It is good to use goat’s skin or pelt for membrane. If the craftsman is not squeamish or lazy, he is quite able to prepare the skin for the drum by himself. To do this, you must find fresh goatskin. I think you can try to find ones where there are herds of goats grazing.

Then follow the recommendations: 

  1. Pickling. Fresh goatskin needs to be pickled preferably right after it was taken off. Spread it on a flat surface. Evenly sprinkle with salt (approximately – 1 kg (2 lb) per one pelt). Rub it so that the entire surface was covered with a thin layer of salt.

    You can leave it the way it is. Just cover it with a cling film to prevent it from drying, or envelope it with fur side out and pack it into 2-3 firm plastic bags. In such conditions the skin can be preserved up to a year. And if frozen in the freezer, even as long as necessary. Pickling is done to prevent putrefaction and preserve the pelt.

    Therefore, it is better to do it immediately, if the craftsman wants to make a drum with a fur membrane.

    The processing can be started in three days after salting.

    Important: Prevent wet skin from contacting with iron. Rust corrodes skin like concentrated acid.

  2. Wash. Rinse off the salt with (preferably warm) water, and then wash using neutral detergents, for example, cheap dishwashing detergent. Do not use powders and strong detergents to avoid damage to the fur and the skin.
  3. Spin. After wash, rinse until the water runs clear, let it hang so that the water drains out and then wring out, wrapped in cloth like old bed sheets. The less water remains in the skin, the faster it dries.
  4. Stretching. Spread the skin, laying fur down on a thick sheet of plywood (12—20 mm (0.50”—0.80”)) and uniformly stretch and nail it. Use average size nails. I, myself, use a size of 3×70 mm (0.11”—2.7”) and nail depth 3-5 mm (0.10”—0.20”).

    The principle is: first, space the nails 15-20 cm (0.60”-0.80”) apart. Then, drive the next between already hammered nails, stretching the skin. And so on, until they are 1-2 cm (0.40”-0.80”) apart.

  5. Fleshing. The skin needs to be scraped (fleshed). This requires a steel scraper, with rounded edges, a slightly sharpened, from one side, or a rounded knife. I myself use a plane knife of semi-circular shape. You need to carefully scrape the entire surface of the skin until there is nothing superfluous left, only clean skin.
  6. Drying. Install the skin drying rack vertically in a well-ventilated place. If there is no ventilation in the room, put a fan directed past the skin to create air movement. If you dry outdoors, dry only in the shade. Drying in the sun, or near heating appliances can tear the skin. The drying time: 1-3 days. It can tear if you try to dry it faster but if you leave it for too long the skin can start to rot. When the skin is dry cut it along the nails with a paper knife.
  7. Marking. Put the dried skin on the table with fur down and put the rim of the drum on top. Find the optimal location for the rim and draw around with a pencil. Now you can remove the rim and continue the marking out. Add to the circle the width of the rim, and make one more circle. Add 5-6 cm (2”) more and draw the third one. This will be the edge of the workpiece. You can take scissors and cut the workpiece out. (Cut carefully, the residues will be used for making the cord.)

    Then, receding from the edge 15mm (0.60”), draw three more circles spacing them 10 mm (0.40”) apart. Holes are punched on these lines. With the help of a compass, make markings on the midline, spacing them 3—5 cm (1”—2”) apart. Then, make marks on the two remaining lines, between the marks on the midline. Try to keep the intervals equal.

  8. Fur cleaning. Lay the skin out flat with fur side up and scrape the fur receding 6-8 cm (2,4”-3”) from the edge. This is the edge of the membrane, which will be pulled together. Fur is not needed there.

    If the craftsman wants to make a smooth membrane, without fur, it’s high time to scrape the entire membrane. Care should be taken to avoid foreign objects or debris from getting under the fur when scraping. Otherwise, it is easy to tear a hole in the skin. And of course, it is necessary to scrape on a flat and smooth surface. Scrape, using the same scraper as before, but honed to razor sharpness.

Read next: Artisan method of mounting the skin on the shamanic drum from Dima Ravitch.