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Instructions for how to Shave the Head of an
African Djembe Drum with Goat Skin 

Obviously, if you are using a hair off skin, you don't need most of this, but look it over anyway. You still may want to wrap the head over the rings. If you want the top ring to show, you cut it off short where it emerges from the top ring. If cutting the skin off flush with the rings, I let the head dry tied with the draw string and then just slightly loosen the draw string knot when I tune it. I wait until it is pretty well tuned before cutting off the excess hide. In doing so, either use a fine sharp scissors, or put a small piece of stiff plastic behind the skin and use a razor knife. either way, BE CAREFUL, a slip here wrecks the whole job! 


Preparing to Shave Head

Let's get Started! Untie the draw string rope and remove it from the hide. The Head should be pretty level and the top ring about 1/2 " below the playing surface.

Lay out some newspapers and secure a bag of Bic or Lady Bic single blade disposable razors. Take a needle nose pliers and bend down the blade guard with a twisting motion where it attaches at each blade edge until it breaks loose. Then you can break the few little center spike of plastic across the middle that hold the guard in place. Remove the guard and it's supports completely 


Take corner off Blade

Take a fine file and file the blade edges at a 45 degree angle so the corner won't dig in the hide. Just a few strokes is enough.


Wet top Surface

More than likely, the skin has kind of dried out a little. I pour some water on the hair, taking care it stay on the top and not roll down to the top ring crack on the edges. add water as a lubricant


Begin at Neck

I begin at the neck side, and work with the hair to the tail side. OPTION: leave a little hair tail as decoration. Hold the razor vary low, so the handle about touches. The blade is then almost perpendicular, and cuts the best. The blade is always pulled with the hair, never press in without moving. I start with short light strokes till i get down to the skin. sometimes it will just roll right off. Never start slicing by moving right to left !!!


Shave with Hair Direction

Extra special care must be taken where the edge meets the skin. The skin is pretty forgiving when free, but with wood under it, it cuts readily. Just slowly work along the edge, using light pressure. Add water as necessary. it usually works best to remove all the hair as you go rather than just getting "most" of it. I save the spine till last as the skin is courser and dulls the blade quicker.


Cloth Wrap Start

Do each side first, taking care at the edges. I usually can do it with one razor, maybe two for a tough Guinea or dirty goat skin. I used a whole handful of generic razors here, use Bic's !


Finish the Spine

Lastly clean up the middle. This doesn't have to be perfect, you can dry shave any remaining stubble or take it off with sand paper.


Trim to Round

Next trim any excess hide off. Here I just barely have enough so I just cut off enough to remove the draw string slits. Best to leave 3-4 inches or more to wrap over rings. For a SUPER job you use a fine scissors and make sure you cut the skin and not any hair that hangs down so it makes a fuzzy natural looking edge. I usually just cut it!


Wrap Skin over Rings

* I will add a much better way of doing this later, but this does work.  

Tie off one end of an Ace type athletic bandage to a vertical rope and then angle up and begin wrapping the edge. Pull the hide down taught over the rings as you go. Avoid big wrinkles and folds. Sometimes an extra hand is nice!


Finish Wrap

Work your way around and then just wrap the excess bandage. Here I have one of those nifty metal grabbers on one end, else just drop back down and tie off to a vertical rope. wrap continues


Ready to Dry

To finish, I tie the upper and lower cradle rope ends together. Later these form the skeleton of a carrying handle. The drum is set aside to dry before tuning. I like to leave a hair on drum for three days in the best drying location I can find, or two days for a hair off skin. DO NOT RUSH THE DRYING TIME!   BE PATIENT!


Dry Shaving

Once the drum is completely dry, I like to clean up the head at this point. The skin is dry and pretty taught. You can do it all with sandpaper from this point. I find it faster, and frankly satisfying to do a bit of "dry shaving" to remove any hair fuzz that is left. Use a very sharp knife with a nice curved blade, and keep a honing stone handy to keep it sharp! Note the outline of the exact edge is fairly visible, even through the fuzz.



I like to hold the knife tip and blade in each hand for stability. As with the razor, the blade is always scraped along perpendicular and is moving before it hits the hide, not pressed and then moved. For fine control I hold the top line of the blade fairly still and kind of sweep the blade in a scraping arc toward me. The blade then comes off the skin as the arc comes toward me. I can practically pick off a few hair in this way. Often I turn the knife parallel to the edge and use that sweeping motion (like the arrow), so the blade lifts just as it reaches the edge. Hold the knife on the tip.


Remove any Fuzz

Once any fuzz is removed, some broad sideways scrapes can clear any remaining stubble quickly. When properly done, this method of wet shaving and then dry cleanup will produce a goat skin perfectly clean in about ten minutes total time. It also leaves the fine top skin layer with the color. You can use chemical hair removal, but I believe it affects the sound quality, if not the skin life.


Light Sanding

A little light sanding with 120 -200 grit finishes the job. Always take care at the edges, then broad passes in the middle. Don't sand away the beautiful color! Some blemishes, scars, or weak spots may have been revealed after shaving. Now is the time to do any head repair.


Finished Head

Here is the finished djembe head. Take a minute and admire the fine job you did! It was a little scary but the best part of the job.

Now Move on to the "Tuning" Page!


Hawkdancing Studio
42  1-1/2 St
Clear Lake, WI 54005


Phone: 715-263-2756