How To Mount A Skin Head (click image to enlarge)

I'm assuming you have the rim, tone ring, tension hoop, and hooks all ready to go. The brackets must be in place. If not, do so now.  Once started, the process needs to be finished.  Any banjo that previously had a skin head will have a flesh hoop.  Often they are made of heavy steel wire, sometimes 1/8" square brass rod. The steel ones will rust, so it is a good idea to give them a couple of coats of lacquer after cleaning.

fleash hoop

Here, we are mounting a skin head on a modern banjo, so we will need to made a flesh hoop.  I made this one out of 1/8" square brass stock on the ring roller.  The inside diameter should be about 1/16" larger than the outside diameter of the rim. Leave the ends free but remove any burrs or sharp edges.

out of box

Here is a head right out of the box - looks like a big potato chip.  This particular one is "natural" - unbleached with no whiteners or anything added.  At this point, the skin is hard and stiff.  You'll want the skin to be at least 4" wider than the rim.  For an 11" rim, I like a 16" diameter skin.


Soak the skin in warm water until it is soft and pliable, 5 to 10 minutes.  Lay it on a towel and roll it up to remove excess water.  It should be moist but not dripping.

drape on rim

Drape the skin over the rim being sure to get it centered.  Some skins have a smooth side, which goes up.  This one is the same on both sides except for a couple of hair follicles.  Face the hairy side down. 

add flesh hoop

Slide the flesh hoop over the skin.  Move it down the rim about the width of the tension hoop plus about 3/8".  This distance is not critical at this point.

start tuck

Sit the tension hoop on the skin.  Now lift one edge of the skin and bring it around and over the flesh hoop and inside the tension hoop.

finish tuck

Continue this process all round the rim.  It may fall out a few times but don't panic.  We have plenty of time while the head is still adequately moist.

press hoop down

Now, push the hoop down over the rim. Often it will be a tight fit. Sometimes, it is simply too tight to push down.  Just let it sit for a few minutes to let the skin dry (and shrink) a little.  The top edge of the tension hoop should be roughly 1/8 to 3/16" above the rim.  Put on a few hooks to hold things together - four is sufficient.  Push the tension hoop down far enough to just start the nuts.

hoop height 1 hoop height 2

Now, adjust the height of the tension hoop by holding it down with one hand and pulling up on the free edge of the skin with the other.  Take your time here and recheck your work frequently.  At this point, the tension hoop must be level with the rim.  I like to have it about 1/8" above the rim.  Tighten the nuts just enough to hold the tension hoop in place (finger tight is sufficient).

check flesh hoop

Check all around to make sure the skin is snugged up to the flesh hoop.  If not, pull up on the free edge of the skin until it is.  A pair of pliers may come in handy here, especially if the tension hoop is a tight fit.

pull flap

Fold the free edge of the skin down over the tension hoop.  Look all around the assembly for any wrinkles which may occur between the rim and tension hoop.  Pull them out by grasping the skin on either side of the wrinkle and pull outward and upward.

let dry Check the tension hoop height again.  The skin should be wrinkle-free and slightly taught, enough that it doesn't sag.  Add more hooks.  Four more is sufficient, just finger tight.  Take a deep breath; you've done it!  Now, just let it dry.  Drying time varies with local conditions and head thickness.  Over night is usually fine.  While the exposed part of the head may look and feel dry, the portion between the rim and tension hoop will take longer.
trim Next day, it is time to trim the free edge. I use a fresh safety razor blade.  You can also use a fresh X-Acto blade or even manicure scissors.  Trim the free edge down to at least the top of the rim.  I like to trim a little further down by angling the cutting implement down into the space between the rim and tension hoop. BE CAREFUL!!!!  Take you time.  If you nick the head badly, it will eventually tear out and you have blown the whole job.
trim done Here is a shot of the finished trimming.  I have not yet found a good use for the trimmings.  You might save a small piece for patches.
finished except hoops All finished except for rest of hooks.  Put them on and tighten the head to the tension you like.
ready to go Here it is, ready to go!  Woo-Hoo!! That wasn't so hard, was it? By the way, this pot is from a Deering Goodtime.
squirrel SOURCES:  These unbleached heads come from Mid-East Manufacturing and are very economical at $14.  The usual suppliers like Stewart-MacDonald, Elderly Instruments, and others also carry calf and sometimes goat skin heads.  Goat is generally a little cheaper.  Try both calf and goat and see which you like better.
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