How to Make a Taiko “Kan” (On the Cheap)

taiko drum
--Photo by vicki moore

If you have a finished and painted taiko base it's tempting to go straight to adding the drum heads. But there’s one important step you have to do before that- adding the “kan”. Kan is the Japanese name for the handles on nagado-drums. These need to be bolted in place from the inside of the drum, so this step has to be done before the skins are added.

These handles are used to carry the drums, but they also serve a decorative purpose so it’s good idea to think of a design. You can buy these in a taiko store, but if you want to be adventurous give a shot at making one.

The kan consists of two parts: a metal base and a ring. The ring is the actual handle that you hold, and the base has a loop or hook on it for the ring to be attached to. If you have metal-working experience, molding your own kan is the best way to go. But for the most of us who don’t, there’s an easy and cheap alternative.

Here's what you need:

-two bolts with a loop or hook on them
-a nut and two washers for each bolt
-a piece of sheet-metal
-a piece of plywood
-two metal rings

All these you can find at a DIY or hardware store. You may even be able to find a looped bolt with a ring already pre-attached to it (something like the one in the picture below). The picture is a bad example though! The ring needs to be big enough for your hand, and the bolt needs to be much, much longer! The threaded part of the bolt should be long enough to go through the wall of the taiko, and still have about 5-10cm left over.

If you do find a bolt with a ring already attached to it, you can skip the first two steps. So making a cheap kan, here it is:

1. Cut open the loop on the bolt. You can do this using a grinder with a metal-cutting disc. Make sure you wear face and body protection when you do this, as lots of sparks will fly.

2. Place the ring in the loop, and bend the loop back to re-close the gap. You can place the loop on the ground and use your body weight to bend it. Or you can use a hammer.

3. The sheet-metal will be used to make the base. Kan bases are often shaped of chrysanthemum flowers or polygonal shapes, but it’s entirely up to you how you want to make it look. The kan are a distinguishing part of a taiko drum so it’s a good place to exert your creativity.

You’ll need two kan, so after you’ve decided on a shape, draw them on the sheet-metal using a pencil, and cut them out. Use metal-cutting scissors to do this.

4. The metal cut outs are probably a little flimsy-looking, so you may want to give them some bulk. To do this you can simply draw and cut out the same shapes from a piece of plywood, and put the plywood and metal shapes together. The thickness of the plywood should give your kan a little more bulk. If you make your metal shape slightly bigger than their plywood counterparts, you can wrap the metal over the edges to hide the plywood edges from view.

5. Drill a hole through the center of the kan shapes that you cut out. The hole should be the same width as the bolt. Using the same-sized drill bit, also make two holes in the taiko base where you want your kan to be positioned. Generally the kan are on opposite sides of each other, but you can place them closer together if that makes it easier to carry the taiko.

6. You should now have holes going through your taiko as well as your kan bases. You can now go ahead and bolt the kan bases into the taiko. Make sure there's a washer between the loop on the bolt and the kan base. There should also be another washer on the inside between the wall of the drum and the nut.

Bolt the kan in place as hard as you possibly can because once the taiko is skinned you won’t have a chance to tighten it again. It’s best to have two people for this. From the inside of the drum, one person can hold the nut in place with a wrench while the second person tightens the bolt from the outside with a bar.

7. Once you can’t get the bolt in any tighter, you want to crush the bolt threads that are nearest to the nut. You can do this with the end of a screwdriver. This is done in order to prevent the nut from coming loose on the inside. If you smash the threads on a screw, a nut can’t get past them.

8. Next, secure the metal and plywood shapes into place by screwing them into the taiko at several different points. If you screw them in hard enough, there should be no visible space between the surface of the drum and the underside of the kan. Because you’re screwing the metal and plywood pieces together in this step, it’s not really necessary to stick them together with glue or nails in a previous step.

9. You’re done! The kan should not be securely in place. Try lifting up the drum with the kan- handling the taiko base is going to be much easier from here on out.

Note 1: Kan are often black or silver in color, and may even have some gold on them. If you’re not happy with the color of your sheet-metal kan, then you can color it with metal paint. Make sure the paint is completely dry before you bolt them in.

Note 2: You can leave out the steps involving plywood if you're ok with a thin kan. The picture at the very top shows a thin kan and it doesn't look bad at all.

Note 3: These are the bare bones instructions. You can obviously add other pieces of metal and color to make it look more decorative.

Here are some other taiko related resources you might find helpful:

Taiko Information:
Taiko Playing Styles
Why are Taiko Drums So Expensive?
How to Play Taiko Drums
5 Ways to Get Better at Taiko
Finding and Learning Taiko Music
Getting in Taiko Playing Shape
Taiko Drums vs Other Percussion

Taiko Building:
Where to Get Taiko Drums
How to Make a Happi Coat
How to Make a Taiko Drum
How to Make Handles on a Taiko Drum
How to Make Shime and Oke Taiko Heads
How to Make Taiko Skin (Drum Heads from Cow Hide
How to Make Practice Taiko Drums
How to Paint a Taiko Drum
How to Make Practice Shime Drums
How to Make Taiko Sticks (Bachi)
How to Make Tire Taiko
How to Raise Money

TaikoSkin Podcast
The TaikoSkin podcast covers a whole range of topics related to taiko- building drums, starting groups, getting performances offers, going to grad school. Just about anything really. Download them in the iTunes store, or find all of the episodes here.

Stanley Hardware 1-1/2 Steel Ring Bulk 64-0023
Stanley Hardware 1-1/2 Steel Ring Bulk 64-0023

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