Clickbait aside, drum building is fairly easy to get into. There are many sources that can provide you with completed shell packs, ready to assemble kits in need of finishing, and even just raw components. Many of these companies only require us to have a screwdriver and a drill to get started. Most of us who build drums as a hobby start at some stage of “ready to assemble kits” and gradually take on more of the process as we become more comfortable.
This article is really geared towards the weekend warrior who builds often enough where these small investments would be of value in the long run. These ten tools can lead to saving on service up charges from vendors, common costly mistakes, and potential component issues.
Here are ten pro drum building tools, in no particular order, to make your projects easier.
#1 Step Drill Bit – These bits are great for everything in drum building. They can prevent tear out. They minimize on burning. They are great for cleaning out holes that have been wrapped over with nice clean edges. You can even drill the different size holes you need for the various components – spurs, lugs, air vents - without changing the bit in your drill. Cost for a set of three: $15.00.
#2 Spring Loaded Punch – No hammer required. Just line the end up to your markings and push it. The punch will leave the perfect size indentation on the shell for your step drill bit. The drill bit will not wobble around and give you perfectly aligned holes. Cost: $10.00 - $15.00.
#3 Adjustable Combination Square – I prefer the 16” long models. The longer squares allow you to make your measurement markings to almost any spot on most common shell configurations. Many of them have levels built in well which is a nice bonus. All you need to do is set your desired depth and lock it into place. No need to re-measure at every location. Cost: $15.00.
#4 Razor Blades/Flat Sided Utility Knife – The best builder in business (a former employer) once told me that using a dull blade is costing the company money. He was right. Trying to get every last bit of use out of a blade takes longer, causes potential damage to wrap or veneer, and is more dangerous to use. Razor blade replacement packs are cheap. Get some and change blades often. I also like flat sided razor knives. Put the flat side on your work table to trim back wrap at even depths. Pack of 50 Blades Cost: $12.00. Cost of Utility Knife: $2.00-$5.00.
#5 (Stubby) Ratcheting Screwdriver – Perfect for tight areas and small shells. Badge screws are small. Decorative screws are easily stripped. Smaller diameter shells require smaller tools and not everything can be attached with wrenches or sockets. Many of these have magnetized tips as well. The ratcheting screwdriver is especially handy when attaching badges to hardwoods. The screwdriver helps to drive screws in small increments, while not losing grip, and reduce wood splits. Cost: $ 6:00.
#6 Sanding Sponges – These come in many different grits and are perfect for shell contours, bearing edges, wood fillers, and quick rough ups of shells. I also think the sponge is easier to work with over a sanding block or even just sand paper on its own. The flexibility of the sponge gives the user great versatility. You can take a sanding sponge and wrap an entire bass hoop and smooth it out evenly with just a few passes. Many of them can be used for wet or dry sanding as well. Cost for a box of five: $12.00.
#7 Lazy Susan – Alright, I really mean take a piece of MDF (medium density fiberboard) or some other rigid type material with very little flex and mount it to a Lazy Susan. Adhere your drum layout mat to the MDF board. If you don’t have a layout mat, take some time to layout critical markings, like lug placements, on the MDF. The major benefit of doing this is that with a Lazy Susan, you can rotate you work surface without moving the shell. This can be especially helpful when making your initial layout markings. Cost: $5.00 - $7.00.
#8 Tap and Die Set – Sometimes threads aren’t very clean from the factory after the various plating processes. Getting special screws for one particular style of tube lug out there is a pain. Powder coating can get into every little crevice and just be a nightmare. Look for a few of the common thread sizes to add to your set if it doesn’t come with it already. On a side note, you get what you pay for with these. If you are just cleaning already cut threads then cheaper sets are fine. If you plan to turn your own lugs at some point, get a nicer quality set. A few that you will want to have in your arsenal are #12-24, #10-32, M4x.70, M6x1. Cost for a set: $40.00 Cost for individual taps: $5-$10.
#9 Router and Table – Most suppliers charge for bearing edges, snare beds, roundovers, etc. While it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to have this done, it does add up. If you are in this hobby for the long haul, get a quality router and appropriate bits and attach it to a table set up. Go one step further and make a table large enough to hold a bass drum. Many pros use their routers to turn stave shells as well. If you build some additional jigs, you’ll be all set to cut in-lays also. Cost for a Fixed/Plunge base router combo: $200.00
#10 Clamps and Lots of Them – That is very generic. That is because there is not just one to satisfy all of our needs. Add some band clamps. They are great for segment and stave shells. You’ll want to have deep throat bar clamps for attaching re-rings in shells. Look for clamps with plastic or rubber tips to reduce marring or damage to your project. One handed bar clamps are just so versatile. I like them to hold jigs in place. Spring clamps are perfect for holding wrap and veneer temporarily in place. All of these clamps have many other uses, so you can’t go wrong adding them to your tool box. Cost $1.00-$15.00
That is my list. You may even already have some of these tools and that’s great. Take pride in knowing that many of the best builders in the world use these tools on a regular basis. Even companies with the best robotic equipment still have hand tools in their shops. Grab a few at a time when you make trips to your local hardware or home improvement store. Happy Building!