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Old 07-05-2009, 01:13 PM
sazemanek1 sazemanek1 is offline
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Default Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads


I need to clean & repair calfskin heads. Really old ones.

Do you know how to clean them?

The resonate heads have splits. Is there a way to repair them?

Looks like Ludwig coated the resonate heads from 1940. Is that true or an optical illusion? If they did, do you know what they coated them with?

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Old 09-01-2009, 06:31 PM
JRichard JRichard is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

Cleaning, wipe them down with a damp rag or sponge. Do NOT use any chemicals (soap, class cleaner).

Depending on how big the tears or splits are they can be patched. New calfheads would be better.

I doubt there was a coating on the head, coating the head would destroy the resonance. Why do you feel it has a coating?
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Old 09-07-2009, 12:19 AM
jeremybranson jeremybranson is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

sazemanek1 ,

Cleaning your old calf heads isn't a big deal as long as you're careful.

Use mildly warm water and a washcloth and you should be fine. Be careful not to get the rim and the tuck wet, as you could potentially untuck the head, and re-tucking can be time consuming if you're not used to it.

If the snare side head or bottom head is very thin take extra care and don't be too rough when using the washcloth. Once the skin is wet it can be easily damaged depending on the thickness and the part of the cow from which it was taken.

All in all it's not a huge deal. In my opinion, you could use a mild dishwashing detergent if you wanted to. I know some people will throw things at me in this thread, but you're just dealing with leather - that's all it is. Sometimes it's old, thin leather, but it's not brain surgery.

If all else fails get a new calf head from Rebeats or Stern tanning. I would recommend a steel flesh hoop instead of a wooden one. Wood will warp over the years no matter how well you take care of it.
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Old 02-16-2015, 08:29 AM
jimorlando jimorlando is offline
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Location: Centreville, VA
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

Depending on how big the tears or splits are they can be patched.
I have calf skin heads for my Pioneer bass drum that are cracked pretty bad especially near the wooden hoops. I would like to repair rather than replace since they are so old and one hear has my high school name on it.

Any guidance would be appreciated.


Last edited by jimorlando; 02-16-2015 at 08:31 AM. Reason: adding photos
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Old 02-16-2015, 08:31 AM
jimorlando jimorlando is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

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Old 02-16-2015, 09:07 AM
FFR428 FFR428 is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

These topics pop up from time to time. Last one a member (forget who sorry) said the old calf head rips could be stitched. I inquired if this was a butt end stitch or was overlapped slightly but never got a answer. I would almost be temped to know if a small calfskin patch with a dab if hide glue would work? You could patch the inside and maybe a dab of tinted paint to help hide the repair from the outside? BTW here in CT Matt at CT Pro Percussion is the calfskin guy. His work and products are top notch!!

Not a guru just havin fun with some old dusty drums.
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Old 02-16-2015, 11:08 AM
CT Pro Percussion CT Pro Percussion is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

I have seen heads stitched for field repairs on old drums (mostly museum pieces now)but if you are going to be playing the drums on a regular basis I would suggest a new head.

Coatings on heads. The only coatings on heads that I have seen is on the tacked bottom heads from some companies. Those heads were, in most cases, pigskin and had a white paint on them that I believe was oil based. I am not aware of any coatings on tucked and mounted heads.

Cleaning and maintenance. For cleaning of old heads if you must do it I would actually recommend using cold water instead of warm. Warm water will break down the skin fibers faster and easier than cold. For care of skin heads I would recommend using either Shae Butter or a NATURAL leather conditioner. Occasionally take a little bit on your finger tips and gently rub a little bit into the head. Do this once or twice a year and it will help the head retain the natural oils which give it the warmth and bounce that skin heads are prized for. Once the natural oils in the head have dried up the heads become nothing more than brittle paper and don't have the warmth any longer.

Bottom line, if you are going to be playing these drums on a regular basis then invest in a new set of heads. Calfskin heads aren't indestructible and were never meant to stay on drums for 60+ years, they were meant to be replaced just like modern heads.

If you need heads you can contact me or a small number of others that make them but you should all know that Rebeats no longer does calfskin heads and hasn't done so since October of 2013.
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Old 02-16-2015, 04:19 PM
barryabko barryabko is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

Pure Lanolin oil is often recommended for conga and bongo heads. Would it work well on trap drum heads? If so, what is the best way to apply it?

I just purchased a vintage steambent tambourine with a very thin goat head. Should that head also get some type of treatment?

I also have a calf skin snare head from, I believe, the early to mid 1940s Sonor drum. Should it be treated before I try to play it? I plan on using it with more modern snare drums.

Thanks in advance for any replies.

Last edited by barryabko; 02-16-2015 at 04:23 PM.
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Old 02-16-2015, 07:15 PM
BUCKIE_B BUCKIE_B is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

When I was first introduced to calfskin heads, a prominent drummer asked me "Do you oil your skins? He told me many players from years gone by would regularly oil their heads in attempting to keep them supple and resist moisture. Neatsfoot oil was recommended, being derived from cow parts. I used it for several years. While disliking the "yellowing" appearance it left on head surfaces, it seemed to work well, but over time my skins became thin, brittle, and split.
Then I met players who told me "Oil your skins?"..."Worst thing you can do!"..."Heat is released as oil dries and prematurely ages skin heads!"
I no longer use any oils on my calfskins. This being the case, I can't really attest to their head longevity being extended with or without the use of oil. To my way of thinking, "Whether or not to oil your skin heads" poses an issue worthy of debate within the drumming community.
Any thoughts regarding the fact that oils do release heat?
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Old 02-17-2015, 12:02 PM
calfskin calfskin is offline
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Default Re: Cleaning & Repairing calfskin heads

Calfskin heads do dry out over time, become brittle and can tear. As CT Pro has said, they don't last forever. However, being rawhide, they are quite tough and will last a long time with care. They , like anything else were also made well or poorly. Many of the older heads on American drums were made by Chicago Rawhide and branded for the individual companies. There were different quality heads , based on the degree of imperfections and the evenness of the thickness, so just because a head is calfskin, it isn't necessarily good calfskin.
Here are the standards I have gone by, over the 50 or so years, I have made and used them.
Soften and clean them with with cold water only. They do have a small amount of natural fat in them and any solvent, even soap will dissolve and remove some of those fats. If an old head is brittle, it can be restored to a more supple condition with the addition of some fat. Neatsfoot oil,which tends to oxidize leather, is derived from the legs of cattle, which due to their potential of exposure to extreme cold are blessed with a lighter, oilier fat than the body does. The fat associated with the skin, is more lardy, so the best fat to replenish the head is beef tallow. Lard is easier to find and a suitable substitute. Both, are easy to render at home , from purchased beef fat or pig fat and will keep in a jar for sometime, with refrigeration, extending the shelf life . Light oils will reduce the strength of the head, if overused.
I have stitched heads but it is tricky. Usually the head tears, due to shrinkage and the two edges are too far apart, to draw them close without the stitches pulling through their holes. An option is to stitch the tear, without pulling too much and therefore reducing the threat of further tearing, then gluing a calf patch over the tear. Cyanoacrylate( crazy glue), has worked well, probably due to it's surgical apllications and affinity for skin, despite it's supposed low shear strength. A thinned hide glue also works but causes a bit of browning. I'm sure there are other cements that I haven't tried that would work too.
A special mention has to be made about slunk or more properly, slink heads. These are the very thin skins from a fetal or premature calf ( a slink) and are the calfskin choice for the snareside. Often , on old drums a standard head has been used because of the expense and rarity of slink skins. I don't think they can effectively be repaired, if heavily damaged but have had some success, stitching small tears,as above with very fine super strong thread( linen or koratron or gel spun polyethylene) and then cementing a patch of very thin plastic, such as some polycarbonate shrink wrap. This is commonly used for many packaging applications and is regularly tossed or recycled.
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