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How to Re-Head a Doumbek

I've seen the question asked many time, both online and off, of how does one go about putting a head on a doumbek. Sometimes it's a new drum with a new head, other times it's an old drum with a broken head. The latter was my case. I was going to have the head professionally done, but the cost was higher than I wanted and my source was somewhat erratic at the time. I had put heads on doumbeks in the past, though I no longer owned the proper stretching frame. Digging around in some old boxes I found a spare head just waiting to be applied. The die was cast. I'd build a new stretching frame, document the process, and post it all on the web so others could do the same.

These instructions are based loosely on the ones given by Mary Ellen Donald in her book "Doumbec Delight". I have that book, read it, and made up my own frame and method. You can purchase the book from

Mary Ellen Books
P.O. Box 7589
San Francisco CA

That's the address in the book. I don't know if it's still good or not. My copy was printed back in 1981, and I can't find a reference online to any other address or contact info.


Quantity Material 1999 Price (Chicagoland USA)
2 2' x 2' x 3/4" Plywood $8.00 fo 2' x 4' piece
6 3/8-16 Threaded Rod x 3' long $2.80 each in 6' sections
12 3/8-16 Hex Nuts $.07 each
6 3/8-16 Wing Nuts $.39 each
18 3/8 washers $.05 each
Some notes on materials. I bought a 2' x 4' piece of plywood and cut it in half myself. You can also buy pre-cut 2' x 2' pieces, or buy a whole 4' x 8' sheet and cut it yourself. The full sheet will be cheaper by far than buying the 2' x 2' pieces on a price/sq. ft. basis. I bought a 2' x 4' piece because it was there and easier to transport. Same with the threaded rod. You could buy 3' lengths, but the price was about twice as much. If you want to be real cheap, you could use 5/16 threaded rods and the corresponding nuts and washers. You could also skip the wing nuts and just use 18 standard nuts and a wrench. If you want to be *real* cheap, only use 4 pieces of threaded rod, use 1/4" rod, all standard hex nuts, and 1/2" plywood. But don't complain to me when your rig is a pain to work with or doesn't work right or wears out too fast. The rig I build will work well and last a long time.


What you may need, and that I used in building my rig:
Circular Saw to cut the plywood to size
Power Drill w/3/8 bit to drill the holes
Hacksaw to cut the threaded rod
Tape Measure to measure the rod
Yardstick and pen to mark the cuts and holes
File to take the edges off the rough-cut threaded rod
9/16 wrench

Getting Started

  1. My first step was to cut the plywood in half, so that I had 2 pieces measuring 2' x 2'. I measured this with the tape measure, drew a line, and cut it with the circular saw. If you buy 2' x 2' pre-cut wood, you don't need to worry about this step.
  2. Next, I cut the threaded rod (hereafter called Tie Rods) in half. As before, I could have bought pre-cut rod and skipped this step, but it was cheaper to buy 6' long pieces and cut them in half. And I already had the hacksaw. After cutting them, file the rough cut edges smooth or you'll end up with some good gashes on your fingers. Also, run a nut from the uncut end all the way down to your cut end to clean up the threads.
  3. Set aside the nuts, washers, wing nuts and tie rods.
  4. Take one piece of plywood, and using the yardstick and pencil draw lines from corner to corner diagonally. They should cross very close to the exact center of the board.
  5. Measure out from intersection of the two lines 7 1/2 inches in each of the 4 directions. See sketch.
  6. Measure from one mark straight across to the next. It should be very close to 10 1/2 inches. Make marks 3 1/2 inches over from each mark. See sketch.
  7. Draw lines connecting the marks made at 3 1/2 inches. See sketch.
  8. Measure out from center 7 1/2 inches along each of these new lines. Make a mark at 7 1/2 inches.
  9. Starting at any line, draw a small circle around the two marks on the line that are 7 1/2 inches from center.
  10. Move to the line next to the one you just marked, in either direction. Do not make any marks. Move one more line. Mark it like you did in number 9 above. See sketch.
  11. Repeat number 10, skipping a line and marking the next.
  12. You should now have 6 circled marks, alternating around 12 "spokes". The 6 marks should approximately equally spaced around the board.
  13. Stack the two pieces of plywood so their edges mostly line up. This whole device is not rocket science and no life depends on the outcome, so most measures are fairly approximate. When you have the pieces lined up and sitting on an appropriate surface that will not be damaged by being drilled into (I set mine on a 30 gallon garbage can), drill six 3/8" holes so that they make the same pattern in BOTH pieces of wood.
  14. Brush away the sawdust.
  15. Set one piece of plywood aside. Take the other and mount the tie-rods in it as shown in the photo. The exact length where you choose to tighten the nuts down will be decided by the height of the drums you will be putting heads on. You want the ends of the tie rods to be about 1 to 1 1/2 inches above the top of the drum when it sits in the rig. If the tie-rods are longer it will still work, but you'll be spinning the nuts more by hand than you need to if the tie-rods are too long.
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