

goatskinWith this drum, the fixing groove, as designed, really assists with the attachment of the skin and I only needed to use a piece of string with a sliding knot to hold the skin in place. With the string tied, you can start to pull the skin through the groove. You must ensure that the skin remains centred and that you pull all wrinkles out of the skin.

goatskinWith the skin in place and evened out, I attached a pen as a tourniquet and proceeded to put in a half a dozen twists to place the drum under tension. Because this is a framedrum intended to be played by fingers I pulled the skin relatively taut. The drum skin will taughten naturally as it dries and you need to have an idea of how tight to pull it when wet to achieve a desired finished sound. I'm afraid this can only be achieved through you being here or by doing it yourself.

goatskinWorking my way around the drum, pulling on opposite sides simultaneously, I gradually stepped up the pressure on the skin until I felt it had reached the point where I wished for it to be.

When that is done, put it somewhere that it can dry naturally, the moisture needs to evaporate as the skin seeks to equalise with the moisture content of the air. Don't place it in front of a heat source such as a radiator or fire as this can damage the skin. Somewhere with good ventilation is preferred and keep it away from a pet dog who will enjoy chewing the odorous new plaything.

Now comes a big tip.



Every drum that I have skinned where I have tried to advance the progress by continuing working on it before it has completed the drying stage has suffered some sort of negative effect because of it. I am reminded of a chinese proverb about a farmer who went out into his fields and uprooted all his crop to see if it was growing. By all means tap the head and check the pitch, check for touch dryness but do not play it at full tilt and do not attempt to trim the edge of the skin until the 'skirt' becomes rock hard. If the drum is tunable do not try and bring it to playing pitch. The bit of skin below the string that you can't see will remain damp for longer than the rest of the skin plus the shell will maintain some of the moisture inside after the skin is touch dry. It is still vulnerable to being moved, ripped or otherwise affected. I'd advise waiting 24 hrs before carrying out the next step.

The Next Day...

Using a sharp hobby knife trim the excess skirt of skin off the drum. As with any sharp tool, let common sense prevail. Think twice before you cut once. A framedrum can survive a slice normally because of lowish tension but it may deteriorate when playing or may simply be unsightly. In any case, you didn't go to all this trouble just to undo all your hard work.

In the case of this drum, that cutting is made straightforward because there is a routed groove and the string provides a natural smooth edge against which to run the knife. I should get a neat job.

In the case of a drum which doesn't have any natural cutting edge, I'm afraid that you'll need a steady hand. I have had mixed success with placing something under the skirt of skin and in being able to slice through the small collar of skin 'ramped' between the lower and higher levels. For pure aesthetics, I'd avoid cutting directly into the drumshell if possible unless you are confident that you'll leave a straight enough line for you to use again.

When the skin is trimmed, that's it, the drum is ready. It will decrease in pitch slightly initially as the skin relaxes into its new position but will soon settle.

Like all natural headed drums, the skin will seek to equalise with the moisture content of the ambient atmosphere, so the pitch will change with humidity levels. It becomes less sensitive as it ages, but we're talking years. To see how to tune to counter the relative humidity levels, visit the non-tunable section of the bodhran dojo.

Paul Marshall -

Paul is the owner of Drumdojo and the Dojo Sites, He is responsible for writing and collating a lot of of the material that you see here on drumdojo.

Playing drumset since age 5, Paul has been a drummer on and off for most of his life. He plays every drum he can get his hands on. Paul works as an instrument designer, has designed many instruments for the Stomp orchestra and more recently in Holywood Movies. Paul is a prolific web designer and currently has a portfolio of around 40 business and hobby sites.

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