Category: Drums

Calfskin Bass Drum (Job No: 1267)

wpid-wp-1432110270683.jpg



The very first thing that needs to happen is to un-rope the drum and see what lies beneath.  The heads have obviously been causing a problem because on has been screwed to the shell.

wpid-wp-1432108255900.jpg

The job is now straight forward, but time consuming.  Whilst I am soaking a head until it is really wet and pliable, the drum shell can have the star marks removed – it looks like these were stickers, because it is the glue that has been left behind.

I also treat the bearing edge a process I have detailed in 1233: Vintage Bass Drum (pt 2).

With everything ready I stretched the head onto the shell using my drum press.  Because neither head had a collar I did one side first then the other.

wpid-wp-1432108829343.jpg

With the splicing and whipping on the rope redone, I rope the drum whilst it is still in the press to maintain tension.  It also saves a lot of hard work pulling rope as hard as possible and the subsequent suffering with blisters!



Military Snare Drum Hoop (Job No: 1234)

wpid-img_20150306_150435.jpg

I have two drum hoops off a military marching snare drum to be restored.  This is one of those open ended jobs that has been underway for a while.

As can be seen from the picture above, one hoop was bare wood, presumably stripped to be repainted which I have subsequently primed.  The second hoop is broken and obviously needs to be made whole again.

wpid-img_20150306_152053.jpg

It is often tricky clamping things together whilst they are being glued – creativity is needed with the clamping arrangements.

This simple repair of glueing the ends back together is essentially a butt joint.  It is sufficiently strong to hold the hoop round again, however it will probably break again as soon as any force is applied.  Because I already have to repaint the other hoop, I decided to insert a new section of wood across the break as reinforcement creating a lap joint which is a lot stronger.

wpid-img_20150306_160029.jpg

Then it was just a matter of painting.  In order to get a good colour match, and to achieve gradual decoloration over time I used oil based paints, the same that I would use for painting pictures.  It is a nice medium to work with because I can vary the shade subtly and create a more aged look with ingrained dirt.  The problem is that different pigments have different drying times, so care needs to be taken as to which colour goes on top.  In any case it took over a week for each colour to dry, so the whole painting process was a long one.

wpid-img_20150508_103147.jpg

Like any of these jobs, I learnt a lot and would do things differently next time.  I had major issues holding the hoop whilst painting, and initially I used the wrong type of brush.  It is one of those end results that is only okay; I can live with it, but it is not perfect.

However, it doesn’t need to be perfect, because the final stage of the process is antiquing.  The customer does not want a hoop that looks brand new, it needs to look old and “period”.  So once I have a painted hoop, I can start removing that paint, and applying grime effects to replicate the bashes, knocks and handling of a hundred years of use.

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-09-10-46-292.jpg.jpg

wpid-screenshot_2015-05-09-09-08-512.jpg.jpg

Vintage Bass Drum (part 2) (Job No: 1233)

wpid-img_20150506_1718332.jpg.jpg

In the first half of the repair of this vintage bass drum (1233: (pt 1)), I wrote about making a new counter hoop, fixing the shell and making replacement tuning lugs.  The lugs are now back from the chrome platers, but more importantly, the drum is now needed by my customer at the end of the month.  In order for me to realise the deadline, and fit in with my delivery schedule, I need to finish the bass drum today so it is ready to be delivered at the end of the week.

After selecting a calfskin big enough and then putting it in to soak, I get everything ready to lap the head onto the existing flesh hood that I repaired.



I like to leave the lapping to dry for a bit, so that the skin becomes tacky and starts to stick to itself before I put it on the drum.  It will take 48hrs for the skin to completely dry around the hoop, but the playing surface will start drying quickly.  So as long as I keep the playing surface wet, I have plenty of time to do the drum and get the head on later in the day.

In 1233: (part 1) I made new barrels for the tension rods to screw into.  What I didn’t have was a tap long enough to put in a 2.1/4″ deep thread into the barrel.  I had to order these specially, so sent the stuff to be plated during the delay.  The video below shows the problem I had.  It is a bit boring (in both meanings of the word), but it shows how the thread feels like it is going on and on and on.



Once the threads are cut and checked, I can assemble the drum shell and start preparing to put on the head.

wpid-img_20150506_153910.jpg

I have mentioned putting on heads in other posts, and explained what I do.  This time I remembered to video it!



With both heads evenly set, the drum is now finished, and has plenty of time to dry before Friday.

wpid-img_20150506_171833.jpg

Today of course is polling day – time for us to support the essentially anti-democratic and self serving political system that we have here in the UK (and aggressively export).  We will all (well about 10% of us) go out and give a mandate for 650 corrupt, dishonest and dishonorable bloody idiots to avoid the big issues for another 5 years.  Politicians call it voter apathy (because they are a bit thick) but I think that they are wrong; it is not apathy, the general public is more political than ever (the one good thing that ukip have exposed).    In our democratic system we have no constitutional ability to change how the country is run.  The ability to do that is in the hands of the government, and mp’s won’t vote to get rid of themselves, they won’t even take a pay cut!  Rant over.

Small Bass Drum (Job No: 1257)

wpid-screenshot_2015-04-24-09-13-262.jpg.jpg

It is funny how that what I am repairing goes in cycles; this winter I was doing timps after timps, now it is all vibes and drums. Here is yet another little drum that needs a new head.

wpid-img_20150414_102623.jpg

As usual I forgot to take a before shot, but all I have done is put the new skin in the drink and taken the old heads off the drum. This is the old style fittings where both heads pull against each other, so the tension bolts are as long as the drum is deep, and the lugs are little eyes that they pass through.

Now I have the pieces, I cut the split head off its flesh hoop so that I can reuse the hoop, onto which I lapped the new skin. I do this first so that the lapping has a bit of time to dry out.

Next all the metal work, which is nickel plated, gets cleaned up, and the threads degreased. You know how oil can soak into your hands and make them stink, stained, dry and sore? Well the same happens to drum heads, because it is the same stuff (more or less) that we are covered in. DO NOT USE PETROCHEMICAL PRODUCTS ON DRUMS WITH NATURAL HEADS. If you come across a drum smothered in grease – it has been worked on by a moron!

With all the metal work finished, I now turn my attention to the drum shell. The critical part is the bearing edge, so this gets cleaned and lightly sanded, finishing with an almost polished surface. What I am wanting is a nice surface over which the skin will slide; what I don’t want are fibres of wood standing up like little spikes.

So now I have got the bearing edge how I like it, I now seal it to stop water going in and lifting the wood fibres. Candle wax, being made from paraffin which is an extract of oil is exactly what I don’t want to use to seal the bearing edge. Beeswax would be OK, but I use tallow which is a boiled sheep. I rub this into the wood using friction to generate heat enough to melt the tallow so that it can run into all the microscopic gaps in the wood fibres. I go over the drum a second time but also go down the sides a little so that the inside of the flesh hoop doesn’t stick to the drum shell as it dries. Finally I use tallow to lubricate the threads on the tension rods, and where there is metal to metal contact.

With everything clean and slippery, now the easy part – I put the drum head on, and the job is finished.

wpid-img_20150414_134535.jpg

Vintage Bass Drum (part 1) (Job No: 1233)

wpid-img_20150302_1047122.jpg.jpg

wpid-img_20150302_104712.jpg

It seems like I have been occupied taking lots of small steps with large projects recently and have neglected to take photographs and write posts about them. This is one of those jobs that have been on the go for a while.

As can be seen this vintage bass drum has seen better days. There are several aspects that need to be repaired. First on the list to make a new counter hoop to replace the original which is in several pieces and cannot be practicably repaired.

I have never needed to make a counter hoop in wood before, the hoops I make are normally polished stainless steel. This lack of prior experience is never a problem, the reality is that I spend most of my working life going into the unknown, which is how I develop new methods and techniques to constantly improve quality. What I therefore do have is a lot of know how.

wpid-img_20150304_160300.jpg

So I started by planing a long board of oak to the depth of the hoop and cutting off a thin strip, in the above picture I am using the thicknessing sander I built to clean up the sides of saw marks and make the width uniform.

wpid-img_20150304_1659132.jpg.jpg

There are two types of jigs or pattern used to make things; internal or external. A pie dish is an external mould. I made an internal mould to prevent the hoop forming below the correct diameter. Then I calculated the circumference which gives me the length of the strip of wood so that I could angle the ends to create a scarf joint.

wpid-photogrid_1429086961575.jpg

The long strip is then steamed (inside a long tube) until it goes floppy, then bent around the mould and clamped in place until the wood has cooled and set. The next day the hoop came out of the mould so that it could dry off for a while.

When oak gets wet, the tannins are pulled out and the surface of the wood (and my hands) get stained black. The moisture will also lift surface fibres. Both issues are resolved by sanding until that surface layer is removed. The final step before varnishing is to create the radiuses on the external edge.

wpid-img_20150413_130018.jpg

The next job is to make replacement barrels for the tuning lugs. These are solid with the thread cut into them, so to replicate them it is lathe work: drilling a small pilot hole a long way into a thin rod. This is a heart in the mouth process, if that drill bit snaps inside the rod, then it goes in the scrap bin; obviously there is a hole at either end. Patience, care and feel gets there in the end.

wpid-img_20150413_173911.jpg

With the barrels made, they can be sent to be chrome plated. In 1233: (part 2) I will assemble and finish the drum.

Rope Tension Drums (part 3) (Job No: 1249)

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-07-08-22-012.jpg.jpeg

In the previous part of this post – 1249: ropey drums (pt2) I was making up new lengths of rope and repairing the buffs, all preparation to do most of the drums.  However I was left with three drums that needed new buffs to be made because I have changed the rope to match all the others in two cases or there were several missing in the third case.

wpid-photogrid_1425716306963.jpg

As you would expect, there were also repairs to be made, whilst the drums were in pieces in my workshop.

wpid-photogrid_1425716367111.jpg

Flesh hoops had to be made the correct size for the heads to be lapped onto.

wpid-img_20150227_112545.jpg

But finally, having everything needed and repairs and parts made, I am ready to put new heads on the drums.

The first thing I do is to spray the heads with water to make the skin become soft and pliable.  There are a few reasons for doing this, skin (and wood) are hygroscopic which means that they absorb and release moisture.  If it is cold and dry, our own skin suffers, if we stay in the bath too long it becomes baggy soft and wrinkly.  Therefore we utilise this property to our own advantage.

wpid-img_20150306_104109.jpg

First of all by wetting the playing surface (but leaving the lapping dry), the strain is taken off the flesh hoop allowing it to flatten.  When the head is put on the drum, the skin will mould itself to the profile of the bearing creating a good contact.  If this is not done, then the head may buzz in the areas where there is a fraction of a millimeter gap.  Lastly, it can be easily stretched, so that when I put it on the drum, I can pull the skin down the sides of the drum and create a collar.

However, in use, the hygroscopic nature of the skin can be a problem,  well judging on what I see coming in for repair, it is a problem.  Therefore I have written a post in the Every Percussionist Should Know…   series called: …How to look after vellum heads.

Whilst the drum heads are softening, I prepare the bearing edge by lightly sanding it so that all the dirt and proud wood fibres are removed.  I want a nice smooth surface for the head to slide over when it is being tuned.  To further help the head slide, and to prevent it from sticking to the wood (the proteins in skin make exceptionally strong adhesives) I lubricate/seal the surface with tallow.

wpid-img_20150306_104222.jpg

Now it is just a case of threading the long bit of rope through the counter hoops and buffs, and tightening it up.

wpid-img_20150306_134921.jpg

The drum above is the shell that I painted to make it look, “as natural as possible,” as was the remit.  It has new rope and the new buffs I made above.  To remind yo what it looked like I shall end with a before after picture.

wpid-photogrid_1425716451490.jpg

Rope Tension Drums (part 2) (Job No: 1249)

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-06-09-08-532.jpg.jpeg

A lot of rope has now arrived. In 1249: ropey drums (pt1) I started to dismantle and paint stuff whilst the materials I needed were on order.  Now they are here, I can start tackling the pile of drums and try to reduce its height.

When these types of drum are sat on the floor, the rope going around the counter hoop gets abraded.  Obviously this considerably weakens the rope until it snaps, but it also makes getting the rope off the drum all but impossible without cutting it anyway.

wpid-img_20150226_131129.jpg

What I get invariably are drums with various types of rope on them.  What I always notice is that some ridiculous made up knot is used to join the rope.  There is a guideline for rope work; “if it looks like shit, it probably is”.

So, what knot should you use?  One of the easiest, the Reef knot.  Used to join dissimilar ropes, also lies flat so it is also used for tying bandages and slings – so everybody should know it!  If you can play a paradiddle, then this knot is similar:

Right over left and under.
Left over right and under.

wpid-img_20150226_131246.jpg

Compare the two pictures, and you can see immediately what I mean when I say, “if it looks like shit…”  Without getting too in depth about why, but the reef knot is also a lot stronger, and a lot easier to untie after it has been tensioned.

I often get amused by how many of my life experiences get used in my work.  When I was a boy scout I learnt about knots, we had to know, we built everything we needed when we camped.  Then rope was a tool, and different applications required different knots.  Later as a rock climber I was using knots to protect myself and others, in two instances it was my skill that got fallen climbers off cliff ledges and into the back of ambulances (that makes me feel proud!)  Now I am reminded about all this when I am making drums.

So I will have been about eleven when I learnt to splice a rope, which simply means weaving rope together.  On these drums it is an eye splice that is needed to create a loop for the rope to feed through.

wpid-img_20150225_150104.jpg

The splice doubles the thickness of the rope, so it won’t physically go through the hole in the counter hoop.  So a back splice (just folded back on itself) wouldn’t work on the other end.  In order to stop the rope from fraying a whipping is tied.    

wpid-img_20150225_1505162.jpg.jpeg

The whipping is very tight, using special thread it actually compresses the rope.  It certainly makes it easier to thread the rope when assembling the drum.

With the rope prepared, the last part of the equation are the buffs or tensioners.  These are tied together with vellum or gut.

wpid-photogrid_1425632678640.jpg

If they are present but broken, I cut a strip of vellum off an old drum head, and repair them.

In the next post, 1249: Ropey Drums (pt3) I might even get around to assembling a drum!

Rope Tension Drums (Part 1) (Job No: 1249)

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-03-09-03-392.jpg.jpeg

I have a big pile of tenor drums, snare drums and field drums to repair.  All have calf skin heads, and are rope tensioned.

wpid-img_20150217_103154.jpg

Just like doing the job, it is difficult to decide where to start.  All of the drums have something broken, missing or worn out, so whilst waiting for materials to arrive, I just started doing what I could.

wpid-img_20150224_104444.jpg

There are two drums like the one above which I am changing.  The maker has used the wrong type of rope.  These drums are often to be used on stage as a period prop, the rope used is a 16 strand weave which is modern.  I’m not sure what the material is, (I know what it isn’t) but it is thin, course and aggressive (just like me!)  So I can modify the counter hoops to accept the same diametre rope as all the other drums.

There are two drums that require some sort of aesthetic treatment.

wpid-photogrid_1425375188001.jpg

The drum on the left has just been really badly painted, the drum on the right, well it’s just hideous!  Both need to painted so they look more natural – brown then.

wpid-img_20150223_164330.jpg

According to the man at the Dulux shop (I only use Dulux oil paints) who has worked there for 22 years, he has never mixed up brown paint.  I’m not surprised, the previous owner of my house liked brown – I have it on all the skirting boards and doors, and yes it does look horrible.  Because of this, there are only three shades to choose from, so I went with hazelnut which was actually the only one close.

To break up the brown and make it look a bit more natural, I used black to replicate knots and grain.

wpid-img_20150223_181252.jpg

For now, the paint has to dry, and rope has to arrive, so in 1249: Ropey Drums (pt2) we will see a lot more knots.

Potters Snare Drum (Job No: 1032)

paul-jefferies

A lovely little snare drum came in for me to look at.  It needs new heads, and snare mechanism.
wpid-img_20140822_104752.jpg

The diagram below names the three components: how the head, lapped onto its flesh hoop, goes over the shell and is tuned by the counter hoop.
wpid-img_20140915_104040.jpg

When I stripped the drum, the shell was in upside down, so the snare bed was against the batter head. The snare bed is simply a section of the bearing edge that is cut away so that that section of the head is lower than the rest. This enables the snares to lie flat against the head.

At the top of the diagram above, is an enlargement in cross section view, showing how the head is wrapped all the way around the flesh hoop. It also shows the direction of force applied to the flesh hoop by the head: the head is pulling the flesh hoop in towards the centre of the drum, and because of the lapping the force is also pulling the outside edge upwards, thus twisting the flesh hoop. The problem with wooden counter hoops is that this force exceeds the strength of the wood, and does bend them out of shape; being hygroscopic they then “set” in this new shape and become conical.

This drum had two twisted flesh hoops, which both makes it hard to lap the heads on evenly, but were also squeezing against the shell and constricting movement of the head.
wpid-img_20140822_144610.jpg

All parts cleaned up and ready to go. There is a very thin calf snare head, and a thicker hand skived goat head on the batter side.
wpid-img_20140825_151834.jpg

After the heads had dried, I made new gut snare snares.

These jobs are always pleasing, but there are few times that I am really tempted to keep the instrument – it sounds incredible, so earthy!

Hawkes and Sons Bass Drum (Job No: 1148)

wpid-img_20140618_173034.jpg

This drum came in to have calf heads fitted. Unfortunately, the previous owner had attached plastic heads to the flesh hoops with a mixture of super glue, araldite, staples, nails and metal epoxy.  I did get them off, but it would have taken hours to clean up the hoops.
wpid-wp-1403852619858.jpeg

When measuring up so I could roll new flesh hoops, I saw that the counter hoops would not pass over the drum shell, mainly due to the hideous paint job which had been slapped presumably with a flip flop, but they were also hindered by the metal epoxy.  I can visualise the person struggling with joining plastic to wood, slapping on the epoxy and trying to seat the newly made drum head onto the drum whilst wet and the gooey mess dribbling out and going everywhere!

So it all that black mess had to come off.
wpid-wp-1403203090123.jpeg

The undercoat scraped off easily, because it was painted directly onto varnish.
wpid-wp-1403203170450.jpeg

It was probably painted to hide the repair
wpid-wp-1403203214006.jpeg
But even in its raw state the drum now looks so much better, and the counter hoops will now work properly. Now the shell and hoops can be refinished and reassembled. I have opted for oil on the shell, and gloss varnish on the hoops. The fittings are cleaned and shined, and finally the new flesh hoops can be rolled.
wpid-wp-1403854675090.jpeg
After the flesh hoops have been plated (to prevent rusting), the heads can be lapped and the drum assembled.
wpid-img_20140826_115512.jpg