After sound, probably the next most important thing in the selection of a djembe is a comfortable and uniform bearing edge. You’re going to be playing your drum for hours on end, and a smooth playing surface is a must. What to look for:
- Very round bearing edge
- No dips or divots in the edge
- Any Cracks beginning at the edge should be filled
- Look for any signs of wear on the skin from a sharp edge
Putting an edge on your drum: If you are building a drum from scratch, or if you are re-heading your djembe, this is the perfect opportunity to look at the edge. You can use a simple wood rasp to file the wood, creating a smooth surface, while evening out any imperfections or dips.
We get our drums from Africa with no edge at all, then use a router with a 1/2” round-over bit to make the perfect edge. Then we fill any cracks, and seal the top grain with wax, or polyurethane. Using wax, such as rubbing a votive candle into the top edge will also fill any tiny holes or divots as it seals the edge, giving you an absolutely smooth and comfortable playing experience.
The reason you want to seal the top before putting your skin on, is that a wet skin will drip water into the top grain of a djembe and that can cause cracking. This can happen as the edge expands with water, and then dries out and contracts again. Ever see a djembe with a ton of cracks originating from the top or end-grain? It usually is from two things: one is the natural cracking as the log dries out and loses moisture during its initial carving in Africa. The other reason is putting a wet skin on an unsealed bearing edge.
Buzzing: Sometimes a djembe will have a buzz that is the result of the skin vibrating over an un-even surface on the top edge of the drum. Sometimes the buzz will disappear as the drum is tuned, but if it doesn’t go away, you may need to remove the top head, and re-work the bearing edge.
Our massive Maître Djembe, with new bearing edge