Instructions for Making a Turtle Shell Rattle

Updated April 17, 2017

Native American tribes used turtle shell rattles as musical instruments. They had many uses, such as keeping time with the drummers or singer in dances, directing the attention of the creator in prayers, and in healing rituals for curing the sick. Anyone looking to create an authentic turtle shell rattle will find that it is not all that hard to make but the materials could be difficult to find.

Cut out three 1/2-inch wide strips from the leather scrap, going in a circular pattern starting from the outside going in. Two of these strips should be 10 inches long and one should be 32 inches long.

Drill holes into the shell using a 3/32-inch drill bit around the perimeter of the shell. These holes should be about 1/4 inch from the edge of the shell and spaced roughly 3/16 inch apart going around the shell.

Insert the handle into the neck end of the shell and push it all the way to the rear. Mark off how far in the handle goes and estimate how much space is between the handle and the shell.

Pull the handle out and use the 32 inch long strip of leather to form a seal between the handle and the shell. Glue and wrap the leather around the handle where you marked until it is thick enough to tightly seal the shell and handle and let it dry. You will want to keep the remaining leather for later use.

Apply glue to the end of the handle and on the leather seal. Push the handle into the shell all the way to the rear and let it dry.

Apply glue around the edge of the shell and under the rim. Lay the shell on top of the remaining piece of leather scrap, so that the shell top is facing you. and pull the leather tightly, stretching it into place around the edges. Insert the glass beads into the shell and then finish sealing the leather around the edge. Cut off any excess leather.

Thread the glovers needle with the sinew and start threading the holes you drilled in the shell, starting from the top of the rattle. You will want to pull half of the sinew through the centre hole and stitch around the side of the shell down to the handle. Remove the needle and, using the other half of the sinew, finish the opposite side. Use the remaining thread to tie a knot around the handle.

Use the remaining leather from the 32-inch strip to wrap around the handle. Apply glue to one side of the strip and carefully wrap it around the handle. Tuck in the ends or cut off any remaining leather.

Cut the two pieces of 10-inch leather strips into fringe, leaving all the cut pieces attached at one end. Glue these two strips together at the ends you did not cut.

Drill a 1/4-inch hole in the end of the handle. Apply glue to the inside of this hole and force the 10-inch strips of leather into it, leaving the fringe hanging out. Let this dry.


It is a good idea to have someone helping you when drilling the holes into the shell.

Things You'll Need

  • Electric drill
  • Scissors
  • Turtle shell 5 to 6 inches long
  • Hardwood handle 3 to 4 inches in diameter, 11 inches long
  • 3 yards fine simulated sinew
  • No. 3 glovers needle
  • Oval piece of leather, 10 by 9 inches
  • 20 glass crow beads
  • Grabbers glue
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About the Author

Tim Raud began writing professionally in 2010, focusing on electronics and travel. He graduated from Emory University with a Bachelor of Arts in English.