If you have purchased our Roughed Ashiko Kit, Thank you! If not… you should… These ashiko drums are hand crafted one at a time. I hope you enjoy the process of building your ashiko and please contact me at any point if you get stuck or have questions. I’ve done a TON of these, so I might have a bit more insight than I write about here. I’m always happy to help!
Don’t be concerned that the ashiko you received seems dull and lifeless, they all do until they’re sanded down and finished. That’s the most rewarding part of the building process, watching the lump of coal shape into a diamond as you sand to finer and finer grits and finally oil it!
If you are just curious about the process, it’s a fun one. It’s not easy, but it’s not too hard. A small amount of wood working tools will get you on your way, and any experience (though not necessary) in wood working will make this a breeze.
Since I want to dedicate this article to finishing the Rough Ashiko shell, the instructions for actually heading our ashikos are here… how to head an ashiko drum.
Before you get started lets make sure you’ve got a few tools.
- Coarse wood rasp or heavy grit sand paper (rounding the bearing edge)
- Coarse, Medium, and Fine Sand paper (smoothing down the shell)
- Fine tooth hand saw and chisel (optional for bottom groove)
- V-chisel, gouges, wood burning tools, etc. (optional for customizing)
- Random Orbit Sander, Belt Sander (optional for speeding up sanding process)
- Finish (Boiled Linseed Oil, Danish Oil, Shellac, Polyurethane, Lacquer, etc.)
The steps for finishing the ashiko shell are as follows:
- Rough Sand the shell to even it out (80 grit)
- Shape/Round-over the bearing edge
- Cut a bottom groove (optional)
- Sand the shell down to your preference–we usually go down to 320 for the walnut wood
- Decorate the shell with carvings or burnings if desired
- Finish the shell with a finish of your choice–we usually opt for a few coats of Danish Oil
One final note before you get started… I assume that you are competent enough to use sharp tools and/or power tools. I cannot be held reliable for any accident, nor will I take responsibility for your loved ones complaining that you spend too much time working on the drum, or drumming…. Just use common sense when working with tools. Use a dust mask when sanding and wear eye protection. A Kevlar vest over top of a chain-metal suit and a motorcycle helmet will keep you even safer but can be cumbersome.
Rough Sanding your new Ashiko
When the drum comes to you it will have been rough sanded and leveled top and bottom. We use a belt sander with 80 grit paper to ‘smooth’ up the shell. If you’d like to do a bit more shaping or rounding of the shell, you can pick up where we left off with the belt sander. However, I recommend at least sanding with 80 grit on a random orbit sander for this initial step. It will clean up the deeper cuts left by our belt sander and get you on your way. Just take your time here and remember to let the sander do the work. If you are using old fashioned elbow grease.. I hope you have a lot of it. If you are lazy on this step it will make your other steps take that much longer.. so make sure you’re ashiko is uniform, and as smooth as the 80 grit paper will let it be before moving on.
Shaping the Bearing Edge
A rule of thumb… You want the profile of the ashikos bearing edge to look similar to the profile of your thumb, with your nail being the inside of the shell and the round over being the outside. I usually use a coarse (bastard) rasp for the initial shape, then follow it up with a medium rasp and finally sand it down. You can also use a belt sander or random orbit sander.
The biggest concern is that the round-over is fairly even and smooth. You want the top edge to stay level and not have any dips. You also want to make sure that you don’t bring the edge to a point. It should be comfortable to play on, so you want a bit of flat area on top.
Be careful not to go into a negative angle on the top of the bearing edge as this can cause a buzz from the skin vibrating over it. For a more in-depth look at the bearing edge, check out my article How to Tune a Djembe.
You’ll also need to finish the inside of the bearing edge. If you notice in the photo to the left, it’s still a (20-a-gon)… we want it to be a smooth circle as it is in the photo to the right. I use a rasp for this that is half round on one side. Just check your work and go slow until you get the hang of it. A bastard rasp will take off a lot of material! The final bearing edge should look similar to mine below.
Tilt the drum and play it as you would with the skin on.. don’t hit too hard, you can hurt your hands. Just get a feel for the edge and see if you need to do any more work. Once you are happy with it, lets go to the next step.
Cutting the Bottom Groove
I always cut a bottom groove in my ashikos. It helps the bottom ring sit even, and keeps it from riding up the shell overtime. This can cause the drum to come out of tune more often and will leave rope marks on the shell. Not many other builders put this bottom ring on their ashikos because it takes some extra effort… however, if you’re up for it, it’ll make your ashiko that much better.
I start by placing the shell on it’s top and dropping the bottom ring on it. Push the ring down so it goes as far as you can push it without marking up your shell. Next I go about an inch above (towards the top of the drum) and make a mark. This is where your ring will sit. I use a lazy-susan and put the shell on it while holding a pencil steady and rotating the drum. This will give a nice level line to use when you cut.
Now draw another line around the shell, about 3.5 inches from the first, but closer to the bottom. This will be your guide for starting your chisel, and you can go a little further or a little closer depending on how defined you want the shape to be.
Use a fine toothed hand saw and cut into the ashiko shell along the line closest to the top of the drum. Do very light passes all the way around the shell until you are about 1/4″ deep. PLEASE don’t go too deep and cut through the drum. The ashiko shells are usually between 5/8″ and 3/4″ thick, so you can probably go 3/8″ deep without too much worry. It might be tempting to have two small drums, but it will sound better if you keep it one piece :).
Once you get the groove sawed out all around the drum, flip the drum again on it’s head and find a comfortable chair. I use a 1″ bench chisel, the sharper the better. The chisels from big box stores will work ok, but they aren’t the sharpest, nor do they keep an edge very long. Start lightly tapping the chisel from the pencil groove towards the now-sawed groove. Make sure not to go too deep, you only want to go as deep as you sawed. Go all the way around the drum keeping the chisel as uniform as possible. I usually go around again, and only by hand to get rid of any gouges that went too deep or high spots, just to clean it up some so I don’t have to sand so much.
It’s possible you’ll have to make some fine adjustments to make sure the bottom ring will slide on and sit on the ledge. The ring should not slip over the ledge and it should not get stuck before the ledge. You want a small gap in there because you are going to wrap and tie loops knots on that ring in the heading process. You can chisel out more if the ring is too tight, or re-saw a line closer to the head if the ring comes over the ledge.
Sanding the Ashiko
Now it’s time to sand down the ashiko and bring out that beautiful grain. You want to sand with the grain (up and down the ashiko). If you have a power sanded it will really help out here. I use a random orbit sander for this part. Starting at 80 grit, or 120 if you used 80 in the first step, to really smooth out the shell, and ending in 320 grit. I usually go – 80, 120, 220, 320. If you are doing this by hand, you might want to get some inbetweeners to make the process a little easier and cleaner. Be sure not to round-over the bottom groove or your ring may slip up. You also want to make sure you let the sander do the work, if you try and speed it up by pressing too hard, you can cut the wood too deep and leave small scratches. If you’re chisel marks for the bottom groove are pretty deep, you’ll want to clean that up with the chisel first. I try and get the shell as smooth as possible with the chisel before I hit it with the sand paper. If your ashiko is Walnut, please be sure to wear a proper respirator. Walnut dust is oily and can be an irritant if inhaled. I personally have a reaction to Cedar and Yellow Pine.. but I always where a respirator when producing fine dust… it’s just a good habit, as is wearing hearing protection for the loud processes.
Decorating Your Ashiko
This is completely up to you. Be creative! You can do some wood burnings, paintings, carvings, etc. The choice is yours. I often take a simplistic approach and leave it bare, espeically if the grain is really popping, or I’ll add some simple carvings to the foot.
I’d love to see what you come up with so please send me a picture of your completed drum. I’ll post it in my customers gallery, and give you a 10% off coupon for your next order! I’m also happy to link to any blog or personal site where you might have shared your experience in building one of these kits.
Applying the Finish
This last step is a fairly important one for the longevity of your ashiko and also for it’s final characteristics. If you mess up you can always sand it back down, but that’s a nasty job! My favorite method is to seal the walnut wood with some linseed oil. Since walnut is an open pored wood, it helps give you a better finish to seal the grain first, but not required. I do this by using 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to rub in the BLO (boiled linseed oil). Rub lightly in a circular motion. This will mix the fine sawdust with the BLO and force it into the pores. Let it sit for 20 minutes or so and wipe off the excess oil going only with the grain, and using a soft, lint free rag. BLO will take about 3-4 days to dry before you can put on a top coat, you can do this same step with Danish Oil, and it will dry within 2 days. Topcoat can be another coat of Danish Oil rubbed in and then wiped off, or you can go for almost any finish. Shellac is a nice finish on walnut but not the most durable if you plan on beating up your drum. I often leave just the Danish Oil, as it looks most natural. You can finish however you like!
Make sure you give your ashiko a good few days for the final coat to dry before you start the heading process. I will often sand the bearing edge lightly with some 400 grit sandpaper just to smooth it up and remove any built up residue before I head the ashiko. Now your ready to head your ashiko.