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How To Make A Drum Shell

Updated on July 31, 2014

Router Table For Bearing Edges

Carefully routering the bearing edges of a drum shell on a home made router table.
Carefully routering the bearing edges of a drum shell on a home made router table. | Source

2 Ways To Build A Drum Shell!

Building a drum shell is not difficult. It just takes a little bit of time and patience. And the result is not only a nice hand made drum shell that will last a lifetime, but the satisfaction you will get from building your own drums from the ground up cannot be put into words.

There are basically two ways to build a drum shell from your home or shop.

You can build a stave drum shell or a segmented drum shell which is basically accomplished by gluing blocks of wood together, and then using a lathe and sander to smooth it out. This is usually a fall back method for many first time builders because it can be fairly easy.

But that is not to say a segmented drum or a stave drum is not worth your time and effort. Actually they are really cool looking, assuming you don't wrap it, and they can sound fantastic.

The second way you can build a drum shell is to build a ply drum shell by gluing as few as 3 plys (or veneers) of wood together in a circular shape. This can be challenging, but the results will be worth it.

Today you are going to learn to build a ply drum shell.

© Tyler Powers
© Tyler Powers

Building The Mold

The first step to building a drum shell is to build a mold.

You will need the mold because it will create the perfect circular shape. Without a mold you will have great difficulty making the correct bend and keeping the plys together.

© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.
© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.

Building a 10" Drum Shell

The example I will use for this project is a 10" x 8" tom tom drum shell. By the way, the same steps to building this size drum shell can be transferred to larger sizes.

The first step is to cut plywood or fiberboard into 12" squares, .5" thick. You will cut 18 of them.

Next you will need to cut small pieces to use as separators from each 12" piece of plywood as seen below, otherwise it will be to bulky and heavy.

Each 12" board needs to have a 10" diameter hold cut so that we can fit the ply's into it.

Tip: In the United States the outside diameter of a shell is .125 inch smaller than the actual drum.

  • 12" tom = 11.875 outside diameter.
  • 10" tom = 9.875 outside diameter.

How do you draw circle and cut it?

There are many technical and simple ways to draw and cut a circle out of your wood or fiberboard. You can simply use a thumbtack, and a string. Or you can use a wooden compass. I know builders who simply took either an existing drum or a drum hoop and simple used a pencil to outline it. It's up to you.

To cut it you should use a jig saw.

Lastly, you will cut all the boards in half. I'll explain why shortly.

© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.
© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.
© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.
© Tyler Powers All Rights Reserved.

Why It's Cut In Half

As I mentioned above you'll need to cut all the boards in half. The reason is because you are going to want to have access to the inside as you put the plys inside and fit them. You'll understand as you do this.

Now that your boards are cut in half you will want to secure them all together, along with your 44 little separator pieces. You can use wood glue to accomplish this.

After you do this you'll have to halves of your mold, and it's almost ready!

But you must be able to secure the two halves together as well. So what I used at first were two turnbuckles as shown below, and they work great. But what I am going to do instead is replace one of the turnbuckles with a large door hinge. This cuts my work time down and makes it easier to work with.

After you install the turnbuckles and maybe a hinge, you are finished with your mold and you are ready to start putting your plys inside.


Layering and Understanding Plys and Veneer

Plywood, Plys, and Veneer get confused but they are basically the same thing. A piece of plywood is made up of at least three pieces of veneer.

So what you want to do is buy veneer. I would buy maple veneer because it is not very expensive and it's a good wood for drum building.

There are different thicknesses of veneer. You should get at least 3mm. And you should consider doing at least 6 to 8 layers. Many drums are 8 ply, or in other words they have 8 layers of veneer. Some drum manufacturers use only three layers but each veneer layer is thicker than normal.

Since we are making a 10" x 8" drum my veneer will be 8" inches wide. Getting the right diameter for my first layer was not my best quality work but after some fiddling and cutting I finally got the right size.

Note: You want the veneer grain to go around the drum. Not straight up and down because it will be weak and break over time or instantly when you bend it.

After the first layer is in I need to put wood glue on my second layer. There are lots of different types of glue to choose from. I used Titebond glue.

Anyway, this part can be tricky because the glue will expand your wood and warp it, making this difficult. But some builder found that by wetting one side of the ply and then putting glue on the other side right after seemed to make the veneer workable.


At this point you want to get this ply securely dried to your outside veneer. There are many ways of doing this and some builders have created their own devises.

Gluing Rings Together.
Gluing Rings Together. | Source

Why Use An Exercise Ball?

After you put your first layer in you want to keep pressure on it so that it glues well against the outside layer.

Many builders use a yoga ball or some sort of small exercise ball, and then pump it up inside the mold. This seems to be a popular choice and it worked for me.

Maybe you can come up with your own device that creates pressure like this and you can share it here (below) so myself and other builder can try it out. We are always open to new techniques!

Anyway, once you get this first layer glued in properly remove the ball, and then repeat the process until all layers are complete.

Your drum shell is almost ready at this point.

What you want to do now is use a sander of some sort to square off the edges. Maybe a disc sander if you have access to it, or you can devise a larger circle sander to put on your drill if you don't. Others have actually put sandpaper down on a table and rubbed the shell on it.

Cutting Drum Shell Bearing Edges:

Bearing Edge On Tom Tom.
Bearing Edge On Tom Tom. | Source
45 Degree Bit and Router Table.
45 Degree Bit and Router Table. | Source
Manually Sanding Edges On Table.
Manually Sanding Edges On Table. | Source

Bearing Edges

The only thing left for you do do now to complete the drum shell is cut the bearing edges. This is a very important procedure because if you screw this up you can ruin the shell. But the good new is if you do make a mistake here you can always cut the shell down and do the bearing edges again.

To cut the bearing edges you will need at the very least a router table. You'll also want to use a 45 degree angle router.

The bearing edge is the edge of the drum shell that makes contact with the drum head, and it’s a crucial component in terms of the drum’s resonant qualities. Moreover, the bearing edge needs to be constantly touching the drum head in order to make a good sound.

In general, the blunter the bearing edge is, the resonance of the drum will be lower-pitched and will have less overtones. The opposite is true for a bearing edge that is sharper. In other words, if you have a blunt or flat bearing edge, it will be like drumming on cardboard. The more slanted the angle on the bearing edge, however, the more resonant and rich your sound will be.

After you make your bearing edge there should be a little bit on the inside that needs to be sanded down nice and smooth for the drum head to rest on properly.

After you do this you are all done! Congratulations, you now have a completed drum shell that is ready for staining or drum wrap, and of course you have to put the lugs on (this is harder than it sounds - get that book above for details on this process), and the hoops!

What Kind Of Drum Set Or Snare Do You Want To Build?

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      4 years ago

      Gonna build me 2 - 24" × 20" bass drums


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