How to Make Turtle Shell Rattles

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Turtles live within their shell during their entire life.
Turtles live within their shell during their entire life. (Image: Jeffrey Hamilton/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Turtle shells have been used by Native American tribes for rattles. The rattles are used to keep a dancer in time or help a singer to know when to change their words. To these tribes, the turtle shell rattle is sacred and requires a proper send off when no longer used. Making rattles requires effort and time to accomplish. Once you put in the work, the rattle will have many years of good use.

Things You'll Need

  • Turtle shell
  • Electric drill
  • 3/32-inch drill bit
  • 1/4-inch drill bit
  • Wooden handle
  • Glovers needle
  • Sinew
  • Round piece of leather
  • Leather shears
  • Round pebbles
  • Leather glue

Drill holes near the edge of the shell using the 3/32-inch drill bit. Make sure that each hole is 3/16 of an inch apart and 1/4 inch from the edge of the shell. The easiest way to accomplish this is by pushing the shell into the drill bit or using a drill press and vise grip.

Grab your handle and decide which direction the wood will best work with your turtle shell rattle. Your handle should be three times longer than the turtle shell and be comfortable to grip, but not wider than the main opening in the turtle shell.

Push the handle through the head opening of the shell until it is against the back of the shell. Once the handle is firm against the butt end of the shell, use a pencil or marker to make a mark on the handle at the shell's opening. Estimate the amount of gap between the outside circumference of the handle and the opening in the turtle shell. In other words, you need to know how much space there is to fill around the handle at the turtle shell opening so the handle won't slide out of the opening.

Cut a 1/2-inch wide strip of leather to a length of 32 inches. Brush on leather glue around the circumference of the handle only where you marked it. Wrap the leather tightly around the handle, using as many layers as necessary to secured it into the shell. Check the gap by pushing the handle back into the shell after a few wraps of leather. When it requires a lot of force to push the leather into the shell opening, apply one last layer and stop. Leave the excess leather hanging from the handle outside of the shell.

Put glue on the end of the handle that will go into the turtle shell as well as on the leather seal that you created. Press the handle into the shell, making sure the length of leather is free, forcing the newly created seal into the neck opening. Allow the glue to dry.

Place glue along the entire outer lower edge of the shell. Place the shell on the remaining leather and press it to the glue on the shell to hold in place, keeping a small section open at the neck of the shell. Pour your round pebbles into the neck of the shell and seal around the handle and the remainder of the neck.

Thread the needle with sinew and sew the leather to the shell. This will help make sure the rattle lasts. Trim away any excess leather once sewn in place. Use the remaining leather strip to wrap the handle, using glue as you go to hold it in place. Trim any excess leather from the end of the handle.

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