Preparing and Bending the Rim
(use protective eye-wear at all times!)
1. You're going to need a steam box. We made ours. Click here for information on how to build a steam box.
2. Obtain a piece of wood for the bodhran rim. We used a plank about seven feet long, 4-5 inches wide and 3/8ths to one-half an inch thick. Green ash is supposedly the type of wood most commonly used for bodhran rims, but all we could get was kiln-dried oak and it worked fine. Elm and hickory are other woods that reportedly bend well. Try to cut, split, or buy a piece of wood with the grain running straight along the length of the board. (Note: look at the end of the plank to see the arc of the annular growth rings. The outside of the bodhran rim should be the side that the rings curve away from. If the rings form a 'U' shape, the bottom of the 'U' should be the outside of the drum. This will help prevent splitting when the wood is bent.)
3. You want to make sure that when you bend the plank into a circle, you'll get a drum rim of the desired diameter. Eighteen inches is the most common diameter that I've seen for bodhrans. So:
if (diameter X pi = circumference) then (18 inches X 3.14 = 56 inches)
...and because we'll be using a scarf joint to attach the two ends of the rim, add another 6 inches (six inch overlap). So overall, the plank should be 62 inches long.
4. Taper both ends of the plank so that when the wood is bent into a circle, a scarf joint will be formed. This type of join is strong and fairly inconspicuous. (See Diagram - Scarf Joint.) This may be difficult for some people to do and get a perfect match. A slightly easier method is to just taper one end of the board. The extra length of the overlapping, blunt, outside end can always be cut and sanded away afterwards once the bodhran rim is bent and glued. It won't look as nice a well-made scarf joint, but it'll be as strong.
5. With a plane, creat a blunt bevel on edge of the board that is going to be the top inner side of the bodhran rim. This is to reduce the tendency of the skin buzzing against the rim when the bodran is played. See the diagram 'Taper & Inner Ring' at the bottom of this page for an illustration of how this looks on the completed bodhran. If you don't feel comfortable with this step, you can always use a rasp and files to create a bevel in the rim after it is bent. The latter method takes longer but is perhaps easier for those not familiar with the use of planes and precisely aligning scarf joints. (Note: if you are just going to do a blunt overlap instead of a nice scarf joint, create the bevel after the rim is bent).
6. Use a router to put a groove in the outer side of the plank, about one inch down from where the drum skin will be. Make the groove about 3/4ths of an inch wide and 1/16th of and inch deep. Once the rim is complete, the edges of the skin will be fastened into this groove with tacks and covered over with an inset band of leather or wood. (Revision 4.0 Note: after re-considering this step, I no longer feel it is absolutely necessary, although it can be a nice touch.)
7. Build a circular wooden form around which the plank will be bent. It should be about 5-6 inches thick and of the same diameter as you wish your drum to be. If you plan on using clamps to hold the wood in place after bending, then cut some holes into it to facilitate the use of clamps. Click here to find out how to build a rim form. A second method of holding the wood is to use pegs and wedges.
8. Put the plank in the steam-box and fire up your steam source. Once you're sure that steam is flowing nicely into the steam-box, shut the door tightly. It should get as hot as a sauna in there. Lower the end of the steam-box that has the drainage hole so that condensation can run out. You're now working with scalding water, very hot wood and steam, so wear protective gloves and clothing.
9. Put the plank in the steam box for two hours. (I've read that wood should be steamed for six hours, but I think that's a bit of an overkill. Two seems to be enough in this case).
10. Put on your leather gloves. Remove the plank from the steam-box. Quickly lock one end of the plank into your circular form, and immediately bend it around the mould. You must do this while the wood is still hot. You will probably have to use a good deal of force, especially near the ends. As you bend the wood, a second person can add clamps or wedges to hold the plank in shape around the form. Try to make the two tapered ends of the plank overlap, if you are making a scarf joint.
11. Leave the plank clamped around the form to cool and dry over-night.
12. The next day, loosen the clamps or wedges a little bit at the place where the two ends of the plank overlap, so that they separate a little bit. Put a coating of carpenter's glue or wood epoxy in there and re-tighten the clamps so that the ends meet once again. Wipe away any glue that oozes out between the sandwiched ends.
13. Leave the glue to dry overnight.
14. Once the glue has dried, remove the clamps and take the rim off of the form. You should now have a rough hoop of wood. Don't worry if it's not a perfect circle. A slightly odd shape shouldn't affect the sound of the drum significantly. (Note: the glue should be sufficient to hold the joint together, but you may want to strengthen the join even further with wooden plugs. I bored a few half-inch holes the into rim where the two ends overlapped and tightly tapped in some wooden pegs coated with glue, then filed away any excess.)
15. You now have the basic bodhran rim, although it might not look very pretty. You still need to saw, plane and sand away any extra pieces of wood so that the join looks just like its part of the rest of the hoop.
16. At this point, you may want to add a cross-beam to the rim so that you can hold the drum while playing it. To do this, fasten a single 3/4 inch wooden dowel or two perpendicular dowels inside the rim with screws or nails. I've heard that some people use crossed wires instead of dowels, or leave the cross-beam out entirely. (Note: If you choose to add a wooden cross-beam, then you will also have the opportunity to correct a mis-shapen rim (i.e. an oval or egg-shaped rim). To do this, submerge the section of the rim which is most mis-shapen in water overnight (do not submerge the scarf joint if you have used a water soluble glue). The submerged area will become just flexible enough so that it can be temporarily forced into a more correct shape by hand or with clamps. Once the rim is being held in a more circular shape, wedge the cross-beam or cross-beams into place, and release the rim. The cross-beam should hold the rim in the corrected shape. Permanently fasten the cross-beams in place with nails or screws driven through the rim and into the ends of the dowels from the outside.)
17. If your bodhran rim is made from thin material, you may wish to steam and then bend another thin and narrow strip of wood (about 1-1/4 inches x 1/4 inch). Add this thin wooden ring to the inside top of the drum body with glue and short finishing nails. This will ensure that when you mount the skin, any tacks you nail into the outside of the rim will not poke through. You can either plane a bevel into this narrow piece before bending, or use a rasp to bevel the piece after it is mounted in the rim. (See Diagram - Taper and Inner Ring).
18. Sand and finish the rim however you like (rub in oil, stain, lacquer or paint it, etc.).
19. The rim is done, but your bodhran is only half complete. You need a skin .
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