Gourd Banjo III

Stretching the Skin Head

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The time has come to stretch the skin head over the gourd. This a somewhat nerve wracking event because I only get one shot at it. If I mess it up, then I have a real mess to get out of.

I got out everything that I needed to stretch the skin because once I start, I have to get it done without stopping.


One of the most important things to have on hand is some rubber bands to hold down the edge of the skin while the glue dries. For a normal sized gourd I just grab some rubber bands from the pile, but this gourd is so huge that I didn't have any that were big enough. So I hooked three or four of them together and tied the ends together with some jute.


I have a sponge in some water in case the head dries out while I am working with it. A paintbrush to put on the glue, and of course the tacks.


Here is the head. When it is dry it is stiff as a board. This is a nice one, medium thickness (0.015") and nicely translucent. The head is rawhide, which means that it has not been tanned at all.


I soaked the head in the kitchen sink for about 10 minutes.


The flatware is there to keep the skin under the water. Soaking the head makes it pliable for stretching. When it dries out it shrinks and gets stiff again. While the skin was soaking I put the glue on the edge of the gourd to hold the skin on it. It is really the glue that holds it on, not the tacks. I use regular Elmer's® Carpenter's glue.


I spread the glue on the edge of the gourd with a stiff paint brush.


Here is the gourd with a 1" stripe of glue around the top edge.


By the time I have finished with the glue the head is ready to go. It is limp and pliable now.


I put the head on top of the gourd being careful to keep it centered since I don't have any extra to play with. I tacked it in four places, stretching it finger tight. Here is a photo of the gourd with four tacks in it.


I don't have any more photos of the process, but I have a transcript.

!@#$% TACK! ^%#$@

$#@% THUMB *(^%$!!!!

               %^$)!!! GO IN! ()(*$

Believe it or not it took me about a half hour to get those four tacks in. It did not go well. Despite my efforts to center the skin on the gourd, I ended up with the dang thing way off center. On one side I barely had enough left to tack it down.


And on the other side, I had way too much.


It is bad enough when that happens because I was not paying attention, but this happened while I was trying like crazy to avoid it!

When I started, I centered the skin on the gourd, pulled about one inch of skin down and tried to tack it. No matter what I did, I could not find the starter hole. I tried a dozen times to get the tack started and could not. At one point I took the skin off and re-applied the glue because the glue was drying.

Then I tried again, but the skin kept falling into the gourd so I lost my sense of whether or not it was centered. By the time I got four tacks into it, which took many tries because I had trouble finding those starter holes as well, the skin was totally off center.

I took out a tack to try and center the skin better, and that is when I realized that I could not do that. If I pulled the skin back over to center it, the hole where the tack had been originally set would move over the hole in the gourd. It is not acceptable to have a hole in the head. So I put it back and continued with the skin like it was.

By the time I got all the tacks in I had the mess in the photos above.

I think I need a better procedure for doing this. I thought that next time I might put the skin down on the table and invert the gourd on top of it. That way the skin would at least stay in place. I also think that the skin stretched more than I had anticipated, and starting with only one inch of skin on the first tack cause an excess of skin on the other side... because it stretched. But those ideas are for next time. This time I am stuck with what I did. Here is a photo of the gourd with the skin on it.


To test my work I pushed down on the skin with my fingers.


It seemed a bit loose. I could not get a good grip on the edge of the skin on the side that was short. So I might not have stretched it tightly enough. But it was still too wet to tell. You have to let the skin dry out before you can tell for sure.

Whatever it is, that is what I got unless I soak this one off of the gourd and try a different skin.

Here is a very brief mp3 file that you can listen to in order to hear what the head sounds like. Keep in mind that it is still wet and it will stretch tighter as it dries out. skin-sound.mp3

Before stretching the skin I spent a half hour putting another coat of finish on the neck and small parts. That was drying while I fought with the skin. I spent about an hour stretching the skin. So I am logging 1 1/2 hours today.

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Original post date August 5, 2009

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Last updated August 10, 2009