There are two basic approaches you can take with the base of a taiko drum. One is the barrel-style base in which narrow pieces of wood are attached together. The other is to hollow out a solid section of a tree trunk. We’ll look at the second type here.
Types of Wood
Choosing a type of wood is the first step. Harder woods are preferred, and you need to find a trunk of the appropriate size. The bigger your desired taiko is, the bigger the tree you’ll need. Some species of wood simply don’t have a large enough trunk diameter to be suitable for taiko building. Traditionally, Japanese “keyaki” wood is considered the best option for its sound and ideal hardness. The only issue with keyaki, however, is that it’s a little pricey and isn’t readily available outside of Japan. If it’s not available to you, you could try camphor, elm, chestnut, or even oak trees. Each has slightly different qualities, but as long as you’re not a professional drum-maker, you should be fine with most trees that are available to you if they're big enough. All you really need to avoid is particularly soft woods.
The problem with softer species of wood is that it can result in drum heads coming loose after a while. A loose head has poor sound. Softer woods also have a tendency of soaking up the sound of the drum so they can’t generally be recommended if you’re looking for quality. The only redeeming quality of soft woods such as pine and cherry blossom is that they are relatively inexpensive. But unless you’re making a cheap drum just for practice purposes, I'd try to avoid them.
Before You Go Shopping
Have an idea of the size of the drum you want. Drum sizes are generally measured by the diameter of the head, and that of a mid-sized nagado-drum is about 45-80cm. Keep in mind though that taiko are barrel-like in shape, so the widest part of the drum will be more than the head measurement. The widest part is roughly 1.15-1.25 times the size of the head. The height of the drum is also about 1.25 times the size of the head. These are just guidelines, however, as taiko sizes can vary. The best thing to do is to draw an image to scale of the drum you want.
Keep in mind though that making a drum exactly to your calculated measurements is not easy. The size of your drum will often be limited to the size of the trees that are available to you. Even if you want a six-foot odaiko, you may only be able to find a trunk half that size. It’s best to know the proportions that you want, but be flexible about the exact measurements.
Where to Get Your Tree
Tree trunks aren’t always easy to come by, and you can’t go around chopping down trees in your neighborhood. A lumberyard is probably your best choice here. Some lumberyards don’t carry whole trunks, but if you call them up they should be able to recommend you a place that does. Once you’ve found a supplier, check the prices and types of trees they have and do a little research on how hard the species are. After you’ve decided on a suitable tree for your budget, go to the actual lumberyard and get them to show you the tree. You want something bigger than your desired measurements as a lot of it will be shaved off. For example, if the widest part of your desired drum is 60cm, find a tree of at least 70cm in diameter. If the desired height is 70cm, then get a cut of about 75-80cm.
Once you’ve found the right piece of wood, inspect it. Any rot is a bad sign. Get them to show you the all sides of the piece of tree you’re interested in. Touch it and make sure there isn’t extensive rotting. Loose chunks of bark/wood, soft/wet spots, and worms are all a sign of rotting. The second thing to be careful of is knots and curves. Unless you want a curved taiko, you don’t want a curved trunk. Knots (where branches used to be) and holes are also something to avoid. Knots or other deformities are usually extremely hard and can be difficult to work with when you’re shaping the base.
Now, it’s going to be tough finding a perfectly straight length of an un-rot piece of wood. Especially if the trees have been left exposed to the weather, there is inevitably going to be some rotting. Fortunately, small knots and minor rots can be worked around. You’re going to be shaving off excess wood from the outside of the trunks, so if the knots and rots aren’t too deep, they won’t be a problem. If you see some rot, take off pieces of the rot to see how deep it seems to go. If it’s only an inch or so deep, it should be fine.
Chop it Up and Take it Home
Once you’re sure about the trunk, and have specified the length measurements, have them cut it up for you. Tree trunks aren’t light, so make sure you have a sturdy truck available to carry them back. They’re rough too, so bring some tarps or blankets to prevent damage to your vehicle. You’re going to need a couple of hands to help out as well, so call your friends.
Once you’re home, cover them up and keep them in a place that isn’t too dry. Eventually you do want your trunk to be dry, but because they’re freshly cut and full of moisture, suddenly bringing them into a very dry place can cause cracking. You don’t want them to get wet either, as this can cause rotting. As long as they’re covered up and aren’t touching bare ground, outdoors should be fine. Whenever I’ve made drums in the summer, cracking hasn’t been a problem for me. But I do know that there is a specific drying process that woodworkers use. If anyone knows about an ideal drying process, I’d love to know!
Getting tree trunks is always something of an event, and although it might be a little bit of work, it’s sure to be an exciting first step to your taiko building. Good luck!
How to Make a Taiko Base (1. Choosing a Tree)
How to Make a Taiko Base (2. Equipment and Workspace)
How to Make a Taiko Base (3. Cuts and Measurements)
How to Make a Taiko Base (4. Chainsaw and Hollow)