CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: How to skin a conga drum, by Tony Norris

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

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How to skin a conga drum, by Tony Norris

A few people asked how to skin up a conga, so from now on, Ill send them here... so, welcome, you lover of the congas you. Welcome to a tutorial on how to skin a conga...

pic before and after the skin job....

Firstly, buy a top quality skin from me... then

Put a piece of tape on the crown where the handle, or bracket for the stand is, so you can mount it in the same place, in case your lugs are not evenly placed around the drum (ie, custom made)

Take the original skin off, and soak both the original and the new skin in a tub of water, completely submerged, overnight.

In the morning.. when you are ready to skin the drum, set out your tools, and get your workspace set up, with all the needed hardware on hand. Once the skin is out of the water, time is of the essence, as the more it dries, the harder it is to cut - leading to mistakes.

Tools needed - as many hand clamps as lugs, box cutter with new blade, vice grips or pliers, lug socket wrench, strong scissors, and a rubber mallet.

Firstly, prep the rim of the conga shell with some hard soap, or, in this case, a candle so the skin does not stick to the rim as it dries.

Take the old skin out of the water, and take out the metal hoop.

Make sure the drum, the crown, and the metal hoop are round.. measure with a tape.

If not, correct them - wood dowel inside the drum to fix a slightly out of round shell - keep it in place till the skin dries completely - Crown and metal hoop, bend them back to round, if need be.

Then, put the metal hoop inside the crown and see how it best lines up - the same overlap outside the crown, not in and outside the crown, so all parts of the metal hoop will not slip under the crown when tightened. find the best fit, mark the metal hoop with a pen where the tape is on the crown.

Then, put the soaked skin, smooth side up, on the drum, careful to center it.

Put the metal hoop on the skin, being careful to center it with even distance from the shell all around, and with the tape over the right area (over the handle or stand bracket, witchever you choose to mark the crown).

Then fold the skin over the metal hoop, being careful to keep the metal ring unmoved from its center spot on the drum.

Clamp the hand clamps over the folded skin over the metal hoop... one between each set of lugs.

Then, put the crown on, making sure the marking tape is over the handle or stand bracket.

Make sure all the skin is up and under the crown, and all the side plates line up with where the lugs catch the crown.

then, with your belly on one side of the crown, lean on the opposite side with both hands, getting the first lug in the side plate so you can get a couple of turns on the nut on the lug. You may need to do this without the washers, if you need the extra 1/8" to get the nut on.

Also, you may need to take the hand clamps off, if they are preventing you from getting the lugs on.

I like to use the clamps that are thin, for just this reason (big one pictured).

After you get the first lug on, with belly still holding the other side down, put both hands on the 'belly' side, making sure the crown stays over tucked skin as you take your belly off of the crown.

Now, pull, or push down on the crown opposite the first attached lug, and get a second, and third lug on.

The rest of the lugs should not be as difficult to get on.. so once you get all the lugs hooked up with a couple of turns of the nuts, make sure the crown is centered over the drum and the crown is in the right spot over the sideplates - correct with rubber mallet.

At this point, the we need to pull on the extra hide to make sure the metal ring seats, and locks the skin on the crown. So, pull on it with vise grips, or pliers, careful not to mark the part of the skin you are going to keep on the drum.

Squeeze the metal hoop to the crown as you pull the skin, make sure it seats, and get all the wrinkles out of the skin.

Then, tighten the lugs till the top of the crown is just under the rim of the drum - make sure the crown is level to the top of the drum, and is level in how it is tightened down... pull the extra skin down to make sure the crown is even all around the drum.

At this point, the skin should make a very deep and wet tone when lightly struck, then you know its seated and is locking the skin between the metal ring and the crown.

Depending on how you like it, the crown should be just under the top of the drum, at this point.

If you are sure it is seated, then you are ready to cut it.

Take a pair of very strong scissors and snip one fold of the extra skin, to get your razzor blade in to cut the rest of the extra skin off.

Once you cut a hole in it to get the blade in, let the blade rest on the crown, angled away from the drum so as not to cut the good part of the skin in this process.

Pull the extra skin away from the drum as you cut it with a very sharp and new razor blade being really careful not to cut the skin you want to keep on the drum. One slip can ruin a skin, and you will have to start over with a new skin if you slip, even if it is only slightly nicked, as they will split open over time. So, take your time with this final process.

So, almost done...

Dry the drum upside down, tightening the lug nuts by hand periodically. After the cut edge of the skin is dry and stiff, tighten the lug nuts a turn or two each. At this point you should hear a tone when tapping the skin, but be easy on it, it still can get marred. This method will prevent the skin from 'sagging' just inside of the rim as it dries. It will also prevent the white ring near the crown seen in this skinning. The wax you used to prep the crown comes in handy at this point, by letting the skin move over the rim as it dries.

Be careful to let the skin completely dry before tuning it up to a typical pitch. It may take a week in the winter.

Check out the lack of waste on this job!!! with a bit of trimming, i have some lashing i can use later.

fyi, this was an 18" skin put easily on a 11.25' conga.

Elapsed time: 15 minutes.

Well ,well, well.... that wasnt bad... now was it??? ;)



  1. Cool! Got a mule hide for my tumba. Have to try and follow your excellent example.

  2. Thanks Jonathan! do tell how it worked out. Tony

  3. Hey I just discovered your site man, Very cool! I wanted to share a few facts with you that as told to me by Ralph Flores. Tom and Mariano never worked together, Ralph said he sees that on the internet and it's just a rumor and a popular misconception. The other thing is that the name "Valje" isn't a combination of Valerie or Jean and Ralph's sisters name isn't "Val or Jean" and his mothers Name was Armina or Armina?... (I think). The name "Valje" was a name that Tom Made up for his dog, a black Standard poodle. He new that he ad to name his drums something and didn't want to use his own name (Flores) perhaps because it seemed vain to him so he named his drums after his dog. Just a few things I wanted to share with you. Take care. Sincerely, Chris Robarchek

  4. Also, just wanted to add, Ralph Flores just won back the right to the name "VALJE" and he's tooling up to make the first Flores made Valje's in over 20 years! He also intends to make them exactly as he and his father did in The 60's and 70's. Same height even. He will still offer Resolutions as well as Valje He's just about ready to start taking orders. That's right, no more rubber wood Valje's! Doubt anyone will miss them!! Regards, Chris Robarchek


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