DIY: How to Build a Kick Drum


A kick drum is round. A kick drum has two heads. A kick drum is usually made out of wood. A kick drum is struck with a foot-operated beater.

You have now amassed the same drum knowledge that I had before starting this project. I tell you this for two reasons. First: no whining about not knowing anything about drums. Second: I am completely unqualified to write a tutorial in drum building. I'm sure an experienced builder would laugh/cry/swear at many of things I will say. However, I'm a student of the New Jersey school. Worse is better.

I've been in need of a good kick drum for a while, and since I'm a broke college student, my choices
were quite limited. Certainly not an Orange County or Spaun (upwards of a grand). So I did what I usually do when I find out that something I want/need is too expensive--figured out if I could build it myself for less. It turned out that I could--quite a bit less, actually. Excluding the shitty Tama pedal I bought, this drum cost about $360. And since I used the same shells that most of the custom shops all use (Keller), I have a drum that is on par with the best. Well, minus the plaid/polka-dot/whatever-crazy- pattern-you-can-imagine wrap. But I just wanted matte black, so that's fine.

So, where to start? First off, let's talk about the structure of a drum. In the most simplistic of terms, what is a drum? Let's start with this simple definition: a drum is a tensioned membrane attached to a resonant cavity. You hit the membrane, and the resonant cavity--well, it resonates. That's it. That's a drum. Sometimes you add a second membrane on the opposite side of the resonant cavity to help control the resonance of the drum. But that doesn't really change our simple definition.

So our first problem is clear: how do we attach the membrane (the head) to the resonant cavity (the shell)? Before I answer that question, let me pose an additional question: how do we tension the head? Both questions have the same answer: with rims (or hoops). The hoop comes down on top of the head and is pulled towards the shell to put tension on the head. Which brings us to our next question: how do we pull the hoop towards the shell? Well, we attach lugs to the shell, into which we insert threaded tension rods; these tension rods are then attached to the hoop. An illustration, hopefully, will make this all clear:

Note that this illustration--besides being horrifically not to scale--is specific to a kick drum; with a snare or a tom, the hoop is different, and no claw is used. So it goes like this: the head is laid down on top of the shell; the hoop is inserted on top of the head; and the tension rod is inserted through the claw, and then threaded into the lug (which is bolted to the shell). There are usually 8 or 10 lugs per side, laid out concentrically. I couldn't find any references describing if 8 or 10 was better, but I like the look of 10, so that's what I did.

That's it. That's a kick drum. The only remaining pieces of hardware are the spurs, which are the little feet that extend down to hold the drum upright on the floor. Pretty simple, huh? Let's be clear; this is not rocket science.

Parts Planning
The Shitty Part

Ok, we now know how a drum works, and how it is constructed. The next part is ordering parts. This really drives me up the wall. Nothing pisses me off worse than planning an order, placing the order, and then realizing I forgot something. This stage of a project often overshadows all others, time-wise.

Let's make a checklist of what we need:

1 x drum shell
2 x hoops
2 x spurs
20 x lugs
20 x tension rods
20 x claws

and the stuff I didn't tell you about yet:

40 x lug screws (attaches the lugs to the shell)
40 x lug bolt washers
20 x lug gaskets (a soft pad between the shell and the lug)
2 x spur gaskets (ditto)

That's everything.

First, we need to make a decision about the shell. Size. How big should it be? I'll let you spend ten hours browsing usenet discussions on shell sizes...ok...done? Good. I chose a 16 x 20 (that's depth x diameter). I didn't want a huge Bonham-esque boom, and I read that 16x20 gave a nice, punchy sound. Having chosen a size, you need to choose a shell material. Most non-recording kits are made of maple, so that's how I went. If you were building a solely-to-be-used-for-recording kit, you might go with birch. Next, number of plies. The number of plies determines the rigidity of the shell, and hence, its resonance characteristics. This is sort of a non-issue for a kick drum, as I was only able to find 8-ply kick drum shells from Keller. If it were a tom, you could choose between 6 or 8-ply, and for a snare, you can choose between 6, 8, or 10-ply.

The only other thing to be concerned about with the shell is the bearing edge. The bearing edge is the surface where the head actually touches the shell. You can imagine that the shape of this edge will impact the sound of the drum. The most typical appears to be a 45 degree cut (as shown in the diagram above). You can order shells with or without the bearing edge cut. I paid the extra $25 and had the edge cut for me.

Next up: hoops. This is pretty easy; just buy two hoops of the same diameter as your shell. Again, I went with maple.

Now for the hardware. You really just have to decide on a style and color that suits your aesthetic. I was going for the blacked-out look, so I went with all black hardware in a style that didn't look like it was from 1954.

Where to buy all your parts? There are a bunch of websites selling drumparts; I went with drummaker.com. They had great prices, and they shipped promptly. I recommend them.

What to do with all These Parts?

Now the fun part--putting it all together.

Let's establish a top-level view of what we need to do here. We've got a shell. We've got lugs. We need to mount the lugs to the shell. The lugs mount to the shell with screws We need holes in the shell for the screws to go through. Thus, our plan of procedure is:

1.) Layout holes
2.) Drill holes
3.) Mount lugs
4.) Profit. (I've only seen three South Park episodes in my life. -ed)

Ok. Step One. The Laying Out of the Holes. The first thing I did was make a shell layout mat. Like this one, only free. I started with two large sheets of paper taped to a sheet of plywood.

The first step was drawing a large horizontal line across the paper; this is the frame of reference. Next, I rekindled some elementary school memories, and I dug out a protractor, which I used this to layout the angles for the template. Assuming my math is correct, the magic angle is 360/10 = 36 degrees. (Note, if you were doing an 8 per side lug configuration, your angle would be different.) Given this angle, I aligned my protractor to the reference line and marked off four ticks at 36, 72, 108, and 142 degrees:

Leaving me with:

I then struck a line from each of the four ticks through the origin to the other side of the reference line:

giving me this:

The final step in constructing the layout mat was drawing marks indicating the shell radius. So I grabbed a tape measure and measured the precise diameter of the shell. Having done this, I measured out half that distance in each direction from the origin:

When all was said and done, I was left with this gorgeous shell layout mat:

The next step was transferring the angles on the template to the shell. Since I didn't want to get a bunch of pencil marks all over the shell, I taped it first:

Then I aligned the shell to the radius marks on the template:

Having centered the shell on the template, I was then able to transfer the marks to the shell:

I repeated this for each of the 10 lug positions:

This last picture just reminded me of something. See the seam running down the drum? If you're anal-retentive like me, you will want this seam to ultimately end up on the bottom of the drum, where no one will see it and think poorly of your craftsmanship. Take this into account when you first align the shell to the template. But I digress.

Having transferred all the marks, I then struck lines perpendicular to the front face of the shell. This, however, required more tape:

Using my trusty framing square, I extended the tick marks:

Extend this line all the way to the other side of the shell. If your framing square isn't long enough, get a straightedge long enough to reach.

The next thing I needed to figure out was where to actually place the lugs. I couldn't really find any good information on lug placement--specifically, the distance from the front face of the shell to the lugs. So I got online and started looking at drums, to see what looked best. I don't think it's too critical, you just have to take into account the width of your hoops and the length of your tension rods. I did a test fit to see how things lined up. Here's the shell with the head and the hoop:

I then checked the fit with a claw, rod, and lug:

Each lug mounted with two bolts, spaced at 1.5". I decided on a depth of two inches to the front hole:

I repeated this step for each lug. After that, I was ready to drill. I first measured the diameter of the lug mounting post:

The post turned out to be 15/64". I consulted my drawer-o-drill-bits and came up with this guy:

This is referred to as a "spur-point" bit, in theory it should leave a nice clean hole with little tearing of the wood. Putting it to the test:

My first hole didn't turn out the best, though, as can be seen here:

Not the nicest of exit wounds. In an attempt to mitigate this tearing, I only drilled through far enough to see the spur poking through the other side of the shell:

Once I saw the bit starting to poke through, I finished the hole from the inside of the shell:

This fixed the problem. Here you can see a comparison of both methods:

To verify that I got my hole spacing correct, I did a test fit with one of the lugs:

It fit pretty well. Not too tight, not too loose. Satisfied with everything, I drilled holes for the rest of the lugs:

Neat. All I had left were the spurs. I tormented myself for quite some time (by which I mean more than five minutes but less than thirty minutes) trying to decide where to mount the spurs. I surfed the Internets for a little while trying to see what others did, and the consensus--for 10-lug configurations--was to mount the spur just below the "90 degree lugs". That probably doesn't make sense; here's a picture:

The folks at drumfoundry.com are kind enough to provide a drilling template for the spurs. I'm not sure what I would have done without this. I would probably have a drum that sits crooked on the floor. Here's the template:

You tape it to the shell and transfer the holes. Pretty easy. The first step was mounting it to the shell:

Just make sure that the horizontal lines are parallel with the front face of the shell, and adjust to your desired depth. After positioning the template to my satisfaction, I marked the holes with a punch:

after which I drilled the holes:

A quick test mount showed that everything fit:

I know that I mentioned a spur gasket on the parts list earlier, but now I can't remember if they even sell those. Regardless, I didn't have one, so I had to make my own. A trip to the auto parts store produced a roll of gasket material. I traced around the spur, producing this:

after which I cut it out:

But how do I know where to drill the holes? Ummm...thinking...uhhh...then I remembered the paint marker I had. So I glopped a bunch of paint on the spur:

and transferred the marks to the gasket:

I cut the holes out of the gaskets and mounted the spurs:

And voila! a drum:

Pretty simple, right? It sounds great, and I'm really happy with the shell size I chose. I have a friend who works at a cabinet shop, he finished it for me with a stain called "satin". It's matte black, but it lets the grain show through. Nice.

1 comment:

buckner-web-guy said...

Can you provide your claw, tension rod and lug part #'s and where you bought them from?

I plan to make 3 bass drums for samba playing and will be using your instructions for the build.