After many sweltering hot months and days after days without clouds, suddenly a little white puff ball appears in the sky. It begins to grow and grow, and is joined by other small clouds as they grow together into a huge mountain in the sky. As they build and build so does your anticipation for the event to come. The wind begins to blow and the sky turns black. The mountain in the sky opens from beneath and rain pours out; soft at first, then harder and harder. Relief has finally arrived as monsoon season begins in the desert.
When you live in the desert, water is a constant factor in your day to day life. From May to late July the temperature can soar to 110 degrees, and you can go an entire month without seeing clouds overhead. Traditionally the people of the American southwest and Central and South America used to create rain sticks to call the rain to water their crops and give them relief from the sweltering summer sun. A rain stick is traditionally made from a hollowed out branch, log, or sometimes saguaro skeletons that have wood, cactus needles, or metal pegs running down on the inside. The rain stick is filled with different sized beans, pebbles and stones, and then capped at both ends. When turned over, the pebbles and beans inside fall at different rates creating a sound similar to falling rain. If you turn it softly it sounds like sprinkling, but if you turn it quickly it is a downpour.
In this tutorial I will show you how to make a rain stick with common objects found at home. This is a great toy for any child two years and older. You can have your little ones help pour beans and paint the tube. It’s an easy craft project for older kids as well.
1 paper towel tube or wrapping paper tube (the longer the tube, the better; it will “rain” for longer and have better acoustics)
1 piece of scrap cardboard (5×5 inches)
1 box of small nails
½ cup of mixed size beans and rice
Hot glue (this part should be done by grown-ups only)
Paint of your choice (in this tutorial I used acrylic)
Decoupage medium such as Mod Podge (optional)
Begin by placing the cardboard tube vertically on the 5×5 piece of cardboard and trace two circles around it; then cut out the circles, and these will be your end stoppers. Test to see if the circles fit inside the tube snugly. If they are too big, cut a little bit off around the edge until the circle just fits inside the tube.
Using a hot glue gun, put a ring of glue on the inside edge of one opening of the tube.
Place one of the cardboard circles there and allow to dry. Now with one side of the tube plugged you are ready to add the nails.
This part is quite fun as it’s easy to poke the nails into the tube. I start by making a spiral around the tube with the nails, then I randomly place nails in all the empty spots. You can arrange them as you wish, just put in plenty of them.
When you think you’ve put in enough nails, add in the beans and rice. Place your hand over the open end of the tube and test to see if you like the sound it makes. If the rain ends too quickly you will need to take out some beans as there is not enough room for them to fall. Once you are content with the sound, just cap off the open end of the tube like you did at the beginning.
How you paint the tube is entirely up to you. It should inspire you to bring in the summer rains. For my rain stick I thought about the mountains and how the clouds build on top of them; some may prefer something that looks more like a stick, or a more ethnic pattern.
To begin, lay down one thick coat of white paint and let it dry, making sure to paint the two ends of the tube as well. Also paint over the nail heads with enough paint so that the metal does not show or hurt soft hands. After the base coat is dry, paint some more; I added the blue and yellow. At this point the nails should be secure under the dried paint, but if you want to make double sure they stay there, you can paint over the whole tube with decoupage medium, sealing the paint and the nails, which also gives the stick a smooth, durable finish.
Have fun trying out different ways to make the rain fall! It mostly depends on how fast you turn the tube; this is technically a percussion instrument, so you could practice for a while until you get it Just Right. Oh, and if you practice outside, make sure to bring an umbrella!
Kathryn Pagano enjoys spending her days navigating the wild path that comes with being a wife, mother and creative being. You can find her blogging at Little Homestead in the Desert or her Etsy shop Olive and Owl.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.