Cedar is a sacred wood to Native Americans. Legends tell that Thunderbirds only built their nests in the protected branches of cedar. Cedar represents the blood of the people.
We choose to construct our drum hulls from river-recovered cedar logs. Some trees fell in the time of our ancestors, perhaps centuries ago. The age of these logs does not just add to the mystery of the drum, this wood is denser and produces a deeper resonance. We travel throughout the southeast to a network of sawmills to find recovered cedar. In some cases, our cedar does not come from the river, we simply reclaim cedar trees that were knocked down in storms or fell on their own. People have donated old cedar boards from barns to Keith to make drums. But we never cut a new cedar tree to build our drums.
We choose to build our hulls from cedar. It is more work. We have to gather the logs ourselves or travel to various sawmills to buy the cedar boards. Then we plane the boards to knock off the rough edges and create a uniform thickness to the wood. Next we season the boards, allowing them to dry to the perfect humidity: dry enough not to make gaps when assembled into the hull, but not so dry that the wood cracks.
Once planed and seasoned, the boards must be sawn into the correct dimensions for powwow drum staves or hand drums. This means six cuts for each board on the table saw: two cuts for width, two more cuts to put an angle on the sides so that a circle can be formed, and two final cuts for length. Now Keith has a pile of drum pices, which he constructs into circles. All the edges have to be sanded off to make a smooth circle. The inside must also be sanded because the 16 pieces of the hand drum create angles. The top and bottom must be rounded and sanded so the rawhide will not split when it rubs against the edges.
This is why people call Keith Little Badger a drum maker. He does not take a prefabricated plywood hoop and stretch a precut circle over it. He works with wood. Every day, Keith is covered with red sawdust. He MAKES the drum. This method of Drum-making is a long process. It allows Keith a lot of time to pray and meditate. The process is a spiritual one.