Snare Drum 101

June 27th. 2001:

This is my attempt to show how easy it is to build your own Snare drum, or any drum for that matter.  The techniques I will cover can be carried over to all of the drums in a set. The hardest part of the whole process is the finish. And that in itself is more time consuming than anything. The secret is simple. TAKE YOU'RE TIME! DON'T GET IN A HURRY!! If you do, you will not be happy with the end result. (A butt ugly drum) Let's get started.

The Snare I am going to build will be a 5 1/2" X 14" . It is a 10 ply all maple Keller shell that I bought from Andy Foote over at I also purchased all the hardware and the Dye from him.

Here are all the parts except for the heads. (Picture 1)

After you have inspected the shell, you will notice some gaps in the edges where the ply ends meet. (Picture 2) Not a problem. Most of them have these. I take some wood putty and using a flat thin scrap of wood or anything else I can find, force the putty down the gaps in the wood. Don't be afraid to force a bunch in there. Remember, later that edge will be on the router table getting the edges cut so pack it in. (Picture 3) After it dries, block sand the filled spots till there smooth. I do all the work on the shell with it sitting on a piece of foam padding. It protects finish during the entire process.

Some builders like to cut the bearing edges and drill all the holes for the hardware before doing the finish. I like to do the finish first. Drill the holes and cut the bearing edges last. That way I don't take the risk of messing up that all important edge by dropping it or dropping something on it! It also makes it easier to measure when you are laying out for the hole drilling.


Now we start the sanding process. Most of the Keller shells won't need a lot of sanding. If you look closely at the exterior you will see some sanding marks in the surface. I like to use wet or dry sandpaper, you know, the black paper they use in auto body shops? 220 grit or 320 grit will do nicely. Block sand the outside (Or use a electric palm sander like I do) till the factory sanding marks are gone. Pay attention to detail here. Clear coating will amplify any scratches you miss. Kind of  Like a magnifying glass! (Picture 4)  Now go in the house and steal one of the wife's green 3M scrubbing pads. They are better than steel wool! (Picture5) Buff the shell till it is smooth and has some shine to it. (Picture6)  Now it's ready for the staining if you choose to stain it. If not and you're going to do a natural finish, go to the section that covers applying the clear coat. Don't worry about sanding the inside of the shell now. that is the last thing I do after drilling the holes. 

Dying the Shell

I like the water based Aniline dyes myself. Their easy to apply and look great too. I use a little scrap of foam or one of those foam brushes to apply the dye. Start off by just dipping the corner of your brush in the dye. (Picture7)  A little goes a long way. Work it into the surface. You don't want it running down the side of the shell and getting on the inside of it. Remember, Don't get in a hurry. This is an important step in the final appearance of you're new world class snare drum! I go around the shell 5 - 6 times till the color is uniform. Don't wipe any off, let it soak in. Wait till it is dry and do it again or until it's the shade you want. Let it set a good  little while to dry. (Picture8) I go and beat on the drums awhile. That is usually long enough.

Prepping for the Clear Coat

After it's dry, get the Green 3M pad you stole from the wife and buff the fuzz off the shell. The water in the dye will raise the grain of the wood. You want to get it pretty smooth in this step without taking off the stain. buff it till it looks kind of shiny. (Picture 9) Clean it completely. I clean them up with compressed air. A shop vac with a brush attachment will work too. Don't forget to do the inside also. You don't want any dust flying around when you are applying the coating.

June 29th. 2001:

Applying the Urethane

After cleaning off the shell, It's time to spray some clear coat. Sometimes you feel like using Lacquer, and sometimes you want to use Polyurethane. I'm using Urethane because I have two quarts of it and I don't have any Lacquer. Good reason huh? Anyways, there are different ways to apply Urethane, you can spray it, or brush it, or if you can find it, in a spray can. If you choose to brush it on you will be doing a lot more sanding. You could also use a good spray lacquer in a can if you go that route. I'm going to spray it with a spray gun cause I have one and a air compressor also! (Picture 10) This is a automotive touch up gun. I paid something like $30.00 for it at Northern tool and Equipment Co. They have a store here in my home town. It has been a very good investment as I have used it to refinish furniture as well as the drums.

 When using a spray gun remember to use overlapping passes as you spray the coating on the shell. What I mean here is overlap half way over the previous pass until you have gone around the whole perimeter of the shell. I lay the shell on edge with part of it overhanging the makeshift table I use to spray on. I then make my spraying passes up and down around the shell. Spraying with one hand and turning with the other. I start and end at the exterior seam on the shell. Makes a good reference point. (Picture 11) Adjust the amount of coating coming out of  the gun so the pattern is about what you get from a can of spray paint. It is better to do many thin coats instead of thick ones. Unless you are going for the runs in the coating look. (Remember the butt ugly drum?)  If you get runs in it, they can be sanded out later when it's dry. 

Make sure you adjust the spray pattern so that it is horizontal instead of vertical. If you do it right, after about an half hour or so, you can shoot another coat on it. I will as a rule of thumb do about three coats and then let it sit overnight to cure and then wet sand it with 320 grit wet or dry sand paper before applying anymore coats. Clean up the gun thoroughly with Mineral Spirits. Here it is after three coats. (Picture 12)  The next picture shows the shell in the shop drying overnight. It also shows the Urethane I use. Minwax Clear Gloss. They also make a semi gloss that looks good if you want that kind of a finish on your drum. (Picture 13) If you have any trouble understanding what I am talking about, feel free to email me. Tomorrow I will finish applying the coats of Urethane.

June 30th. 2001:

Wet Sanding

Now it's time to do the between the coats wet sanding. I use 600 grit wet or dry paper here. Some folks like to start with say 220 grit and work there way down to 400 - 600 or even maybe 1500 grit paper here. I don't cause I don't like all the sanding marks that leaves. When you start with 220 grit you sand the finish down to where you want it. Moving on to finer grit paper is done to get rid of the scratches left behind by the courser grit paper. I just do it with the 600 grit. Take awhile longer but you don't run the risk of taking to much off and messing up the stain under it. Works for me... What you want to accomplish here is to "Knock off" the high spots. The low spots will appear as darker shinny spots in the finish. (Picture 14) Take you're time and be lethargic with you're sanding. (Remember the butt ugly drum again) Sand in a back and forth with the grain action. Don't bear down real hard on the paper. Rather, let the paper do the work. (Picture15)  

I mix a few drops of dish washing detergent in my sanding water, Makes the paper slide a little easier. And I also use an old drumhead to put the water in. remember to keep the paper and the shell wet. Wipe off the shell often to check you're progress. I use paper towels. When you are done with this step, Clean the shell inside and out and it's ready to apply the next two or three coats of finish. Here it is after two more coats of Urethane. (Picture 16)  After this picture was taken, I managed to get two more coats sprayed on. It was really hot outside so the Urethane dried very fast. Tomorrow I will finish sand it, compound, polish and wax it. If I can get out there early enough, I can probably lay out the holes and drill them and get the bearing edges done too. Aww heck! I'll just finish the dog gone thing!

July 1st. 2001:

Sanding, Compounding, Waxing, And Final Assembly

I do the final wet sanding of my shells with 600 grit paper followed by 2000 grit. Might be a little overkill here but it makes it easier to polish later. When you are done with the final sanding, it should look like this. (Picture 17)  If you wet sanded it with the 2000 grit paper you can compound the shell by hand very quickly as I did on the shell. I have in the past used a lambs wool buffing bonnet that fits over five inch sanding pad backing disc like the ones that you would use in a drill. I use regular Rubbing Compound that you would find in the automotive parts store. 

The next picture shows the shell sitting on the router table after the polishing, and ready for the layout of the holes. (Picture 18)  Laying out the holes is easy if you do it like I'm about to show you. First, you will need a roll of 2" masking tape. take one of the heads and lay it and a hoop on the shell. you will now need to decide where you want the outside seem to be. I usually lay it out so that the Strainer is over it to kind of hide it from view. Or you can have a lug centered over it too, Whatever you want. Sit the hoop so that the Tension rod hole are where you want them to be. Next put a piece of the tape inline with the rod hole in the hoop. I stick the piece of tape to my pants or shirt first to get some lint on it  before I stick it to the shell that way it's not as rough on that new finish you just did! Then, make a mark with a sharp pencil at the center of the hole in the hoop. (Picture 19) 

 Now go around the whole shell and repeat the last step. (Picture 20)  After you do that, take a combination square (Picture 21) and make a centerline at each one of the marks on the pieces of tape around the shell. (Picture 22)  Next, take a ruler and find the center of the shell and make a mark with you pencil. Make sure you keep the pencil sharp. (Picture 23)  take one of you're lugs and measure the distance center to center of the shoulders where the mounting screws go. Divide this number by two. (Picture 24)  Now measuring out from the center mark on the tape, make the two marks that will be the points where the holes will be drilled for the two lug mounting holes. (Picture 25)  Now place a lug on the marks to make sure the points all match up.  NUMBER ONE RULE!!!!!! MEASURE TWICE, DRILL ONCE!!!! Be very, very sure all the marks for all holes line up with all the hardware!!!! And that they are where they are suppose to be!!! One careless drilled hole will ruin the shell!!!! (Picture 26) 

  Now you can layout where the Strainer, Butt and vent hole will go. Stick a piece of tape on the shell between two of the lugs where you want the piece of hardware mounted. I then take a piece of thin cardboard cut with a X-acto knife and a straight edge and find the center of where I want the part to mount. I use cardboard because it follows the contour of the shell. Use the marks for the lug holes on two adjoining lugs to find the center. (Picture 27) When you have it done it will look like this. (Picture 28) Now you will need a 1/8th. inch Brad tipped drill bit. You want to use one of these babies because there very accurate! (Picture29) Here it is after all the pilot holes are drilled. (Picture30) 

  Find a drill bit that is the same size as the mounting studs on the lugs and carefully drill all the lug holes out again. You want the lugs to fit tight into the holes if you can help it. Tight lug holes keep the drum in tune by having a hard mounted lug. It can't move on you. In fact, sometimes I need to ream them out a bit. If you need to also, find a rat tail file or a chain saw file works good too. Having to do stuff like this is what they mean by "A handcrafted" drum! That is what you are doing here.

 Now it's time to do the all important BEARING EDGE!!!! Relax, it ain't that bad with the right tools. You're going to need a router, a router table and a 45 degree ball bearing router bit. I made my own table just to do drums on. I cut a hole in the top and drilled mounting holes and bolted the router to the underside of the table. Works great! Looks like this. (Picture31) This picture is showing routing the outside of the shell. Take you're time and press down kind of firmly on the shell as you turn it against the turning bit. Makes a lot of noise too, Wear you're safety glasses and ear plugs as you should anytime you use power tools. I use a 30 -70 bearing edge. about 30% of the shell thickness on the outside and like 70% on the inside. Practice on some scraps of wood to get the right depth you want. Once again, MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE!!!! Don't want to screw up you're World Class Snare drum now do ya?? 

Next if you want a snare bed, some folks do, some don't I'm not getting into that discussion. I use them. 'Nuff said.... Find the center of the holes you drilled for the strainer and the butt using the square again. Measure out from the center mark 1 3/4 inches from both sides and make a line. (Picture 32) Adjust the router to cut a little deeper than the last cut you made on the inside of the shell. Like a 1/16th of an inch or a little bit more. but not more than a 1/8th of an inch unless it looks like it could go a little deeper. You kind of have to play with it a bit. Just cut in very small increments until it's as deep as you would like. Now run the inside of the shell slowly against the router bit but don't go outside of the lines. Done correctly it should look something like this. (Picture 32)  

Now that you have done the edge, we can sand and polish them. Use a small sanding block and some 600 grit paper and carefully sand the outside of the bearing edges following the angle of the edges. (Picture 33) Follow up with some 2000 grit paper as well. When it looks shinny and feels slick, it's time to polish them. I use a small buffing wheel and some rubbing compound and polish the heck out of them! (Picture 34) Now using some of the Carnauba wax, I wax the heck out of them! (Picture 35) Buff them with a soft cloth till they are super slick!  OK, time to assemble you're new drum!! hand fit all the lugs to the shell, making sure you don't over tighten the screws and strip them out. You might want to use gaskets under the lugs. I forgot to. Oh, well.... (Picture35)  Now install the resonant head and tune it to however you like.  (Picture 36) Install the snare wires and adjust to you're liking. Make sure they are straight or it will buzz like crazy! The batter head and hoop go on next. Tune them up and,



Click on the Thumbnail for a bigger picture.

I'll try to post some better pictures as soon as I get a chance to take them.

July 4th. 2001:

Here is a list of tools & stuff I used in the construction of the project drum.

The Tool And Supply Page!

This guide is merely my own personal way of constructing a snare drum. Some people might like it, some might not. All I can say is it works for me... If you build a drum using these guide lines, Send me a picture and I'll post it here!!

There Are No Butt Ugly Drums Here!

This page was a labor of love. I looked all over the net for some instructions to do a set of drums and could not find any, So, I made my own.

I hope you find them helpful. That's why I did them.

Big Fred



Updated 7-7-01