Homemade Musical Instruments: How to Make a Drum

Learn how to make a drum called a "Bonker Box" with this tutorial regarding homemade musical instruments.

| July/August 1979

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    Sample bonker box specs. 
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    Marc Bristol and other Washington State grassroots musicians wail away on a gutbucket, washboard, and jug.

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Even homesteaders need to relax and enjoy themselves from time to time, right? And almost everybody these days wants to cut his or her cost of living. So how about a little do-it-yourself entertainment with homemade musical instruments?

MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader Irene Scyriver wrote me — not long ago — to ask for information about building a "mystery drum" . . . which she described as "an oblong wooden box — with a grooved surface that's played with padded sticks."

As luck would have it, soon after I received Irene's letter I happened to hear Mark Filler playing such an instrument (he called it a "tongue drum") on a local "live" radio show. So I contacted Mark and got the whole scoop on these unusual percussion musicmakers.

It seems that the wooden instruments go by any one of a number of names. So to eliminate any confusion (and because we'll be talking about building our own "drums" and ought to be able to call 'em what we like), I've chosen the name "bonker box". Here's how to make one for yourself.

How to Make a Drum

To begin, gather a supply of 3/4-inch planks. The lumber that will be used for the top of the box — which is the sounding surface — should be a hardwood . . . such as oak or Honduras mahogany (oak planks can often be scrounged from pallet boards or even junked furniture). You shouldn't have much trouble locating this material at a reasonable price. After all, small sections of lumber are pretty easy to come by (and most "bonkers" are around a foot long, while the biggest I've ever seen was only 27 inches in length). Hold your chosen board by a corner and rap it with a knuckle. If it rings, you've got yourself a good one!

The planks used on the instrument's sides and bottom are not as critical as is the "top" material. Just remember that harder wood will generally produce a brighter tone.

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