Preparing Gourds for Peyote Gourd Rattles

Missouri River Brand:
Developed by Master Craftworkers


Gourd shells have both a thin outer skin and a pithy center that should be removed in order to make them suitable for use as a gourd rattle. These instructions explain how this is accomplished.

Step 1: Scrape off the “skin” (outer husk) of a raw gourd or soak it briefly in water and then scrub off the skin.

Step 2: If the bottom of the gourd has not been cut off, do this now and remove the seeds. A coping saw with a fine blade or hacksaw works well for this.

Step 3: Prepare a 30-penny nail by flattening one end, then sharpening it and bending it at a 90 degree angle. A baby spoon with the edges filed sharp also makes a good tool for this. Another alternative is to do the initial cleaning using a small grapefruit spoon with the sides ground down to make it narrower. This way, the spoon will fit through smaller gourd necks, and the rough front edges will make a good first tool to remove the bulk of the pith when you’re first starting to clean out the gourd.

Remove as much pith as absolutely possible. Finish up with a sharpened spoon or the flattened nail to make a smooth inside surface.

Step 4: Drill the top center of the gourd with a 7/32″ (or smaller) bit. Use an awl to make an initial guide impression so that the drilled hole will be perfectly centered. It is better to make a hole a little smaller than the diameter of the stick where the top of the gourd will actually rest. The hole probably will enlarge slightly as you put it on and off the stick while checking for fit. Use a small rattail file to carefully and gradually enlarge the hole through trial and error to its finished size. Never force the gourd, as it probably will crack.


Step 5: The gourd shell may be left in its natural color or further colored and / or decorated using any of the following options:

  • Boil in Rit dye. Note: Over-cooking will cause the gourd to turn to mush.
  • Soak in pokeberry juice.
  • Use leather dye, then apply a clear leather finish solution to impart a polish.
  • Use shoe polish. When buffed, this gives a nice polished sheen.
  • Use a wood burning tool to decorate with images.

Step 6: Antiquing options for the horsehair tassels to achieve an “older” look:

  • Stain white horsehair using strong tea.
  • Use dark red or yellow horsehair for the tassel.

Step 7: The gourd can also be baked to darken the color and to give it a “brighter” sound. However, baking makes them brittle, so if you choose to do this, it must be done SLOWLY and carefully.

  • The hole must be drilled in the top of the gourd before baking.
  • Set the gourd on a grill in oven. If several are being prepared, space them so that air can move around them.
  • Raise the temperature only to a maximum of 225-250 degrees until they begin to smell like roasting peanuts.
  • Carefully monitor the gourds during heating and remove them when the desired color is achieved. Desirable colors range from light buckskin to dark brown.

Note: The darker the color, the more brittle the gourd becomes.

Gourd Rattles – Related Products

The following items are used in the above-article, or may provide added reference and helpful information.

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